Mapping Your Competitive Brand Position

One of the things that I am preparing for my upcoming Digital Marketing Strategy Bootcamp is a reference guide filled with handy strategy frameworks.  Some of the frameworks are very well-known (i.e. created by someone else), others much less so (i.e. created by me).  Either way, my hope is that this reference guide will be useful for participants in a way that a binder full of slides can not be.


A well-known framework that will be included in this reference guide is a competitive positioning map.  This type of tool is used to visualize differences among competing organizations and brands across various dimensions.  These maps are often used in brand strategy work and can be presented as spider graphs, comparison tables, and scatter charts.  The format used most often is a matrix that illustrates competitive differences against two axes.  An additional layer of performance data (e.g. revenue or market share) is often included in the matrix in the form of different ‘bubble’ sizes.


Creating an accurate and useful positioning matrix can be surprisingly challenging.  You need to first identify the market that you are analyzing to ensure that the right organizations or brands are included - without overlooking new and non-traditional competitors.  From there, you need to identify the most meaningful comparative dimensions to include as axes.  Often, axes are chosen to ‘lead the witness’ by dramatizing a particular white-space for positioning a brand.  To avoid this pitfall (or temptation), make sure that the comparative dimensions for your axes are:

  • Broad: Must be able to apply across all competitors
  • Salient: Must matter to how customers distinguish
  • Contrasting: Must be perceived as polar opposites
  • Measurable: Must be able to place on a single axis
  • Objective: Must not be inherently good or bad

A few years ago, I was working with some friends to help refine the positioning for an advertising agency (the irony being that the last thing an advertising agency wants to position itself as is an advertising agency).  To do so, we created a competitive positioning matrix and analyzed 100 different agencies.  This led us to identifying 20 different ‘positions’ in the market.  This competitive positioning map was helpful for us to understand how various agencies tended to focus on a few key areas.

One of the benefits of doing this work was that we were able to revisit the positioning map and plot the same 100 agencies after 3 years.  It was interesting to see how agency positioning (and the expression of that positioning) had changed:

  • Established agencies becoming more digital.  Digital agencies becoming more integrated.
  • Consultancies becoming more creative.  Creative agencies becoming more strategic.
  • Out with technology, CRM, advertising.  In with experiences, product, engagement.

I could go on, but will save that for another post.  My point is that by taking the time to structure a matrix based on meaningful dimensions and completing the analysis with a robust group of competitors can be a useful exercise for the present and the future.


P.S. If you are interested in agency positioning, I highly recommend following Tim Williams who literally wrote the book on the topic.  His writing was immensely helpful for this work.