How To Effectively Position Your Technology Brand Part I: Competitive Frames of Reference

Brand positioning is a simple art that the most successful technology brands in the world have down cold. And where great technology may sell itself, well-positioned and branded technology can sell itself a hell of a lot better.

That’s what gave me inspiration for this series of posts, designed to help people in the technology industry learn to position their brands more effectively. In my introductory post, I explained what brand positioning is and discussed the impact it can have when executed well.

In this post, we’ll begin our review of 4 critical concepts you must master in order to effectively position your technology brand. Today we start with Part I: Competitive Frames of Reference.

Competitive Frames of Reference

Image courtesy of photographer Edgaras Maselskis.

What is a Competitive Frame of Reference?

Where does your brand compete? This is the first question to ask yourself as you start to think about how to position your brand. Great brands can’t be positioned in a vacuum, they must be positioned in a meaningful context.

The competitive frame of reference is a fancy way of describing the market or context in which you choose to position your brand.

While it sounds like a simple idea, it isn’t always so easy. You may find it necessary to position your brand in multiple competitive frames of reference. Perhaps there is one primary frame of reference and one or two secondary frames of reference as well.

OK, an example would probably help here.

Primary and Secondary Frames of Reference

Let’s say your company is Supplyzus, the “Uber of office supplies.”

You take orders for office supplies from office managers and receptionists using a web-based app. Then the customer can watch online (or on their smartphone) as the supplies leave the warehouse, get picked up by a nice delivery driver named Stan, and travel toward your office. Then within half an hour of placing the order, Stan shows up at your desk with a smile and you are once again flush with colored Post-its and Sharpies.

Your company’s mission is to disrupt the just-a-bit-too-comfortable office supply industry, and eventually expand into other delivery areas like restaurant supplies, plumbing supplies, that kind of thing.

So what is your main competitive frame of reference? Well, the obvious competitive frame of reference would be office supply merchants. This category might include brick and mortar merchants like Office Depot. It might also include old-school office supply delivery companies (remember the ones that used to bring around the big printed catalogs…does anyone still do that?). And it might even include online merchants like Amazon.

But because you are eventually thinking about expanding beyond the office supply market, you might want to consider a broader secondary competitive frame of reference of business-to-business delivery services. The competition in this category is much broader, including not just companies that deliver office supplies, but other delivery services like auto parts delivery, medical supply delivery, even messenger services.

And because you have not yet closed your Series A funding, you are also competing with a ton of other “Uber of                         ” companies for attention from investors. So another secondary competitive frame of reference might be Uber of                         companies. And for heavens sake, there are a mess of those companies out there competing for money in this space. So standing out from the crowd will be especially important.

Your Positioning Will Change as the Competitive Frame of Reference Changes

The most important thing to understand is that the way you will position your brand may change completely based on the competitive frame of reference.

In this case, Supplyzus might start by positioning itself in the office supply merchant competitive frame of reference, especially when it is in a context that customers will see. This would probably be Supplyzus’ primary competitive frame of reference.

But, especially as it is telling its story about future growth to potential investors, the two secondary competitive frames of reference will be important to keep in mind as well. There might be a completely different set of characteristics that make Supplyzus stand out from other office supply merchants than the things that make Supplyzus stand out from other Uber of                         companies.

And like Supplyzus, you might find that the primary competitive frame of reference you want to position your brand in today may be very different than the competitive frame of reference you see the brand competing in down the road. So you may want to think of ways you can start telling that future story through your positioning today.

An Exercise to Get You Started

So how do you figure out the most important competitive frames of reference for your brand? Here’s an exercise to help you find your frame of reference. It’s a great place to start.

In my next post, we’ll cover the second critical brand positioning concept: points of difference.


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