This is the fourth in a series of blog posts designed to help people in the technology industry learn to position their brands more effectively. In this post, we’ll cover the jujutsu moves of brand positioning: points of parity.
Before diving in to points of parity, you’ll want to make sure you are familiar with some of the concepts we’ve already covered in this series. If you need a quick refresher, check out the previous posts about how to uncover your competitive frame of reference and how to determine your points of difference.
What are points of parity?
In the Japanese martial art jujutsu, a competitor looks for ways to use an opponent’s strength against them rather than attacking them directly with their own force. This is essentially what a point of parity is trying to do as well—deflect a competitor’s strength in order to create an opportunity for your brand to make a strong counter move.
Points of parity are points of differences that competitors have over your brand that you need to counteract. They are places where you need to show you are as good as your competitors (not necessarily better) so that you can negate their advantage and refocus attention on your points of difference.
Sometimes points of parity are “table stakes”—characteristics you need simply to enter or compete in the market. Other times, points of parity are advantages that competitors have that are highly valued by customers.
This idea is sometimes a bit hard for people to wrap their brains around (I know it was for me at first), so here’s an example to help illustrate what we mean.
Example: Apple vs. Samsung
The Apple iPhone is a product with an amazing design. In fact, if you compare the mobile phone world pre and post-iPhone, it is clear that the iPhone really changed the game as far as the importance of design as a differentiator in the market.
Samsung is a leading competitor for Apple in mobile phones. Samsung also knows that the iPhone has taken an enormous share of the market by developing a (well-earned) reputation for having the best-designed product available. Because this is such a clear, acknowledged point of difference for Apple in the marketplace, it is very difficult for Samsung to beat Apple head to head on design as a differentiator.
Now some of you Apple haters (and Samsung lovers) might argue that Samsung already has a better-designed product. But you’d be hard pressed to find proof that Samsung has a stronger brand association with great design than Apple does. In fact, Samsung may never be able to “out-design” Apple reputationally, no matter how well designed their products eventually become.
To emphasize this point: even if Samsung’s phones eventually are better designed, they may still not be able to get credit for it in the minds of customers.
It’s a super tough spot to be in, for sure.
If I were running brand strategy for Samsung, I would acknowledge that design is a point of parity against Apple, not a point of difference.
What does this mean in practice? By viewing design as a point of parity, the goal would not be to try to beat Apple on design, it would be instead to try to be close enough on design that it takes design off the table as a differentiator. Instead you’d try to refocus people’s attention on the benefits that make Samsung phones really stand out over Apple (new features like “waterproof-iness,” virtual reality, etc. are what they emphasize in their commercials today).
It is admittedly an uphill battle because of Apple’s market dominance (at least here in the US) and the fact that design is a really important point of difference that customers really seem to value.
What would really help Samsung would be if they could find some new point of difference to fully own in the way Apple owns design. Something that is desirable to the target customer, deliverable by the brand, and differentiated from the competition. They need a strong differentiator for themselves that Apple would be forced to counteract. I don’t think that, in the long term, “waterproof-iness” or virtual reality are going to get them there, but there is always hope that a future killer point of difference may emerge.
Two points of parity for Supplyzus
In the past two posts, we introduced a fake company called Supplyzus—the Uber of office supplies—that delivers office supplies to companies using a slick online ordering system.
We also determined that the primary competitive frame of reference for Supplyzus is office supply merchants, and that its key points of difference in that frame of reference are delivery speed, a simple and modern ordering process, and a fun experience.
So where does Supplyzus need to achieve points of parity in this frame of reference? The hints were in the points of difference post.
The points of parity for Supplyzus in the office supply merchants frame of reference are selection and quality.
Selection is a point of parity because Supplyzus will be hard-pressed to have a bigger, better selection than Amazon.com or the big office supply chains. The jujutsu point-of-parity move here? “We have a very strong selection—everything you want—and have you heard about how fast we deliver and how slick our ordering process is?”
Quality is a point of parity because Supplyzus is carrying the exact same products that most other office supply merchants offer—the product quality is simply table stakes to be in the market. The jujutsu point-of-parity move here? “Supplyzus has the same products you can find elsewhere…but you’ll get them quicker and you’ll enjoy the process more than you thought it would be possible to enjoy ordering office supplies.”
So if our points of difference are delivery speed, a simple and modern ordering process, and a fun experience, and our points of parity are selection and quality, we now have most of our Supplyzus positioning platform in place.
An exercise to get you started
We have an exercise that will help get your technology company started identifying its key points of parity. Give it a try and let us know what you think.
In our final post in this series, we’ll bring it all home with the fourth key element of great brand positioning: the brand mantra.