Brand positioning

This answers the question: 'Where are you in the consumer's mind?' Brand positioning like all the branding elements resides in the mind of the consumer. It may be developed on an elaborate brand strategy chart and might be discussed extensively in boardrooms, but the final destination and home of brand positioning is in the consumer's mind. Brand positioning is the point where the relationship between a brand and consumers become apparent. It is also at this point that the value creation that a company obtains from its brand begins. The brand value is discussed extensively further in the chapter.

Brand positioning is often confused with market positioning although the two concepts are significantly different. Brand positioning involves the placement of a brand and all its associations (characteristics, attributes, personality, image) in a distinct place in the mind of the consumer. Market positioning on the other hand refers to the competitive position of a company in terms of size and market share, in a particular sector. Brand positioning emphasizes the connection between a brand and the consumer's mind and emotions.

Positioning begins with brand associations, which are defined by the brand identity, personality and image discussed earlier in this chapter. These associations include the company's brand communications interpreted through words, images, mediums, products and services that are channelled towards the emotions and subconscious of the consumer. Once the brand associations have been clarified, then the consumer uses this as a guide to place the brand in a distinct platform in his mind. For example, when consumers think about Cartier, certain associations are formed in their minds which are likely to be different when they think of Donna Karan. This shows that the positioning of the two brands are at different locations in the consumer's mind. Another example is luxury watch brand Ebel which recently featured the Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen in its print advertising with the goal to re-position its brand as modern, glamorous and more appealing to a younger fashion-conscious luxury consumer group. As a result, the previous position of the brand in consumers' minds might be altered by the new associations brought about by the advertisements.

Brand positioning occurs on two levels:

1 The Broad level of positioning.

2 The Narrow level of positioning.

Luxury brands clearly desire to occupy a position characterized by 'high-end, expensive and well-crafted products', in the consumer's mind. This level of positioning features the characteristics common to all luxury brands and is supported by the luxury concept. It is the broad sector positioning and is often easily and effectively achieved by most luxury brands. For example, there is no doubt that Versace, Fendi and Hermès are all positioned as luxury brands because they all share the broad attributes of luxury and prestige.

Narrow level positioning involves specific brand positioning that is attributed to each brand. Although luxury brands share the 'luxury' attribute as a broad positioning tool, each brand has its own unique positioning supported by its identity. This is where the battle for the consumer's mind begins and is often more challenging to attain than broad-level positioning. The positioning of different luxury brands varies and they highly influence the brand choices that luxury consumers make. For example, if you take a moment to think about John Galliano, Escada, Roberto Cavalli, Chloe and Jean Paul Gaultier, you'll discover that although these brands have the 'luxury' factor in common, they do not have the same brand positioning. They also do not send the same specific brand messages, neither do they address the same tastes.

Brand positioning is what drives consumer choices through comparisons. If consumers have a clear understanding and perception of a brand, then they're likely to place the brand in the right position in their minds and this will form a part of their selection process. This involvement in the selection process means that the brand has become part of the group of brands that have a place in the consumer's mind and the consumer recognizes the contribution the brand would make in their lives.

The task of brand positioning becomes even more challenging for luxury companies that own multiple brands such as LVMH and Richemont Group. On a group level, these companies are corporate brands that address the needs of their investors, employees and other stakeholders. This requires the development of a corporate brand strategy and positioning that has little to do with consumers. On another level, the brands that these companies control hold great significance to consumers and their positioning is associated with consumers. For example, the brands in the LVMH portfolio include Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Loewe, Givenchy and Dior; while Richemont owns Chloé, Cartier and Lancel; and the Gucci Group owns Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent among others. These individual brands have different positioning points in consumers' minds. They are also different in their internal positioning levels and influence the holding companies' positioning as corporate brands. These varying brand positioning points create a challenge for the groups. Also there is a risk of developing brand positioning overlaps that could confuse consumers and internal competition that could affect the performance of the brands. To overcome the challenges posed by these factors, each brand ought to remain clearly distinct and original, while maintaining the luxury quality.

The following points are important in the evaluation of a luxury brand's positioning.

• The products and services must be in alignment with the desired positioning.

• The positioning must be credible, i.e. the brand must have a raison d'être and be deserving of it.

Tradition and heritage

Prada, Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan, Versace, Gucci, Hermes, Ferragamo, Sonia Rykiel, Armani, Miu Miu, Chanel, Anna Sui, Max Mara, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Dior

Figure 5.3 The luxury fashion brand positioning map

• The positioning must be distinctive and cannot be shared by competitors.

• The positioning must justify a luxury association.

• The positioning must be relevant for the moment but also have the capacity to be extended with time.

• The positioning must have a contingency positioning plan.

The following exercise provides an illustration of the elements of brand positioning. The two-axis positioning map of Figure 5.3 shows two labels, several empty boxes and a list of luxury brands. You can take a few minutes to fill the empty boxes, according to the axis label indicators, with the brand names provided. If you succeed in filling all the boxes, then you understand the message of this section. The axis attributes can also be changed with varying positioning factors.

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