Brand positioning is the Holy Grail for cross-border founders

Carina Chopra
June 7, 2024
6 minutes


Brand positioning. The science of crafting the right strategy to create a compelling narrative for your brand. But for founders taking their businesses global, it is important to understand that brand positioning goes much beyond a catchy tagline or an advertisement campaign. They need to present their core offering to a global audience, with clearly differentiated and unique propositions that they can articulate to stand out. It is the identity of your brand that appeals to customers across different geographies, and the North Star that guides all business decisions and strategies across the business lifecycle.

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“Stories are up to 22 times more effective than facts alone.” This has now become a popular phrase among marketers across the world. 

When Jeniffer Aaker, professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business, first shared this, she emphasised the power of storytelling in business. When companies craft a compelling narrative, customers are more likely to connect with the brand, use its products, and recommend them to others. 

That’s the ambition of creating a brand: to create a story that influences opinion and achieves the larger business goal of increasing and maintaining revenue.  

Whether it is Apple’s “Think Different,” or HP’s call to “Keep Reinventing”; cloud software firm Zoho’s “Made in India. Made for the World” or Freshworks’ “Ridiculously easy software for business,” each brand resonates with its customers. It outlines a story, one that its customers remember.

Now think about why. It is because each story is simple, and has elements of cultural sensitivity, strategic adaptation, and a deep understanding of the target audiences and market. 

This is the science of brand positioning. It goes beyond taglines, or advertisements. It is, in a way, the DNA or the identity of the brand. It's the essence of who you are, the problem you solve, and why you matter to your core audience in a competitive tech ecosystem.

“Brand positioning is important because it's your first point of introduction to a market,” says Carina Chopra, Head of Marketing and Communication at Lightspeed. Our in-house expert on all things brand and communication, Carina advises founders to think deeply about their brand positioning, especially before entering a new or non-native market.

“It is the North Star for your business, so it requires all the attention in the early days rather than revisiting it down the line,” - Carina

Carina uses her experience of over 15 years to list a few key considerations for founders. She emphasises the importance of crafting an authentic brand identity that resonates with the audiences and urges founders to think deeply about positioning before going global.

Ask the right questions

Brand positioning informs everything you do, from marketing campaigns to pricing strategies. So it is important to get it right.

“Every decision, whether business-facing or not, comes from what kind of brand you are. If you have clarity about your positioning, you will make the right choices for your business,”
- Carina

To understand how they should position their brand, Carina encourages founders to begin by asking a few questions:

  1. Understand your audience: Who are you trying to reach, and where do they spend their time? This dictates your communication channels and ensures you reach them where they are. 
  2. Define the problem you’re solving: Think beyond functionality. Address the emotional pain point your product or service alleviates. For instance, if your product is an ad blocker, it won’t just eliminate intrusive ads, but also the frustration they cause customers.
  3. Why you: Describe why you, and only you, can solve the problem at hand. Explain your unique proposition and how it helps the customer solve their most pressing pain point.
  4. Assign a personality to your brand: Whether a person or an existing brand, assigning a personality subconsciously influences the design, tone, and voice of your messaging. For example, imagine your brand as Walt Disney. You instantly think imaginative, delightful, and focused on creating a sense of wonder. See how that translates into communication style?
  5. Ascribe a design and tone of voice: Think of how you want customers or consumers to see your brand. Serious, fun, enthusiastic, pragmatic? With each, the communication and messaging will be different. It will dictate how you communicate across all platforms, whether it’s organic or paid. Even the sub-text below your emails changes in accordance with this chosen tone.
  6. Understand competition:  Identify what sets you apart, even seemingly minor details. Study your top competitors to avoid blending in. A good example is Slack, which positioned itself as “The Future of Work” in a market crowded with incumbents such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. 

Brand positioning is a continuous exercise, so it is important not just to answer these questions at the outset, but also to revisit all these questions three to six months after putting

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Embrace simplicity

Keeping your brand language simple but effective ensures you reach the widest possible demographic of your brand's target audience.

“Brand positioning that is simple and well crafted will give you the leap off point for everything you're going to do,” says Carina. 

A great example of this is Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign. It shifted the focus from athletes, who usually endorse the brand’s shoes, to encouraging everyday people to push themselves to greatness. The simple message translated well across cultures. It also emotionally connected with the audience by tapping into the universal human desire for self-improvement. It is one of many ways Nike has made itself a brand accessible to all.

“Most great brands and services have very clear and easy positioning. The more you complicate it, the more you over-engineer the language, the further you go from being understood and relatable,” - Carina

Localise, don’t translate

A classic example of understanding the importance of localising your brand messaging is HSBC’s $10 million rebranding of its private banking message. The bank put out an advertisement campaign with the tagline of “Assume nothing”. This got mistranslated in several countries to “Do nothing”. It clearly wasn’t a good look for the bank, which was, at the time, promoting its money management expertise. 

The core learning from this example is that it is important to understand the cultural context of a new market, and never rely on direct translation. An example of a brand that understands this well is the language learning app, Duolingo. 

It understands the power of humour in its home market, the US, and uses it very well in its marketing campaigns. However, in Japan, their marketing largely focuses on the practical benefits of learning a language. These are seemingly small but important cultural differences in understanding your target audience. 

Building Trust in New Markets

Another important aspect of brand positioning in a new market is establishing credibility with potential customers.

Identify your key endorsers: This is the first step towards building that trust. Carina recommends partnering with or highlighting established brands that use your product or service. This social proof demonstrates your value to new customers and your target audience.

Quantifying your success: Data speaks volumes. Showcase impressive metrics like the number of Fortune 500 clients you serve, or the market share you hold in your home market. This builds trust and positions you as a leader.

Universal Proof Points: Focus on data points that resonate globally. Metrics such as accelerating a customer’s go-to-market journey, helping them save billing hours and other such metrics are universal proof points to showcase the differentiation built by your brand.

These brand positioning insights apply equally to consumer and B2B brands. Because, like Carina says,

“At the end of the day, decision-makers are people. By prioritising their needs and aspirations, you craft a message that speaks directly to them, regardless of their location.” - Carina

Brand positioning is a never-ending journey. As you expand, revisit and refine your message, while accounting for cultural nuances and the ever-evolving market landscape. By embracing this ongoing process, you will ensure your brand continues to resonate globally, attracting customers and propelling your business to conquer new frontiers.