Everything communicates – everything you do and say and don’t do and don’t say internally and externally. Given that, aligning what you say about your brand with what you do and what you are as an organization has to make sense. Do that by connecting every aspect of your brand positioning with the essence of your organization.

This happens at the intersection of three frameworks: Brand Positioning, Core Focus, and BRAVE Leadership.


Brand Positioning

For (target,) (brand) is the (frame of reference) that best delivers (benefit,) because (support) as (character.)


  • Target: Customer and problem the customer needs solved.
  • Frame of reference: Other choices the customer could/should consider.
  • Benefit: Promise – meaningfully unique. All benefits are ultimately emotional.
  • Support/attributes – permission to believe: Product/Service/System proof.
  • Character/attitude/voice: Who we are.



Positioning is all about setting yourself apart from your competition in the mind of your customer.  In descending order of impact pulled from an old Procter & Gamble list of ways to be competitive:

  1. Superiority on some benefit or attribute that meets customer needs significantly better than competition or than an enlarged or reduced set of competition, perhaps going all the way to focusing on one competitor’s point of weakness – claims, comparisons, side-by-side demos.
  2. Distinctive product benefit, emotional benefit, attribute or character that no one else is offering or talking about.
  3. Communicating your offering better than competition through a distinctive selling idea, claim versus a standard of excellence, leveraging loyal customers, portraying before and after situations, torture tests, setting up a special problem only your brand can solve, expert endorsement.


Core Focus

Every organization designs, produces, sells, delivers, and services in some way. The most effective know which of those, other than selling, defines their core. Then they align their culture, organization, the CEO’s role, and how they operate with that core.


BRAVE Leadership

This started as a way to understand culture and developed into a framework for leadership, posing five questions moving from outside to inside to back to outside.


Aligning Brand Positioning

Now, let’s cross the three frameworks.


  • Target is another way of asking where to play.
  • Frame of reference sets up whom you need to beat in order to win with your target.
  • Benefit must must must match up with what matters and why and your design, produce, deliver, or service focus. This is the heart of be, do, say integrity, and exactly what Simon Sinek gets at in his why – how – what golden circle.
  • Support or permission to believe is all about how to win.
  • Character is to your brand what culture is to your organization. People care what they buy and whom they buy from. Make your external brand character match your internal brand culture or pay the price when you get found out.


So, as you think through your brand positioning, make sure:


  • Your target matches the set of customers and problems the organization chooses to serve.
  • Your organization is actually competing against those called out in your frame of reference
  • Your organization delivers the benefit you’re promising. Promises of “new” or “innovative” require design focus. Promises of “reliability” or “confidence” require production focus. Speed promises require delivery focus. Experience promises require service focus.
  • Your organization is investing to win by being predominant (top 1%), superior (top 10%) or, at least, strong (top 25%) in the areas supporting your promised benefit while being above average/competitive, good enough/scaled or outsourcing or not doing other things.
  • Your brand character fits the organization culture.



This is, of course, harder for organizations at points of inflection. In these cases, there may be a gap between the aspirational and current organization and culture. It’s tempting to jump to an aspirational brand positioning at the same time. Be careful not to get too far ahead of your truth. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the alternate.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #746) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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