Ride the wave – agile brand positioning for uncertain times

Discover where to adapt and where to stand firm

Agile brand positioning

How do you best position your brand when the environment it operates in is constantly shifting? What can you do when you see increasing competition in your sector and know that you have to carve out a clearer position in your target audience’s mind?

Should you be niching down – homing in on the one thing that you believe differentiates your brand from its peers? Or is it safer to go the other way – extending your offering or entering new markets? Surely, casting your net wider means you’ll catch more fish…

You may, quite understandably, be feeling anxious about making any decisions in the current economic climate. After all, why rock the boat when the waters are already choppy? In this post, I show you which elements of your brand strategy should remain fixed and which areas you can be confident about exploring – identifying ways in which you can adopt agile and become bolder in how you think about your brand.

And the best news? If you’re a micro, small or medium business, you have a built-in natural size advantage; think of bigger brands as unwieldy cruise liners, while your own business is, in comparison, a nippy sailboat, able to effect a manouevre in a fraction of the time.

(Apologies for all the surfing and seafaring references – they’re a bit of a theme with this post!)

A word on Agile:

Agile embraces situations as they unfold, making decisions as necessary, to stay on track towards those goals, even adapting goals as you go.

It’s based on the idea that things tend to have their own life cycle of usefulness and if that life cycle remains unchanged it goes out of date and becomes ineffective. This means there’s a need to be improving and developing continuously to disrupt this natural life cycle before it enters decline and causes disruption itself.


Hold fast

The elements of your brand that remain its solid and unchanging core are its foundations (let’s assume here, that you’re already clear on these) – your brand purpose, mission, vision and values.

The brand personality traits that fed into these and inform your day-to-day communication are also well-known and understood by your team. You’ll naturally be regularly checking in with these strategic statements – making sure that your mission is being delivered, your values are being followed across all customer and employee touchpoints, and that your branding and tone of voice remain on point.

Brand foundations

So, if these elements of your brand remain solid and unchanging, what can you flex so that you’re able to maintain your edge and continue delivering on your mission?

Examine what’s changing

Taking its lead from that famous saying, ‘If we want things to stay as they are, [i.e. your business maintaining its position in the marketplace] things will have to change’ – let’s start by looking at what might be changing around you. You may well have a clearly defined position, but competitors are moving into your space:

  • Sounding and looking a lot like you
  • Offering services that seem indistinguishable from those that you provide
  • Servicing the same sectors

Your ownable space – the brand moat I wrote about here – is being threatened.

In this instance, it’s time to consider your positioning. You’ll be looking to adjust one or two coordinates to ensure you maintain that clear, ownable space while also taking other, external factors into account ­– both those that present challenges and those that offer opportunities.

External forces that may be at play:

  • Innovations – both within your sector and in the world at large, including the impact, both current and future, that developments in AI create
  • Pandemics (not something we might have thought of few years ago)
  • Trends
  • Economic and geopolitical pressures
  • Government regulation (for those of us operating in Europe, issues around Brexit are still very much on the agenda).

The above forces aren’t necessarily negatives, change can, and does, bring opportunity. Also, very importantly, revisiting your positioning means taking into account and reviewing any internal changes that might be moving you towards reorienting your brand:

  • Development of new IP
  • Mergers and collaborations
  • New talent joining the organisation, expanding skill sets.

Adjust your position

Once you’ve objectively reviewed the environment you’re operating in, identifying all the factors that might indicate that it’s time to adapt your positioning, take time to consider your selling points – how your brand resonates with its audience and where you offer particular value.

This is about far more than having a USP. The term has fallen out of favour as, in truth, very few brands can lay claim to the holy grail of that single USP. It’s far better to think of this as something that’s grown out of the USP concept, a combination of selling points if you like.

Scrap the ‘U’ in USP and try on some of these other selling points for size:

  • ESPs – Expert Selling Point – can you credibly claim some authority in your market?
  • OSPs – Originator Selling Point – were you the first in your category or did you have a memorable start to your brand journey?
  • VSPs – Values Selling Point – is how you deliver your service or product different?
  • NSPs – Narrative Selling Point – can you tell a story that pitches you as the hero
  • PSPs – Personality Selling Point – do you look and sound distinctive in a bland category?
  • CSPs – Community Selling Point – are you super connected, is your brand a key player in its network or category
  • SSPs – Size Selling Point – are you unusual in your category?

This is by no means an exhaustive list… there are many other ways to show the world you are distinct and appealing, particularly when you realise that you don’t have to fix on sector and service offering.

Whether you choose to subtly adjust your coordinates to accentuate your edge in one or more of these SPs or take a bolder view, pivoting and going all-in on one SP, what you want to do is navigate your brand towards an updated, well-defined and memorable positioning – the antithesis of lookie-likie generalism.

Naturally agile

Strategy, very much like a brand, is essentially a creative exercise. In an uncertain, dynamic environment it can be likened to surfing – you put yourself in a position to not only ride the waves of opportunity, but have a hand in creating them – defining and shaping new directions for your brand.

Adopting an agile mindset for your brand strategy and homing in on what can be flexed and refined prepares you for change and helps you keep your options open. Even more crucially it can alter how you understand change, seeing it not as a barrier or limitation but a path towards the adaptations you need to make.

Although it’s very much a customer-focused approach where you’re not afraid to keep on reviewing, testing and adjusting, being crystal clear about your non-negotiables and staying true to your brand values is equally important. In the words of Basecamp founder, David Heinemeier Hansson:

…it’s about running a business in a way you can feel proud about. And the only way to do that consistently is by not A/B testing your core values.

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