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Brand positioning: Roots, Competitors and Target (1/3)

Brand positioning: Roots, Competitors and Target (1/3)

Unlocking the elements of the Brand Key

We begin today a series of three posts on brand positioning, by examining in depth the brand key framework. While this model is only one among many, we chose the brand key because it contains the most important elements of the positioning exercise, the critical components of a strategic positioning. Moreover, the brand key is a very powerful 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 is also can be used as an outside-in approach, by looking at the target, consumer insights and the market place first. While an Amati & Associates we have the preference of putting the consumers and the customers at the center, sometime there is a creative logic, or an entrepreneurial inspired vision, which require a different view of the positioning effort, and the brand key is useful in both cases.

In specific 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 in more detail Values, Discriminator and the Essence. 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.

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 is often what explains the perceived issues with a brand. On the latter point, there are many brands, which suddenly claim innovativeness, while not having a clear track record of innovation, and a very traditional history. Just 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 roots and claim, does not resonate well with consumers and nullifies the re-positioning effort.

In a nutshell, the roots are the historic 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 the development of the brand benefits.

The roots can be clustered in three main categories:

  • Inception: the story that originated the brand, e.g., Ferruccio Lamborghini’s epic fights with Enzo Ferrari’s lead him the create Automobili Lamborghini, …
  • The Brand’s own 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 unusual business vision, …
  • The geographical location (at the origin or current): while this is often very important for food and beverages – as it related to denomination of origin or geographical perception of a category – today it is increasingly more important in other categories. Of course “made in Italy” its synonymous of 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.



Within the scope of the framework, competition is usually a very wide notion. Of course we look at direct competitors, but also spend time on indirect competitors, in particular by looking at those brands, which offer an alternative beyond the traditional boundaries of a category. Moreover, we urge our clientele to extend further the notion, by including also brands that compete for the share of 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.


This component plays a pivotal role for the whole positioning exercise. First and foremost because brands tend to look at their target in terms of their categories, while of course people tend to break the company-imposed boundaries of categories, 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, and the target should be then split in shopper – with the focus on the important shopping missions – and user/consumer, within the context of the relevant occasions. Moreover, and this is very true for innovative brands or brands positioning in adoption curves, there is a necessary split between communication target and a consumption target.
  • Business to business to business: beyond the natural target of the brand, it’s always important for a brand to gain an unique perspective on how they own customers create value downstream. So include in the target, 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 classical example is the one of 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 own customers are tapping into?

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), an useful approach is to map and the ecosystem of our brand, because it will help identifying whom we should be working with and at what level (e.g., communication, consumption, shopper, customer of customer,…)


In this post we looked at three elements of brand key framework, by identifying the Roots and their role, by looking at the Competitors and an example of competitive mapping; and finally by 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.

Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).