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The eCommerce positioning process: Defining your strategy

In our last update, we looked at what brand positioning is, and why it matters. Brand positioning is what distinguishes your product or service offering from that of your competitors; done well, it helps to ensure that consumers not only identify with your brand, they also feel that it offers something which others don’t.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to eCommerce brand positioning. The most suitable strategy for your brand should be defined based on a range of factors, from the price and prestige of your products or services to the benefits they offer to consumers. But before you can work on getting to where you want to be, you must first establish where you are.

Establishing your current position

For your brand positioning to make a lasting, positive impression on your target audience, it’s important to think objectively about what the brand really offers them, and to have a solid understanding of both the competitive landscape and the needs of those target buyers. 

1. Research your audience

Consumer insight has always been central to both brand positioning and broader marketing strategies, both online and off. Customer surveys can offer an honest look at everything from what buyers see as your biggest selling points to any barriers or disappointments, and the values or features that matter to them most.

Reading customer reviews and engaging on social media are other simple ways to gain an understanding of the emotional motivations and needs of your audience, along with reviewing which products people come back for time and time again, versus those which aren’t performing as well as hoped or expected.

Audience research should not be limited only to demographic data; without an understanding of what causes both positive and negative reactions from your target market, it can be easy for positioning to miss the mark. 

2. Analyse your competitors

Once you know your audience, the next question is: who else is competing for this audience? Additionally, who is offering a similar solution for my customers’ needs? What messaging are they choosing to use?

Look at the key messages that your most successful eCommerce competitors are using, and browse their websites as if you are a customer. Better yet, be a customer. By experiencing competing brands as your audience does, you can more easily uncover any weaknesses in their products and services, as well as better understanding their strengths. Which consumer wants and needs are they failing to satisfy?

3. Understand your unique selling proposition (USP)

Whether your brand offers the cheapest option on the market or the most luxurious, the most traditional or the most forward-thinking, it’s crucial to identify what it is that you offer that cannot be found elsewhere. 

Your USP should be memorable and distinguishable from other brands, it should be valued by your target audience, and it should be something that you consistently deliver. For example, Lush Cosmetics have built their brand on the idea that they are more ethically and socially-conscious than other similar retailers. 

You may feel that your offering is clearly superior to that of your competitors, or that it is truly original in some way, but you must be able to show consumers why this is the case. If your products or services aren’t themselves unique, what is it about your brand specifically that is more relevant, more suitable, to the end consumer than any other?

Different brand positioning tactics

There are a variety of possible ways to position your eCommerce brand depending on your identified audience, USPs and where you are within the competitive landscape. Once you have that information, you can more easily understand which of these tactics will be the most effective.

Attribute positioning

Attribute positioning is perhaps the most commonly used brand positioning strategy. Attributes describe the features of your products, and while they themselves are unchanging, you may adjust the ones you show or focus on in order to suit your customer base, or to suit different promotional campaigns.

An attribute-based strategy doesn’t focus on how you stack up against competitors – only on the specific properties and unique features your products can offer. For example, a retailer selling trainers might focus on their fabric being demonstrably more durable than that of other brands to appeal to a particular audience, or on it being made with recycled materials to appeal to another.

Benefit-based positioning

This type of positioning is about promoting the benefit that a buyer will get by choosing your products or services over other similar options. Rather than focusing on physical features and attributes, you instead focus on the emotional motive for purchase. How does the product or service contribute to the purchaser’s life? It’s important to be able to prove that claims made in benefit-based positioning are true, of course. 

Again thinking of a hypothetical trainer brand, choosing benefit-based over attribute-based positioning would look something like this:

  • Instead of stating that the fabric is particularly durable, brand messaging could note that you can run further in these trainers than any other.
  • Instead of stating that they are made from recycled materials, brand messaging could note that these trainers are great for the planet, as well as your feet.

Often, the best product and service descriptions online will use a combination of attributes and benefits, because the former can be used as proof of the latter.

Price and value positioning

mycheaplaptop.co.uk has built its brand around price-based positioning.

Some purchase decisions are more reliant on practical facts like price and promotions than on emotional impact. There are several ways to approach a brand positioning strategy that is focused on price, including:

  • Offering more value for more money than competitors,
  • Offering more value for less money,
  • Offering cheaper products.

If you know that your audience expects quality and is willing to pay more in order to receive the very best, then a “more value for more money” approach can be the best fit. But if you’re competing in an area where competitors typically charge above the odds, or you know your audience are bargain-hunters who are less focused on quality and more concerned with a tight budget, positioning yourself as the place to go for the cheapest option is more likely to be a good fit.

“More value for less money” sits as a useful middle ground, where discounts and promotional offers are used to establish a brand as providing a quality that competes with higher-end competitors, with prices that appeal to the bargain-hunting crowd.

Competitor-based positioning

Increasingly, we see eCommerce retailers using competitor-based positioning to tell target audiences that they offer something their competitors do well, but without any of the associated pain points. 

For example, instead of simply noting that your services are low-cost, you might specify that you are cheaper than the leading brands. Instead of referencing your fast delivery service, you might push the fact that you can get products to the buyer faster than your key competitors. As with benefit-based positioning, it’s important to ensure that the claims you’re making with a strategy like this are water-tight.

If you pin your position on offering something that is better than your competitors and, for any reason, the claim falls flat, it can be hard to regain the trust of consumers who haven’t had those promises fulfilled.

Category-based positioning

While similar to competitor-based positioning, category-based strategies think of your service offering not in terms of the attributes and benefits you offer against competitors, but about where you sit within your industry. It can be about being best-in-class, or about being one-of-a-kind.

Perhaps you are not the market-leader in speed of delivery or in product durability, but you are experts in your field. Take Wex Photo Video’s expert offering as an example: Wex are a third-party retailer, selling products that can be bought elsewhere for prices they can be bought at elsewhere. But unlike other retailers in this category, Wex give every customer the option to have a free in-person photo or video workshop with one of their experts when they make a camera purchase. This helps them to stand out by boasting something niche-specific that other retailers don’t have, helping them to stand out against others in their category.

Wex’s resource and training offerings act as an important point of differentiation.

Prestige positioning

If you offer products and services that are deemed to be not just high-end but truly luxurious, prestige positioning goes one further than simple price positioning. A strategy in this vein suggests to the purchaser that they are not just going to own the tangible thing that you sell them, such as a luxury watch or car, but also their share of the prestige that is associated with it.

Prestige is about image and status, whereby it is not enough to simply tell consumers that you are a cut above. For a brand to be truly presented as having prestige, everything from the tone of voice in your copy to the styling of your website and the physical quality of any promotional materials and packaging must be taken into account – among other things.

As SplitBase note in their article on high-end and luxury eCommerce, luxury brands must create a brand “experience” that is luxurious in every detail, at every stage of the buyer journey. This encompasses everything from flawless site usability and visuals, to a strong emotional sense that by investing in this brand, you are obtaining something exclusive, elite, and perhaps even self-affirming.

eCommerce brand positioning template

If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to your positioning strategy, our brand positioning template should help you to consider and define what it is that makes you stand out, why and how. 

Target Audience Identify several personas representing individual or business consumers who will turn to you for solutions.
Audience wants, needs and pain points What makes your audience tick? What frustrates them? What are the things they want the most?
Market landscape Where else can your audience go to solve their problems and meet their needs?
The solution What is it that you offer, and how do your products or services solve a problem the audience has?
Unique selling points What makes you stand out from the crowd? Why should your audience pick you over anyone else?
Trust points How will you deliver on your competitive advantage? Do you offer fuss-free returns, warranties and top-rated customer service?
Brand personality How does the brand make the consumer feel? How does it make them look? What kind of relationship does your brand have with its audience?

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