Ask Lindsay

Positioning

Which is more valuable to my brand, a big benefit or a narrow focus?

Lindsay Says

Your brand should be big enough to matter but narrow enough to own. 

Your business creates the most value when it solves a meaningful customer need – in other words, is big – yet does so in a way only your business can, and thus is narrow. 

Being big but not narrow generates interest in something too broad for you to uniquely own – and unless you have a huge budget, you can’t afford this. Being narrow without tapping into a big customer need will lead to an ownable benefit, but not one that is worthwhile.


Embody a Big Promise

Your brand positioning is the space you own in your customer’s head – so make it a big space. Represent a big promise, a big benefit. The bigger the solution you bring to a big problem, the more value you create for your customer, and commensurately, for your business. This is the reason for your business to exist in the first place: to create sizable value. As you bring more value to customers, more value accrues for your business, which feeds a virtuous cycle of value creation for all stakeholders.

That math for the value you bring to customers looks like this:

                                                                   Value = Benefit - Price

You can see from this equation that there are two sources of high value to a customer: a large benefit and/or a small price. But only the first of these brings value to your customer and to your business. When your benefit is big, your customer’s willingness to pay is also big, allowing you to price in a way that fuels a healthy P&L. 

Customers thrive because your business’s big benefit solves an important need, bringing your customers closer to the lives they want to live. Your business thrives because your big benefit enables you to charge enough to enjoy a profitable business and grow it as you wish. Big is important for customer value, and it is commensurately important for your value.


Solve a Big Problem

To provide a big benefit, listen deeply to your customer to understand with nuance the problem you could solve. The more attuned, curious, and open you are as you listen, the bigger the problem you will learn about. While listening, you are not so much problem-solving as you are problem-finding. This empathy then enables you to develop a benefit that’s worthwhile to those customers, opening the way to business value for you. 

  • Consider Tylenol, which promises to make you feel better. That is one of the biggest benefit promises a business could make. Less big might have been “decrease headache” or “offer candy-coated tablets.” But instead, Tylenol makes and delivers on a big promise, helping customers feel better and contributing to a market capitalization of an estimated $2 billion.
  • Salesforce enables you to grow your business faster. This is a large and resonant promise for a company in customer relationship management. A less big alternative might have been “track customer communication carefully” or “largest storage capacity among CRM solutions.” With its big promise, Salesforce is a beloved brand with an $87 billion market capitalization.
  • Dropbox brings you the feeling of freedom because it allows you to access your files from anywhere. A less big promise might have been “cheap document storage” or “rapid uploading.” Instead, those offerings help the company bring you the feeling of freedom because it allows you to access your files from anywhere. That’s its true resonant benefit, and in return, Dropbox has a market capitalization of $8 billion.


Ask Yourself the Big Questions

So your brand must represent something big. As you evaluate potential directions for your brand, ask yourself – is this big enough to matter? Or are you letting yourself off the hook with something small?


Narrow Your Bigness

Once you’ve identified a big promise you can fulfill, then you will apply the other factor in this equation: narrowing. Your brand positioning should be at the intersection of big and narrow. So with that big promise as your beginning, now turn to identifying the piece within that where your brand uniquely delivers. This narrowing step enables you to arrive at a brand positioning that is not only meaningful to the customer, but distinctive to you. As big as your brand needs to be to matter, it also needs to be narrow enough to own. Choose a position you can dominate, one where you are not just “better” but you are “only.” 


4 Ways to Narrow

From that big benefit starting place, use the four levers of positioning to narrow. These positioning levers are:

  1. Target customer (who you serve)
  2. Frame of reference or category (customers’ alternative to your brand)
  3. Promise (core benefit you bring)
  4. Character (the way you show up to deliver that promise) 

You may need only to move one lever to successfully narrow. Notice how each of the following brands stays big enough to matter, but one lever narrows it from “better” to “only.”

1. Narrowed Target Customer

  • Steelcase Furniture is office furniture for architecture firms.
  • Edmodo is a social media platform built for K–12 teachers
  • FreshBooks is accounting software for small business owners.

2. Narrowed Frame of Reference

  • Enterprise is a rental car agency with locations near car repair shops. 
  • Arc’teryx is an outdoor equipment brand for alpine climates.
  • Storables is organization supplies for compact spaces like dorm rooms.

3. Narrowed Promise 

  • Everlane is the apparel brand that brings radical pricing transparency.
  • Rick Steves is a travel guide company that enables you to feel like a temporary local.
  • OXO Good Grips is premium cooking tools that are ergonomic.

4. Narrowed Character

  • Geico is the insurance company with a clever character.
  • Dollar Shave Club is the shaving brand with an outlaw attitude.
  • Slack is the team collaboration platform that is fun to use.


Narrow to Grow Deep

Once you have chosen a big-but-narrow position, you have all kinds of room to grow. Direct your growth efforts within that fertile position. 

For example, Everlane owns the big but narrow position of radical sourcing transparency. Upholding this promise, the company would likely not diversify to fast fashion, whose sourcing is opaque. But Everlane could certainly expand beyond clothing to just about any category in which radical transparency would be compelling to customers, such as cosmetics, skin care, even home furnishings. Everlane continues to grow deep within its positioning, recently introducing lingerie.

Or consider Dollar Shave Club whose big-but-narrow position is shaving with a rebellious voice in the stodgy shaving category. The brand has been able to broaden to serve women as well as men and to offer bathroom products beyond razors. What remains narrow is the Dollar Shave Club irreverent voice. Dollar Shave Club grows deep within its positioning.


Both, Please

Big benefit or narrow focus? The answer is both – always. Brands accrue value when they double down on the thing that will earn them the devotion of the people who matter. Seek to be loved, not liked. To do so, be big enough for your customer to care that you exist. Be narrow enough that you are the only one who could serve that target customer with that frame of reference, promise and character. Solve a real problem and do so in a way only you can. 

Be so big and so narrow that to your customer, you are the only option. 

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