How do I position my brand for success? What is the most compelling story I can tell about my business? Those are two of the most substantial questions marketers and entrepreneurs have to answer when running their business. In fact, the answers will determine whether their brand will gain traction in the marketplace, grow, and get shared by consumers—or not.

An analysis of over 1,000 case studies from around the world of successful brand building has found that there are 26 different "approaches" to telling a brand story, each representing a different but proven opportunity to positioning your brand and telling your brand story. Each approach can be summarized by a key question (or set of questions), which I share below.

Tapping into this collective marketing intelligence by answering those 26 questions will help marketers sharpen their brand positioning platforms and tell better brand stories.

Setting the Stage

The first 10 questions deal with the context in which the brand can be positioned. They set the stage of the brand story, if you will.

1. Redefine your business: What other categories satisfy a similar need or provide the similar emotional reward that yours does? And what opportunities would this new perspective offer for building your brand and your portfolio? (Example: Cirque du Soleil)

2. Claim the gold standard: What is collectively understood and accepted to be the "ideal" your category has to offer, and how can your brand claim, utilize, or position itself against this ideal and its associations? (Example: DiGiorno's "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno.")

3. Be a part of culture: What cultural movement or subculture (and associated set of values) could your brand fit into or position itself against? (Example: the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty)

4. Tap into consumer rituals: How does your brand fit into your consumers' existing rituals? What emotional transformation do they go through during those rituals? How can your brand become a believable part of these rituals and help in the transformation? (Example: the way people eat Oreo cookies)

5. Harness the usage context: Where do consumers consume or use your brand, and what expectations, associations (both positive and negative), and opportunities does this environment provide? (Example: the original Got Milk campaign)

6. Disrupt category conventions: What are the generally accepted rules for how your category operates, and which ones could you break to change the category dynamics and the way your brand is perceived? (Example: Pedigree's Dogs Rules)

7. Resolve a category paradox: What are the biggest consumer frustrations in your category? What is your category's biggest paradox? How can your brand help resolve them? (Example: Dyson doesn't lose suction.)

8. Overcome consumption barriers: What barriers (real or perceived) are preventing consumers from purchasing or using your brand, and how can your brand help overcome those? [Example: the user imagery of Harley-Davidson's core riders, the OWG (old white guys), preventing younger riders from identifying with the brand]

9. Identify an enemy: What threat (real or imagined, conscious or unconscious) could your brand mitigate in your consumers' lives? (Example: the Truth anti-smoking campaign focusing on the corporate executives of the tobacco industry)

10. Brand archaeology: What lessons can be learned from the strategies and tactics that lead to your brand's growth in the past, and how can those lessons be translated into a contemporary solution? (Example: Buddy Lee)

Creating the Story

The next nine questions deal with the offering itself and provide the building blocks to create the actual brand story. These questions help you illuminate the main characters of the brand story, their antagonists, and their most defining features.

11. Romance the origins: Where does your brand come from, and what explicit or implicit meanings are associated with this origin that you could use to enhance the appeal of your brand? (Example: Fosters Beer)

12. Craft a creation story: Does a compelling story arise from the expertise and care with which your brand is made, or the ingredients and components being used? (Example: Jack Daniels)

13. Romance the way the product works: Can a focus on how your product works and delivers its core benefit elevate your brand? (Example: Febreze doesn't cover up the odors—it eliminates them.)

14. Celebrate the ingredients: Is there a highly differentiating ingredient or component of your product or brand that can be focused on to tell a compelling story? (Example: Westin's Heavenly Beds)

15. Identify your brand's defining attributes: What attributes do consumers find most distinctive and appealing in your category or for your brand? And which of those can your brand credibly claim or focus on? (Stella Artois' "Reassuringly Expensive," where price is a defining attribute)

16. Give meaning to the brand's weakness: If your brand has a real or perceived weakness that acts as a barrier to consumption, what meaning can you associate with this weakness that would turn it into strength or benefit? (Example: Old Spice's "If your grandfather hadn't worn it, you wouldn't exist" campaign)

17. Create a sense of scarcity and exclusivity: Can the scarcity and exclusivity of any aspect of your brand story elevate your brand's appeal? (Example: Abercrombie & Fitch's exclusive focus on the cool kids in school)

18. Conduct a torture-test: By showing how your product reacts under the most challenging circumstances or is used by those who depend on it the most, can you also demonstrate the value the product could provide to your everyday consumers? (Example: Duracell's "Trusted Everywhere")

19. Let experts tell your story: Who would be the most authoritative (or memorable) expert you could utilize to share your brand's story? (Example: Hill's Pet food "Vet's #1 Choice for Their Own Pets")

Defining the Connection

The last seven questions focus on the type of value the brand offers to consumers and the role it wants to play in their lives. Does the brand connect with its consumers by delivering a powerful and differentiating benefit or experience addressing a relevant consumer need, or does it want to connect with them at a deeper, more purposeful level?

20. Highlight the benefit: Does your brand deliver against a relevant consumer need by providing a benefit that is new to the category, or by providing a new level of benefit, or by providing a new combination of benefits? (Example: Method Cleaning Products, Clean Happy)

21. Stimulate the senses: What are your brand's sensory properties and how do they affect how people perceive, feel about, and interact with your brand? (Example: 5 Gum's "Stimulate your senses")

22. Dramatize the reward: What needs and wants drive consumers to choose your brand and how does your brand help your consumers help improve their lives? (Example: Wal-Mart's "Save Money. Live Better.")

23. Create a branded ritual: Can a set of ritualized behaviors be associated with the consumption of your brand that would give it increased meaning or emotional resonance with your customers? (Example: the Stella Artois nine-step pouring ritual)

24. Communicate shared values: Which core values driving your brand's actions and behaviors would best match the core values that guide your consumers'? Looking at those two sets of core values, what narratives and positioning territories emerge? (Example: Molson Canadian Beer's "I am Canadian")

25. Highlight your purpose: What's your brand's core reason for being? Why does it exist? How does your purpose tie back to an unmet consumer need or something that is of significant relevance to your consumers? (Example: Cheerios' Cheer on Reading Program)

26. Identify your brand's archetype: What core motivations and desires do your consumers try to satisfy by using your category in general and your brand in particular, and which archetype best corresponds to this set of desires? What characteristics define this specific archetype and how can those guide your brand story? (Example: The Geek Squad Hero archetype)

More information about the 26 brand positioning areas can be found at, a free Web-based app designed to help marketers create more compelling brand stories.

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26 Universal Questions for Brand Positioning (and Creating Your Brand Story)

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image of Ulli Appelbaum

Ulli Appelbaum is an international brand strategist and the founder of First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc., a brand strategy and research boutique that helps brands achieve their business potential by creating compelling positioning platforms and brand stories.

LinkedIn: Ulli Appelbaum