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Brand Key Model

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Brand Key Model

Unlocking the elements of the Brand Key

We begin today with a series of three posts on brand positioning by examining the brand key framework in depth. While this model is only one among many, we chose the brand key because it contains the most critical elements of the positioning exercise, the critical components of strategic positioning. Moreover, the brand key is a potent tool because of the duality of the approach it offers: it can be used as an inside-out tool, starting with the essence of the Brand and working back to the other elements; but it also can be used as an outside-in approach, by looking at the target, consumer insights and the market place first. While Amati & Associates prefer to put the consumers and the customers at the center, sometimes there is a creative logic or an entrepreneurial inspired vision, which requires a different view of the positioning effort. The brand key is helpful in both cases.

Specifically, we will examine the nine components of the framework by starting with Roots, Competition, and Target. In a second post, we will dig deeper into Insights, Benefits, and RTBs, while in the last article, we will describe Values, Discriminators, and the Essence in more detail. Before we begin, just a final caveat, because while we refer in this article to the brand key, which is traditionally portrayed as a keyhole (the combination of a circle on top and a trapezoid at the bottom), we will refrain from using that representation, by providing a graphical model, which highlights the flow of the components, instead.

Brand Key


The first element we examine in this post is the Roots. They are often disregarded in brand positioning, albeit dissonance between roots and benefits or roots and discriminator often explains the perceived issues with a brand. On the latter point, many brands suddenly claim innovativeness while not having a clear track record of innovation and a very traditional history. Like there are very recent brands, which claim a tradition, which is nowhere to be found in their roots. In both cases, this discrepancy between sources and claims does not resonate well with consumers and nullifies the re-positioning effort.

In a nutshell, the roots are the historical strengths of the Brand, and they represent its past or where the Brand comes from. They often become key supporting elements to the Reason to Believe and therefore play a role in developing the brand benefits.

The roots can be clustered in three main categories:

  1. Inception: the story that originated the Brand, e.g., Ferruccio Lamborghini’s epic fights with Enzo Ferrari, led him the create Automobili Lamborghini…
  2. The Brand’s history: beyond the origin, the key defining moments and periods of a brand’s history, e.g., Ferrari’s own Scuderia Formula 1 track record; Hermes development from a Parisian harness workshop to becoming the saddlers’ manufacturer for European blue-bloods; Ben & Jerry’s well-known hippy culture and unique business vision, …
  3. The geographical location (at the origin or current): while this is often very important for food and beverages – as it relates to the denomination of origin or geographical perception of a category – today, it is increasingly more critical in other types. Of course, “made in Italy” is synonymous with good quality in many industrial sectors, but also for tech companies, having, for example, founders who worked in Silicon Valley it’s usually a plus.

Brand Key - Competition


Within the framework’s scope, competition is usually a vast notion. Of course, we look at direct competitors and spend time on indirect competitors, particularly by looking at those brands that offer an alternative beyond the traditional boundaries of a category. Moreover, we urge our clientele to extend further the notion by including brands that compete for the share of the attention of our customers within a similar set of consumption occasions. As an example, if the client is a wine brand, we will urge them to look at competitors within the adjacent consumption spaces of beer and spirits while at the same time looking at what else is new in the soft drink marketplace.

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This component plays a pivotal role in the whole positioning exercise first and foremost because brands tend to look at their target in terms of their categories. Of course, people tend to break the company-imposed boundaries in terms of functionalities and emotional responses.

Of course, the target will depend on the type of industry and business of the Brand:

  • Business to consumer: the Brand has a direct relationship with the consumers. The target should be split into shopper – focusing on the essential shopping missions – and user/consumer within the relevant occasions. Moreover, this is very true for innovative brands or brands positioning in adoption curves. There is a necessary split between a communication target and a consumption target.
  • Business to business to business: beyond the natural target of the Brand, it’s always crucial for a brand to gain a unique perspective on how its customers create value downstream. So include in the target of your target!
  • Business to business to consumers: a consumer understanding it’s critical because our customer needs will be a derivative of that. For me, a classic example is an ingredient producer seeking to position themselves among – for example – beverages producers: how can they be effective if they ignore the target and the consumer insights their customers are tapping into?

Brand Key - Ecosystem

While it is not easy to answer the question of who should be included within the target (our own vs. our customers’, communication vs. consumption, shopper vs. user), a helpful approach is to map the ecosystem of our Brand because it will help to identify whom we should be working with and at what level (e.g., communication, consumption, shopper, the customer of customer,…)


In this post, we looked at three elements of the brand key framework by identifying the Roots and their role, looking at the Competitors and an example of competitive mapping; and finally, making some consideration around the target. In the coming two posts, we will be examining the remaining other elements of the brand key positioning framework.

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