Branding has many functions that go beyond its most basic requirement of identification of a product.  Branding, when done well, frames what consumers can expect from a product and can become an important part of the proposition itself.  While creating a brand experience independent of the product is not always the goal of marketing, creating distinctive brand positioning is needed. 

Finding a general positioning, a territory, is often straight forward.  Categories are frequently defined by a limited number benefits and as a result emotional benefits that are an extension of the product offering and a reflection of broad cultural value, for example ‘connecting people’ in telecommunications, ‘enjoying life’ in healthcare, ‘control’ in financial services, ‘achieving your dreams’ in higher education, ‘security’ in insurance, ‘friendly service’ in retail, and ‘natural goodness’ in foods.

To move beyond the generic category positioning, we need to define the type of emotional benefit that we will deliver that will create distinctive brand positioning.  That is, ‘what type of natural goodness?’, or ‘what type of connecting people?’ is our brand positioning?  For example, a positioning for a weight loss brand might be the ‘self-esteem’ the brand expression is ‘what type’ of self-esteem your brand represents?  Is this self-esteem from believing others are proud of you for getting into shape, being attractive to others, or maybe it is self-confidence from breaking the cycle of failure?

By developing the brand expression, we move the positioning from generic vacuous statements to something that has more meaning, emotionally engaging, and can more easily provide a unified guide for communication development.  Show below is framework for writing a brand positioning that shows how including the territory expression for a fictitious us brand.


Brand Positioning Statement Format

[Brand] helps [target market] to [functional benefit] so that they [benefit territory] by [expression of benefit territory][Brand] does this by [reasons to believe]


Brand Positioning Statement Example

[NewU] helps [overweight adults who are not diabetic] to [sustainably lose 10% of their weight over 8 weeks] so that they [feel great about themselves] by [feeling attractive when meeting new people]. [NewU] does this by [Product Feature A, Product Feature B, Product Feature C].


Using brand expressions also allows nuanced marketing when there are multiple sub-brands.  For example, in the pain reliever category, the stronger pain sub-brand has the same territory as the other brand with an expression that reflects the different need while still staying within the broader brand positioning.


Brand Expressions Framework

An insight driven technique that I have used that helps to develop a strategy and campaign ready brand positioning is the Brand Expressions framework.  The Brand Expressions framework moves brand positioning from the exploratory phase through to a final brand positioning so that the output is a clearly articulated positioning.

A key part of the Brand Expressions framework is the creation of brandcepts.  A brandcept is a stimulus that uses the language of advertising to show consumers a unique brand expression.  Each brandcept has an image and copy that communicates a specific brand positioning expression.  Shown below are examples of brandcepts from different categories.



Unlike mood boards used in research, a brandcept has a single minded focus rather than provide several ambiguous images and words to paint an impression.  Brandcepts unlike testing a positioning statements allow you to test a greater range positions and to use the more familiar language of advertising rather than the language of marketing.

Development of the brandcepts, and the overall Brand Expressions framework, uses the design thinking process championed by Stanford University’s, to improve the quality of the outcome and that marketing has an actionable deliverable.

design thinking

Exploring: Uncovering Expressions

When uncovering potential brand expressions, and territories, you need to go wide and go deep.  Going wide by including not just your own brand, but also competitors and other categories.  The process starts with going wide by collecting all current and past activity of a brand and their competitors in the local market, interstate and overseas.  Then you need to go deep to uncover what emotional benefit territories are used in the category, what expressions are used by different brands and whether there are industry segments that share a similar positioning.  For example, basic service providers compared to premium providers.

After looking at your category, to expand the potential emotional territories we then go wide again to include alternative industries that service a similar need as part of their business.  For example, could a juice brand use provider use a similar emotional territory to wine brand, or even more further afield, could a tourism territory of escape and renewal apply to education provider.

Depending on the type of marketing material available in your category and the extant that you are looking to challenge your category norms, this approach involves working with your extended brand team, and using semiotics and qualitative research among you target markets in the discovery process.  The diagram below illustrates one of the outputs.


brand expresssions


Defining: Selecting Potential Directions

Not all possibilities are opportunities; not all territories and expressions of those territories will fit with a business’s broader strategy or other internal criteria.  Once a wide range of brand territories and expressions are uncovered the next stage of this brand research process is to define where you want to potentially take the brand by selecting the emotional territories and expressions of those territories that reflect your broader business strategy and offer the strongest positioning.


Ideating: Writing Expressions

Write down in as many ways that you can to express each territory expression, including the negative or inverse.  While a person may want something they may be more motivated by avoidance or are better able to identify the benefit from its negative side.  For example, the market may want to simplify but its showing that complexity is clawing away of their life.  Writing as many ways as possible also reduces the chances you get locked into a single idea that is not the best you could have achieved.

At this stage you can also creatively develop expressions not used before.  Using a variation in ideation techniques and engaging others in your team an in your agencies increases the chances of finding new and better ways of expressing your brand positioning.

The number of territories and expressions you take further into development and testing is not fixed.  What is most important is that they cover as wide a range as possible and to include territories and their expressions that have potential.


Prototyping: Creating Brandcepts

The next stage of this brand research process is to create brandcepts for each of the selected territory expressions.  These brandcepts have an image and a short description that is an expression of territory and not a description.  The goal is to show consumers what you mean rather than tell them.  This is to allow consumers to engage with the message, offer their interpretation, and increase the opportunity for insight.  As a general rule, it is good idea to create multiple interpretations for each of the expressions.  This reduces the possibility of a specific image or copy eliminating a potential strong contender for the final brand positioning.

While the process of creating brandcepts can appear time consuming the helps increase our understanding of our positioning and potential for creating a positioning that delivers strategic advantage.  The prototyping stage will also eliminate expressions created during the ideation.

As a guide, up to thirty brandcepts can be accommodated in a study.  Beyond this number and there is the potential for consumers to not give each brandcept adequate attention and fewer insights.


Testing: Selecting the Right Brand Expression

Once you have your brandcepts the next phase of the brand research is to select the expressions that have the strongest potential for creating a distinctive brand.  Group discussions are an ideal method for exploring the brandcepts as this allows discussion on the differences in interpretation of a brandcept and what made it engaging.

Depending on the number of brandcepts being tested they can either be displayed in the group room or in a separate room as a gallery in which participants walk around to look at and engage with each brandcept.  For the discussion participants select both those expressions they find the most engaging and the ones they find least engaging.  The discussion focuses on their reaction and interpretation of the brandcepts to determine which brand expressions marketing needs to consider for final implementation into their brand strategy.

Ultimate selection of the brand expression must be by the business.  As part of the brand positioning, the brand expression gives direction that needs to align with the broader business strategy.  With service oriented businesses where staff are central to product delivery, such as professional services, this decision process may also need engagement with staff.


The End Product

Creating a distinctive brand is a core part of marketing.  A distinctive brand is a strategic business asset can improve the ROI of sales activity through customers more easily identifying your brand, and in some cases a brand can become a part of the actual product, delivering value to the customer through the brand experience.  For businesses that have a sub-branding architecture the use of territory expressions provides a way to create a cohesive brand. By using a framework like the one outlined in this article to explore alternative brand expressions of a broader emotional territory, you are better able to develop a clearly articulated positioning that is distinctive and differentiating.


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