Does competitive positioning matter?

Does competitive positioning matter?

I was emailed a question this week about positioning. My friend and colleague @anthonyjoseph wanted to know my thoughts about the relationship between positioning and the competitive environment.

What is your approach to positioning competitively?

Positioning is the element of brand that is most often treated as the foundation for marketing, and as such is often used in a solely competitive fashion – to tell people what you’re doing, and as part of that, what sets you apart from others who might doing something in the same area.  

But it will be no surprise to anyone that I take a different view and think it should go much deeper than that. This makes it a far trickier question than you’d think from face value.

In business, positioning drives many of the day-to-day principles and practices of your business and your brand – your what, how, where and who – arranging pieces to achieve a certain result in relationship to those around you. Yes, that includes competitors and also potential customers, partners and others.

When you just look at what others around you are saying and doing and focus on that, you set up a cycle of a reactive way of thinking that puts the competition in front of what you care about. And that’s a dangerous place to be. That’s not to say you should ignore what’s out there. By all means know and be conscious of the ways your competition are positioning themselves, just don’t be driven by it.

The things that shape positioning can, will and should change over time – and that’s the point. It’s a constant cycle. Which is why I think just focusing on positioning as a competitive device misses it’s real value, treating it just as a way to establish external differentiation when positioning is just as powerful as a tool of internal alignment.

So how can you go about finding a positioning that is works on both fronts?

To begin with positioning must take into account current and immediate reality. It’s not about your aspiration or your history. It is who you are today. Questions that will help include:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • Where do you do it?
  • Why are you doing it (your purpose)?
  • And yes, who else is doing it?

By looking deeply and honestly at those questions you will naturally find the necessary (competitive) differences – if what, how, who or where you are doing business is not in some way different from others you will struggle to survive.

And once you understand those things you’ll have the third element (along with purpose and values) on which to build your brand. You’ll also have a positioning that can withstand comparison to the competition because it’s rooted in what you care about and demonstrated in what you do. Not just reacting to others.

All positioning is competitive, it’s how you address the competition in your approach that makes all the difference.

See you next week.


Get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Michel is an Independent Brand Analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.



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