Positioning, Branding, or both? Let’s clear up the confusion.

Often we get calls from B2B tech companies looking for a brand strategy. Or we receive a desperate call by a tech executive to come in and clean up after an expensive branding effort that missed the mark. This got us thinking about a couple of questions that we hear time and time again:

  • What is the difference between Branding and Positioning?
  • Do companies need Branding, Positioning or both?
  • When is B2C branding helpful for a B2B company?

The terms “Branding” and “Positioning” are often used interchangeably. It is common for B2B tech executives to use the term Branding when they mean Positioning, and vice versa. But while both deal with placing something in your buyers’ minds, there is a BIG distinction, and here it is:


Good positioning forces decisions about category, market segmentation and differentiators. It also articulates the competitive, differentiated value delivered by the company or product so that is resonates and is understandable by the target buyer.

These are the tangible, functional reasons for buying.

Good branding creates an ever-lasting experience in the buyer’s mind as articulated through images, voice, style and feelings. Branding speaks to the aspirations of the buyer. These are the intangible, emotional reasons for buying.

When is Positioning the deal?

Every B2B tech company, even the smallest start-up, needs strong positioning. Why? Positioning is key to selling, establishing a distinct “corner of the room” in the market category, influencing the buying criteria and engaging sales cycles. Positioning articulates the value proposition delivered by your product. And most importantly, positioning answers the key buyer questions every tech company must answer – “Why your company, now?” and “How are you different?”

Positioning starts with a product, service or solution. Positioning is the necessary foundation and the starting point for a Brand identity.

When is Branding the deal?

A great Brand arises from successful Positioning. Branding brings to life the personality of the company, its cultural identity. Branding gives voice to aspirational associations, and articulates the unique experience buyers can expect.

Branding is particularly effective in commodity markets. Without unique IP, secret sauce or unique product differentiators, branding becomes the unique differentiation and justification for commanding a premium price. This is why branding is so important in most consumer markets.

Branding is also important for larger companies managing a sizeable portfolio of products. Brands provide a unifying identity across multiple products, while providing a singular, differentiated point of view to drive market awareness.

When should I do both?

Brand becomes less important in B2B technology markets with products that have unique IP, or that are continually being disrupted by the next platform or wave of innovation.

However, for some B2B companies and markets, the combination of a strong product positioning AND a memorable brand experience makes sense and can become a formidable competitive weapon.

This is particularly the case in markets that have “crossed the chasm and gone Main Street,” or for companies that need a unifying brand to pull together a disparate collection of different products. PeopleSoft effectively combined its “California Culture” brand with strong product positioning to carve out a distinct position in the ERP days. More recently, IBM’s SmartPlanet brand helps IBM rise above the noise and stand for something while providing a unifying value for its thousands of different product lines.

In summary: while branding’s not for everyone, and works best in specific situations, EVERY B2B tech company needs good positioning as the starting point. Where does your company stand in terms of capturing the heart and mind of your buyer?