Most categories have a so-called “gold standard”, an ideal in the collective perception of what a product should be or should be associated with, the emotions, needs, values and moods it would be associated with, the ideal usage context, etc. Call it the category highground. It captures the product’s or category’s most important associations of why, where, how and with whom.

This ideal will obviously depend on the category in which your brand operates and the consumer segment you are trying to target. For example, in the U.S., the gold standard for pizzas used to be home delivery. In Italy, on the other hand, it might be grandma’s homemade pizza and all the associations that come along with that image (large family gatherings, comfort food, feeling loved, etc.). The gold standard for orange juice might be “freshly squeezed ripe oranges’’. The gold-standard for Harley Davidson—or riding a motorcycle in general—might be the sense of freedom felt when riding on an open road in the American West (rather than being stuck in the traffic on the way to work on a rainy day).

Even within a given category, the gold standard might vary by consumer segments. In the pet food category, for example, some consumers might see “scientifically developed food backed by extensive research and endorsed by reputable authorities” as the gold-standard for pet nutrition, while other consumer segments might consider the ideal food to be food that tastes great and provides a lot of variety to the pet. Same category, different consumer segments, different gold standards.

As a brand you can try to claim the associations triggered by the gold-standard (“It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno”) or positioning yourself as closely as possible to this gold standard. The National Pork Board for example closely associated itself with chicken (“The other white meat”), clearly positioning itself as an alternative to what is perceived as a healthier alternative, i.e. chicken (gold-standard), while taking full advantage of all the positive associations created by the idea of “white meat”. This “reframing” led to an increase in pork sales of 20%.

Thought starters

In the eyes of your consumers, what is/are the accepted gold standards in your category?

Describe as exhaustively as possible what your consumers might associate with this gold standard by using the 6Ws model—Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How. It can be useful here to create a collage rather than just a list of words, or have consumers do this or you.

Inspired by the collage or list of associations you just created, capture all the positioning ideas that you and your team can come up with by either claiming the gold-standard associations directly or by positioning yourself against them.

Select and discuss the most interesting ones

This article is an excerpt from my award-winning “The Brand Positioning Workbook: A Simple How-To Guide To More Compelling Brand Positionings, Faster”, available on Amazon.

We are brand positioning experts and would love the opportunity to show you how our unique approach will help you create a compelling and business-building positioning platform for your brand.

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