The Power of Visual Problem-Solving Applied to Brand Positioning

Visual problem-solving is not really new in marketing. In fact, we’ve been using whiteboards, mind maps and flowcharts for a while now.

Visual problem-solving is powerful in the following ways:

  1. It relies on different senses and taps into a different part of our brain to solve problems, and it allows us to override the natural mental patterns we are all subject to and that prevent us from thinking originally.
  2. It enables us to process more information faster and thus make sense of more complex situations by allowing us to see the “big picture.”
  3. It allows us to easily see gaps and opportunities that we couldn’t see without the context provided by the visualization.

Visual problem-solving applied to positioning development

Up until now, it was not really possible to apply visual problem-solving to the development of brand positioning platforms. What has been missing is a framework that captures the big picture and that can be visualized.

Sure, the industry has been using mind maps for a while now, but mind maps are usually very limiting because they force you to boil down your strategic universe to two core dimensions (the horizontal and the vertical axes), which is often not sufficient to capture or explain a complex problem.

Visualizing Positioning-Roulette provides the missing big picture Framework.

The visualization of Positioning-Roulette now provides this visual frame of reference (the big picture), allowing you for the first time to think through your positioning options visually.

Positioning-Roulette can be described as the “genome project” of positioning development—or, to be more poetic, the Pandora of positioning development.

In fact, Positioning-Roulette captures the 26 universal and proven successful approaches to brand positioning, based on the analysis of over 1,200 case studies of effective brand building. The 26 territories represent the total universe of potential options. They help you visualize the map of human triggers that can be used to position a brand and thus provide an ideal framework to explore and analyze your positioning options. They allow you to take full advantage of the benefits of visual problem-solving.

Understanding the model

The model provides a visual representation of the 26 universal positioning territories available to position a brand. The territories are organized into three categories that will be familiar to the experienced marketer.

  1. The frame of reference (context)
  2. The type of connection you want to create with your audience (connection)
  3. The unique aspect of your brand that you want to highlight (content)

In order to be successful, a brand needs to be at the intersection of these three categories. This doesn’t mean that all three “groups” need to be communicated as part of the brand story (a brand positioning is all too often confused with a communication strategy) but the brand stewards need to have a clear understanding of how these three groups come together to allow for a powerful positioning platform.

The best way to start using this model is by positioning your brand within the circle. Some brands will gravitate more toward one of the 26 territories, which is fine. I call this the “brand’s center of gravity.” It should be clear, though, which territories in the other two categories are being used to position the brand. Ideally, there should be a connection to one of the territories in each of the three groups (context, connection, content).

Each of the 26 territories should then be looked at from two different perspectives:

  1. In relationship to the other territories. This leads to questions such as, “What is the best frame of reference to highlight my brand? Is it the ‘usage context’ of my brand, or could ‘an enemy my brand can fight’ be a more differentiating option?” This perspective allows you to plot your brand within the bigger picture of available options and thus better explore alternatives.
  2. Within each specific territory. Once you have the big picture, it is important to look at the chosen territories in more detail. In fact, there might be different ways to “tell your creation story,” for example or different ways to highlight an “ideal scenario.”

Obviously, the model is easier to use once you’ve become familiar with the 26 territories summarized in Positioning-Roulette.

There are two primary ways to use this model

(1) Generation of positioning ideas

This model can be used to generate strategic ideas (hypothesis) when trying to position or reposition a brand. The easiest and most obvious way to do so is to systematically go through all 26 territories and let these territories inspire solutions (it is easier with the Positioning-Roulette flashcards). In fact, this is what the methodology was originally designed for. Doing so will lead you to a rich number of potential solutions and allow you to explore your positioning exercise from a 360-degree perspective.

A more creative way to apply this methodology, but also a slightly more challenging and rewarding one, is to purposely create “forced connections” between the territories, which is another well-known creative problem-solving technique.

The idea here is to randomly pick one positioning territory from each category (context, connection, content) and then try to combine them into one coherent positioning platform. For example, how would you position your brand if you were to combine the following:

  1. Tapping into consumer rituals (context)
  2. Shared values (connection)
  3. Torture test (content)

Or what alternative solutions could you come up with when combining the following:

  1. Redefining your business (context)
  2. Stimulate the senses (connection)
  3. Tell your creation story (content)

(2) Evaluation and optimization of a positioning strategy

Another way to use this model is to plot your existing positioning strategy in this framework and to understand what territories it taps into (or doesn’t). Once the positioning statement has been mapped and you understand what triggers are being used, you can start to look at the options in each section to see whether you can strengthen the positioning platform and make it more desirable to your audience. This approach allows you to (literally) look at, explore and discuss your positioning alternatives with the big picture right in front of you—something that is almost impossible to do using words only or using conventional methods of positioning development.

For example, you could assess whether the frame of reference chosen to position your brand is the most advantageous one for the brand story in light of your available options, whether the type of connection the brand seeks (“benefit” versus an “archetype” perspective, for example) is the most engaging and differentiated one, and whether you’re telling the right story about your product or service.

This makes it a perfect tool for marketing directors to assess positioning strategies (and creative ideas as well, actually) presented to them either by their teams or by their agency.

Visual problem-solving is a powerful way to come up with original ideas and solutions and can now also be applied to the development of positioning strategies, a first in the industry. And while I have described two very effective ways to use this model, there are plenty of other applications.

You can download the model by clicking on the button of this page.

Let me know what you think and how you have applied it.

Positioning Roulette Flashcards

The model is easier to understand and work with with the best-selling Positioning-Roulette flashcards.

The deck consists of 26 cards, each featuring a different, proven successful strategy to position a brand or tell a brand story. Each card describes one of the 26 principles and includes a series of questions to inspire the user’s creative ideation process. They can be used by an individual trying to look at a problem from different perspectives or by a group as a workshop ideation tool and creative problem-solving tool.

The 26 “approaches” were identified by analyzing over 1200 case studies of successful brand building (Effies, etc.). They are so effective and powerful because they are rooted in the way people think, feel, learn, do, choose, and behave.

If you live in the US you can order the cards through Amazon. If you live outside the US, you can order the cards here (free shipping).

First The Trousers also provides corporate training and facilitates Positioning-Roulette workshops, where, together with your team, we explore, develop and select the most promising positioning platform for your brand.