Why Branding Is Like Chess. And Why It Matters.

If you’ve ever played chess – or even watched a game – you know that only one chess piece can occupy any square on the board. If your bishop is sitting on a square, and your opponent’s knight lands on the same square? Bye-bye bishop.

Your prospect’s brain is like that chessboard. Only one brand can occupy any particular spot. And that begs the question: what spot do you own? What does your brand promise that no one else’s can?

To own a spot, you have to offer something that no one else has, or offer it in a way that no one else does. If you’re bragging about “generic” attributes like great service or competitive prices or quality products, you’re just one among many – and none of you owns a brand.

Two Ways to Win.

If you really want a brand that owns a position in the prospect’s mind, there are two ways to do it.

The first, as we mentioned, is to offer something no one else has, or offer it in a way no one else does. This never happens by accident. Never. It only comes from strategic planning.

You have to look at the market and the competition, then figure out what you can do that they can’t – or won’t. Think about Netflix. They started out as a convenient alternative to your local video store. Then, as internet speeds caught up to their ambition, they became a streaming service. Then they began creating original programs that people wanted to see.

And that tells you something about this first approach. It never ends. It can’t. As soon as you find or create a niche or an innovation, you’ll have competition copying you. That means you have to commit to a mindset of strategic branding. You have to constantly seek out new ways to stay ahead of the competition that are consistent with your brand position.

The other way to grab a spot and keep it is through sheer creativity and brazen marketing. One of the most successful examples is HBO. When they reinvented themselves with outstanding original programming like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, their marketing mantra became, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” The genius of that approach? They repositioned all of their competition.

If you can make your marketing memorable – so much so that it is unmistakably identified with you – you can lock down a space in your prospect’s mind. And as long as you sustain it, you will be very hard to knock off.

Let’s Be Honest.

What’s the biggest barrier to branding? What keeps most companies from truly owning a square and kicking their competitors off the board? It’s the mistaken belief that they have a brand when they don’t. The delusion that saying what everyone else is saying is somehow having an impact. It isn’t.

So start with an honest appraisal of where you are right now. Be brutally, unflinchingly candid. Only when you know where you’re starting from can you get on the board and own your spot.

(And if you’d like to partner with an agency that specializes in helping clients do exactly that, just reply to this email. It’s the first step to brand ownership.)