Do I have to make tough choices in order to have a strong brand? Yes, you do. You cannot both hedge and build a brand that is meaningful and genuine.
Positioning is essentially an exercise in deciding what you're going to stand for. And in deciding that, you're also deciding what you're not going to stand for. You cannot create a good brand strategy if you like to hedge. The more you are willing to make hard choices, the more distinctive and vibrant your brand strategy will be. Conversely, the more insecure you feel about taking things off the table, the more vanilla, and bland, and vague your brand strategy will be.
Show me an excellent brand, and I'll show you a brand that has made difficult trade-offs. Here's one of my favorites: Trader Joe's. I love Trader Joe's, and I know that I am not alone. Trader Joe's is awesome because they don't try to do everything.
Have you noticed, for example, Trader Joe's doesn't do grocery delivery? They have decided that because their store experience is the ultimate expression of their brand, they're not going to do grocery delivery because that wouldn't allow them to stay true to that. Despite the P&L pressure I imagine they must feel to expand through grocery delivery, Trader Joe's is electing not to, and that conviction and that courage prevents Trader Joe's from looking like everybody else.
Can you imagine Safeway or Kroger electing not to go into grocery delivery because of their store experience? I can't, because they don't have sharp-edged brands. They're not willing to make trade-offs the way that Trader Joe's is. And as a result, I love Trader Joe's, and, at best, I like Safeway and Kroger.
Think about the brands that you love, the ones that feel like they were designed just for you. And then think to yourself, what was this brand willing to trade off in order to make me feel so special? Once you have this conviction that you do need to make trade-offs in order to have a powerful brand then you're ready to dive into your brand strategy. Remember the most elemental rule of marketing, you cannot be all things to all people. And don't just remember it, but believe it and grasp it and feel it.
What does your brand trade off? What does it say no to? Remember, to be liked by most is to be loved by no one. Stand for something specific so that you can gain the love of those who matter most.