Your brand should be big enough to matter but narrow enough to own. Your business creates the most value when it solves a meaningful customer need – in other words, is big – yet does so in a way only your business can, and thus is narrow.
Being big but not narrow generates interest in something too broad for you to uniquely own – and unless you have a huge budget, you can’t afford this. Being narrow without tapping into a big customer need will lead to an ownable benefit, but not one that is worthwhile.
Your brand positioning is the space you own in your customer’s head – so make it a big space. Represent a big promise, a big benefit. The bigger the solution you bring to a big problem, the more value you create for your customer, and commensurately, for your business. This is the reason for your business to exist in the first place: to create sizable value. As you bring more value to customers, more value accrues for your business, which feeds a virtuous cycle of value creation for all stakeholders.
That math for the value you bring to customers looks like this:
You can see from this equation that there are two sources of high value to a customer: a large benefit and/or a small price. But only the first of these brings value to your customer and to your business. When your benefit is big, your customer’s willingness to pay is also big, allowing you to price in a way that fuels a healthy P&L.
Customers thrive because your business’s big benefit solves an important need, bringing your customers closer to the lives they want to live. Your business thrives because your big benefit enables you to charge enough to enjoy a profitable business and grow it as you wish. Big is important for customer value, and it is commensurately important for your value.
To provide a big benefit, listen deeply to your customer to understand with nuance the problem you could solve. The more attuned, curious, and open you are as you listen, the bigger the problem you will learn about. While listening, you are not so much problem-solving as you are problem-finding. This empathy then enables you to develop a benefit that’s worthwhile to those customers, opening the way to business value for you.
So your brand must represent something big. As you evaluate potential directions for your brand, ask yourself – is this big enough to matter? Or are you letting yourself off the hook with something small?
Once you’ve identified a big promise you can fulfill, then you will apply the other factor in this equation: narrowing. Your brand positioning should be at the intersection of big and narrow. So with that big promise as your beginning, now turn to identifying the piece within that where your brand uniquely delivers. This narrowing step enables you to arrive at a brand positioning that is not only meaningful to the customer, but distinctive to you. As big as your brand needs to be to matter, it also needs to be narrow enough to own. Choose a position you can dominate, one where you are not just “better” but you are “only.”
From that big benefit starting place, use the four levers of positioning to narrow. These positioning levers are:
You may need only to move one lever to successfully narrow. Notice how each of the following brands stays big enough to matter, but one lever narrows it from “better” to “only.”
Once you have chosen a big-but-narrow position, you have all kinds of room to grow. Direct your growth efforts within that fertile position.
For example, Everlane owns the big but narrow position of radical sourcing transparency. Upholding this promise, the company would likely not diversify to fast fashion, whose sourcing is opaque. But Everlane could certainly expand beyond clothing to just about any category in which radical transparency would be compelling to customers, such as cosmetics, skin care, even home furnishings. Everlane continues to grow deep within its positioning, recently introducing lingerie.
Or consider Dollar Shave Club whose big-but-narrow position is shaving with a rebellious voice in the stodgy shaving category. The brand has been able to broaden to serve women as well as men and to offer bathroom products beyond razors. What remains narrow is the Dollar Shave Club irreverent voice. Dollar Shave Club grows deep within its positioning.
Big benefit or narrow focus? The answer is both – always. Brands accrue value when they double down on the thing that will earn them the devotion of the people who matter. Seek to be loved, not liked. To do so, be big enough for your customer to care that you exist. Be narrow enough that you are the only one who could serve that target customer with that frame of reference, promise and character. Solve a real problem and do so in a way only you can.
Be so big and so narrow that to your customer, you are the only option.
Lindsay is a Brand Strategist and Founder of Ironclad Brand Strategy, which builds brands using an exacting and analytic method. Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered a deep appreciation for the executive charge: to create sustainable value. Ironclad advises companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, IMDb, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Lindsay holds an MBA in Business from the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business.