How to define and defend your brand ‘moat’

A useful tool for stress testing your positioning and what differentiates you from your competition

Positioning brand castle

You want to stand out, be famous in your world for what you and your team do but does the marketplace you’re in feel crowded, even claustrophobic? You seem to bump up against the same people time and again, and there’s a real concern that this will end up becoming a race to the bottom. Perhaps your inbound enquiries aren’t as good as they could be or prove to be badly qualified when they do come in. Does it feel like you’re merely blending in with everyone else? That your brand is a tad too generic – dare I say, even bland?

The answer to this dilemma lies in defining your brand’s ownable space – fine-tuning your positioning and creating a space you can then defend with confidence – your brand ‘castle’ surrounded by the clear boundary of a ‘moat’.

Finding your ownable space

There’s a versatile yet simple tool you can use to test your brand’s positioning. It helps you place the insights you gather – from early-stage gut instinct to detailed findings – under the microscope and guides you towards a space that will see you play to your strengths and motivate your customers.

This will mean that all the messages you send out are the right messages. You’ll discover how to look, as well as act, the part, win more work and maybe even be able to charge a premium. And your prospects will be far more likely to pre-qualify themselves before even approaching you.


Some notes on ‘positioning’

Brand design consultants, brand strategists and business consultants use the term ‘positioning’ freely but often ascribe different meanings to it.

For the purposes of this task I’d describe positioning as your ‘ownable space’, that moat and castle – what you do, or perhaps more importantly what you don’t do, who you do it for, what makes you special (the factor or factors that make you attractive and distinct) and how you want to be perceived.

In the words of Warren Buffet when he’s looking to invest in a successful brand:

…we’re trying to find a business with a wide and long-lasting moat around it, protecting a terrific economic castle with an honest lord in charge of the castle.

[he goes on to say]

…it could be because of its position in the consumers’ mind, it can be because of a technological advantage, or any kind of reason at all, that it has this moat around it.

Brand positioning

B2B brand owners are often challenged with the question: What’s your USP? Unless you invent a whole new category or hit on a disruptive new model (in which case you can stop reading now!) – one single, truly unique selling point is nigh on impossible in a crowded marketplace. More often than not, you’re searching for a combination of things that are important and resonate with your audience or that protect your space in the market.

For example, you might be the only virtual reality studio that works with mental health practitioners to create workplace learning tools. These points on their own are not unique but combined, they start to give you an ownable position. In this instance: What you are + what you do + niche sector = ownable space.

The steps you need to take

For the purposes of this example, I’m going to assume you’ve done some research – customer listening, a review of where you play and what your immediate marketplace looks like. In an ideal world, you will also have workshopped with your team, looking at what motivates you, your purpose, vision and values. Now you’ll be coming to the table with a bunch of insight and theories that require testing.

  1. Draw a 4 quadrant matrix
  2. Plot 2 of the differentiators you want to test at the top and right.
  3. Plot the antithesis at the other end.
  4. Place yourselves on the matrix.

Now plot your competitors – to do this you’ll need a good sense of the messages they’re sending out through their marketing activity, LinkedIn presence and website.

Can you see a clear moat – an impenetrable forcefield – emerging around you or are your competitors still too close for comfort?


Is your ownable space in the top right quadrant? If it isn’t, what will you have to do to move towards that position?

If your location on the grid is still giving you a feeling of claustrophobia, try different combinations. You may be settling on more than two differentiators or too complex a differentiator in which case you’ll struggle to communicate your position clearly. Keep things as simple and pared down as you comfortably can – single-mindedness is the aim.

How to ‘own’ your moat and castle

You’ve defined your ownable space – the ‘castle’ is yours to protect and nurture. Now make sure you ‘own it’.

Every blog post, comms message, customer interaction and experience should reiterate your positioning. Look the part, tell the story and show the world you have something worth protecting. Highlight testimonials that amplify and offer social proof of this ownable space. What you say, how you look and the experience you give your audience should all tie together to create the uniform whole that is your brand identity.

And before you go, take a look at this case study of Skylark Media who have built that valuable moat around their brand castle:

If you’re a prospect looking to communicate a message focused on sustainability, who would you pick? The generalist film production company who’ll work with anyone or the specialist who shares your values and has a track record and expertise in working with ethical, sustainable brands?

Download this blank positioning matrix

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