brand

Brand positioning tip #1: points of parity and points of difference


In my recent post on the books behind Dark Matter Matters, I mentioned Dr. Kevin Keller from Dartmouth. Kevin is the strategicbrandmanagementauthor of Strategic Brand Management, which placed #3 on my list. But in addition to being an author and professor, Kevin is also a long time friend of Red Hat. He has helped us work through some of the most challenging corporate branding and positioning decisions we’ve faced over the past six or seven years.

I thought it might be nice to pass along some favorite lessons that I learned from Kevin over the years, many of which we have put into practice at Red Hat. In this post, we’ll cover 2 of the key elements behind good brand positioning: Points of Parity and Points of Difference.

If you need the primer on what positioning is all about, read my previous post here or go buy a copy of Jack Trout’s book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

There’s a working definition of points of parity and points of difference in Wikipedia here, but I hope the explanation below will appeal more to average folk who aren’t as into the marketing-speak.

What is a Point of Difference?

A point of difference is exactly what it sounds like– it is something that makes you different from your competition (oh, and it also has to be something your customer actually wants).

It’s pretty easy to start figuring out your points of difference. Start by asking yourself:

“Why do people buy my product or service?”

Think of as many reasons as you can why people buy stuff from you. If 1) you can’t think of any good reasons or 2) no one buys stuff from you, positioning might be the least of your worries. Try bankruptcy. Or a new line of work.

Once you have a list of possible reasons people would want to buy stuff from you, ask yourself the follow-on question:

“Why do people want this stuff from me instead of from my competitors?”

My guess is you will start crossing some things off the list your competitors deliver just as well as you or better. Be honest. Think like a customer, not a proud corporate citizen.

Hopefully you will still see a few things left on the list. These are the true things that differentiate you. If you don’t see any defensible differentiators left, you may have uncovered a positioning problem.

I think this way all of the time now. I am a 100% certified positioning nerd.

Example: I walk into a new Mexican restaurant a few weeks ago with some of my co-workers. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants within 5 minutes of our office. So why did I pick this one? Here are some possible points of difference this restaurant might have from its competitors (yes, I actually did this in my head):

1) the salsa is better

2) the queso dip is better

3) the ambiance is better

4) the prices are better

5) it is more authentic

Well it turns out none of these things were true for this place. The food was average. The service was average. The ambiance was average. Prices were the same. It was no closer or further away than 5 other Mexican places. The only point of difference it had going for it was that it was new. And being new is not a sustainable point of difference.

Will I go again? No. Does this place have a positioning problem? Yes. It will be out of business in 6 months, unless it uncovers some sort of unique positioning that differentiates it from its better established competitors (Late night tequila shot contests? Mariachi lessons? Let’s get creative, people!)

What is a point of parity?

Most simply, a point of parity is a point of difference that a competitor has over you that you need to counteract. In many cases, you won’t even be able to compete in the market unless you can nullify this advantage that your competitor has. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to become better than them at this particular thing, just good enough that, given your rockin’ points of difference in other areas, your customers will still choose you over them. For example:

I could go to Armadillo Grill for Mexican food for lunch today or I could go to Baja Burrito.  The ambiance sucks in both places. The food is a bit better at Armadillo Grill, and the salsa is definitely better. If a bunch of other people agree with me, and start going to Armadillo Grill instead of Baja Burrito, the nice folks at Baja might have to consider improving their food and salsa so that they are can achieve parity with Armadillo Grill.

The Baja folks have a pretty sweet point of difference against Armadillo Grill– they are right across the street from NC State campus, in walking distance from the dorms. Their location is a great point of difference, but they could probably be doing even better business if they achieved parity with Armadillo Grill on their salsa. OK, now I’m hungry. Who wants Mexican?

So why do you need to think through your points of parity and points of difference? You’ll find that if you know where your brand value proposition is strong and you know where it is weak (and your competitors are strong), it becomes pretty easy to craft a solid brand strategy.

Shore up the weak spots. Make your differentiators clear. Rinse, and repeat regularly so you can be sure you are keeping one eye on the competitive threats to your brand position at all times.

Was this post helpful?

If so, you can find more tips about how to position your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
Book
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is President & Partner of New Kind, where he builds sustainable brands, cultures, and communities in and around organizations. He is the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World and is the Community Guide on the Management Innovation Exchange (hackmanagement.com).

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Brand positioning tip #1: points of parity and points of difference

  1. tooooooooo goood!!!.. thank u Mr. Chris..

    Posted by sajith | October 7, 2011, 12:35 am
  2. thank you it was really good explaination..:)

    Posted by nikhil | February 28, 2013, 12:15 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Summer reading list for Dark Matter Matters « Dark Matter Matters - July 4, 2009

  2. Pingback: Brand Positioning Tip #2: the competitive frame of reference « Dark Matter Matters - July 11, 2009

  3. Pingback: Brand Positioning Tip #3: The Brand Mantra « Dark Matter Matters - July 21, 2009

  4. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #5: the brand audit « Dark Matter Matters - August 19, 2009

  5. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #6: build peninsulas, not islands « Dark Matter Matters - January 27, 2010

  6. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #9: A brand mantra is not a tagline « Dark Matter Matters - March 17, 2010

  7. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #12: Don’t get hung up on the words « Dark Matter Matters - July 23, 2010

  8. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #13: embedding positioning internally « Dark Matter Matters - September 22, 2010

  9. Pingback: OpenSource News » Do you speak my language? Education versus open source processes and principles - May 4, 2011

  10. Pingback: New Kind » Case story: Cultivating brand positioning for The Redwoods Group » New Kind - September 6, 2011

  11. Pingback: Brand positioning tip #10: repetition is the secret ingredient « Dark Matter Matters - October 7, 2011

  12. Pingback: Brand tip: Call a duck a duck « Dark Matter Matters - October 7, 2011

  13. Pingback: Kevin Keller’s five favorite classic brand mantras « Dark Matter Matters - October 13, 2011

  14. Pingback: New Kind » Kevin Keller’s five favorite classic brand mantras » New Kind - October 13, 2011

  15. Pingback: How to test your brand positioning: is it desirable, deliverable, and differentiated? « Dark Matter Matters - October 24, 2011

  16. Pingback: New Kind » How to test your brand positioning: is it desirable, deliverable, and differentiated? » New Kind - October 24, 2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 119 other followers

%d bloggers like this: