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Frame of Reference: Where Is the Brand Placed?

Customers place brands in categories. Define your frame of reference, otherwise your customers will.
Frame of Reference: Where Is the Brand Placed?

Customers place brands in categories.

These categories are a frame of reference.

  • Volvo = Cars
  • Apple = Electronics
  • Louis Vuitton = Bags

Define your frame of reference, otherwise, your customers will.

Position, or Be Positioned

A frame of reference is a coordinate system for the customer.

The customer wants to know where to place your brand.

  • What are you offering?
  • What can they expect?

As mentioned in a previous article, a brand tries to occupy the corner of someone's mind.

Your job as a brand is to make it easy for your customers to place your brand in that corner.

Competing in Existing Categories

The easy way is to pick an established category for your brand.

  • Products: Cars, Mobile Phones, Meat
  • Services: Healthcare, Consulting, Haircut

You communicate points of parity (= what you have in common with the category) and points of differentiation (= what makes you unique).

You compete with other brands in the same category.

Creating New Categories

Another way is to address the same customer group but give them another way to look at your brand's positioning.

  • Products: Family station wagon, Smartphones, Butcher's Finest
  • Services: Preventative Medicine, Coaching, Styling

You might notice that the products/services are effectively the same but positioned in a different way.

Your goal is to be top-of-mind for a particular category.

With undifferentiated products/services you do it with a twist on existing categories.

With highly differentiated products/services your brand is able to create a "Category of One".

Bottomline: Design How You Want to Be Remembered

A customer places your brand into a corner of their mind.

Make sure your brand controls which corner to occupy.

Ideally, it is a corner where your brand can sit on its own.


This post is an excerpt from my online course Fundamentals of Brand Strategy where you learn how to build successful brands.

The self-paced online course contains 5 hours of video material and teaches you how to use the Brand Pyramid.

Brand Pyramid in Action: Use it to create, audit, and improve your brands.
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