Who Wears the Cape, Brand or Customer?
In these positioning strategy examples, I challenge readers to consider who the hero should be—your brand or your customer?
When thinking about positioning your brand’s services and products to its target customers, it’s common to focus on why your brand is better and different than other brand choices. This perspective can lead to commonly seen “chest thumping” positioning strategies.
An example of this product superiority approach is visible in TV advertising for a top US mobile provider, which shows colorful maps illustrating how their brand’s 5G network is “the best.” The implied role of the consumer is to pick the 5G network, and then enjoy the benefits of its superior performance, without technical problems, call outages or other difficulties. While consumers need excellent network coverage and reliability, they know through experience that these “chest thumping” claims can be unrealistic.
Despite a possible lack of earned credibility, the “brand is best” positioning strategy may be appropriate, depending on your brand’s situation.
Insight to Action suggests testing several positioning strategy approaches with your target customer (rather than your leadership team) to understand what resonates.
With both B2B and B2C brands, we’ve seen success from focusing on the customer as hero, rather than the brand as hero.
Positioning Strategy Examples: B2C Customer as Hero
In our experience developing positioning approaches for food brands, moms preferred approaches that squarely positioned Mom as the hero who makes the decision to choose the brand to help her. The brand’s role is mom’s humble helper, not the hero.
Two positioning strategy examples using this approach are found in historical Tylenol and Motts commercials. BAND-AID also celebrated caregiver moms, dads, grandparents and others with its “100 years of making it better, together” positioning.
If a brand’s product or service fails to recognize Mom’s primary role and instead unwittingly supplants Mom by talking about itself in a chest-thumping way, the brand’s communication runs the risk of being tuned out and unappreciated.
For example, in our work with infant and toddler nutrition brands, we found that it was important to honor Mom first in the marketing communication, and then to mention the product as a helper or support for Mom.
Positioning Strategy Examples: B2B Customer as “Hero”
Recently, I attended a Vistage worksession with Canadian author, speaker and storyteller Adrian Davis of Whetstone. Adrian honed his B2B positioning strategy approach through many sales presentations and conversations with large corporate decision makers.
The title of this talk was “The Hero’s Journey for Sales.” In this case, the hero is the business decision maker and prospective customer of the salesperson. In this B2B positioning strategy example, the positioning delivery vehicle is the salesperson, not a website or advertisement. Like the consumer examples, the salesperson’s role is to embody the “special resource” that their brand will bring to assist the customer.
The approach follows the principles of Aristotle’s three-act storytelling. The successful sales positioning journey takes place in three acts, after an initial discovery conversation to learn about the customer’s goals, current situation and desired future.
In Act One, which takes place in “The Ordinary World,” the salesperson shares an example from another customer with their prospective customer. This example customer is the protagonist in the story.
The protagonist, who I will call Myrtle, faces a similar situation and has a similar goal to the prospect. For example, the salesperson will say, “your situation reminds me of another customer, Myrtle, who, like you, was in a similar role of decision-making. Like you, she also had an important goal.” Additionally, Myrtle (the protagonist) has an underlying flaw that is not evident in the first act.
At the beginning of Act Two, the protagonist’s situation is disrupted, and the hero encounters antagonistic external forces or villainous actors outside of her control who threatens the goal. The protagonist hero, Myrtle, is no longer able to achieve her goals with “business as usual.”
She enters “The Upside-Down World.” This is an unpleasant place where external forces have acted negatively on her. Myrtle is suffering from the impact of these forces. She also recognizes she is not able to successfully get out of this “pit of misery” by using the same approaches that she’s used before.
For the positioning strategy example to be effective, the protagonist must explicitly acknowledge the negative forces and the suffering. Her character develops.
Myrtle also needs to make the connection that the root cause of this suffering is an underlying flaw in her organization. She also recognizes that she can’t change the external world, but she can change something in her organization. Recognizing the flaw means that the protagonist hero can evolve, because she recognizes the need for help.
While it’s not comfortable for many salespeople with pleasing personalities, the negative emotions of feeling scared, mad and/or sad are important for the customer to experience. In fact, about 75% of the storytelling focus is on the negative. That’s because these negative emotions rivet our attention as humans, hence the famous phrase, “It bleeds, it leads.” We are intrigued and interested to see the development and how the protagonist will either succeed or fail.
When the suffering is felt, the salesperson for the brand enters the scene, with the protagonist credited as finding the salesperson. For instance, Myrtle decides to make a change and seek additional resources, and she identifies a special resource (the salesperson). Myrtle and the special resource together address the flaw and work together to develop a joint solution. In the same way that BAND-AID makes it better together for its caregiving customers.
In the third and final act, the positive results are shared, and the customer wins and is transformed. The change in the protagonist is what makes the story compelling. Myrtle, as the protagonist hero, gets a positive future outcome. She is able to confidently make good things happen.
The salesperson then connects the outcome to the desired future that the prospect wants to see for their own organization. The B2B customer is the hero and the salesperson is the special resource.
An actual conversation might go something like this:
What you’ve told me reminds me of a past customer of ours, Myrtle. Like you, Myrtle was a partner at a private equity firm. And like you, she needed to decide on whether to recommend an investment on a fast, three-week timeline.
Unfortunately, Myrtle was concerned that this investment was questionable, as many other investors had backed out and the market appeared to be shrinking. Additionally, this was a complex business with multiple B2B decision makers and a somewhat obscure market that was hard to understand.
Making it worse, Myrtle’s recent track record with her firm hadn’t been good. A few other recent investments that she recommended hadn’t gone well, and her reputation was on the line. She realized that the market share data she was relying upon was outdated and that the historical trends probably didn’t apply.
Fortunately, Myrtle understood that she needed a different approach and asked her network for suggestions for a firm that could help her better understand customers and the market. We were introduced by a trusted advisor, and Insight to Action and Myrtle worked together to evaluate the investment with the latest market data.
As a result, Myrtle was able to confidently invest in the business, knowing that the customers were on board and the market was strong. The company she invested in grew profitably at 25% per year.
And now, Myrtle’s private equity firm sold the company we evaluated together for the highest multiple they have ever achieved. The investment exceeded expectations, and Myrtle is now the Managing Director of the firm.
These positioning strategy examples with customer as hero have been effective for both B2B salespeople and B2C consumer brands like Tylenol, Motts and BAND-AID.