Positioning is the process of associating a something (product, brand, company) with a desired concept. In other words, the strategy. It’s deliberate. A process of choosing the association that you want. Volvo = safety. Harley-Davidson = the loudest, most American motorcycle. Walmart = low prices. The brand is the “thing” that you want to position. That’s why it makes sense to say that you position the brand, but it does not make sense to say that you brand the position.
If positioning is about strategy, then branding is about execution. It is the act of communication. And what are you communicating? The desired position!
Ah, but alas. These are words. Words! Unfortunately, some people will occasionally use the words positioning and branding interchangeably. I don’t know that I would get into any bar fights to defend my “position” (sorry, couldn’t help it!) but as a bigger issue, we want to be clear on whether we are selecting and defining a position, that is, positioning, or if we’re are communicating, i.e. branding.
Thinking about the bigger picture of product development is helpful to keep the distinction. The positioning process actually begins when we do our initial market research, prior to even designing a product. Our discoveries will guide us to determine the place we want to occupy in a customer’s mind by the benefits that we want our product to deliver. We then develop that product to deliver those benefits. It’s no accident that the template for a value proposition statement and a positioning statement are the same. (Ever noticed that?)
From there, the branding process begins. Our tasks are no longer to select a position – but to communicate it to the target market. If the positioning has been done well, and therefore the value proposition is clear; this is simple. During the branding process, we develop the vehicles for communication …. The normal collateral and artifacts that we think of. These will be visuals for sure, but also the means, the message, and the delivery.
Here’s my favorite way of keeping this straight: Positioning is about what should be communicated while branding is about how it should be communicated. Positioning is executed by strategists, branding by creatives.