economyInterviewsBrand positioning: big opportunities even for small businesses


Find what sets you apart from the competition. A relevant, sustainable difference. Then once you’ve found it, show it off, show it off, show it off

In the future, everyone will have15 minutes of fame.” (Andy Warhol). I wanted to start with a quote — the same one used in the book Zero concorrenti. Come usare il brand positioning per differenziarti e farti cercare dai clienti (Zero competition: How to use brand positioning to set yourself apart and make customers find you). This calls to mind Pop Art and all the ripples that the artistic movement caused throughout the art world and the wider society, and it ties in perfectly with the current context. Social media, personalized content and positioning: there’s a frantic search for the right strategy to help you stand out and get noticed. How has marketing changed and what should we do in this new context?

Marco De Veglia, who’s known as the Italian  father of Brand positioning even though he lives and works in Miami, has given us an honest to goodness users manual. Inspired by Jack Trout, he’s applied that marketing model for the first time to medium, small and micro enterprises, including freelancers.

Why is Brand positioning more important now than ever before?

As I explain in my book, brand positioning is more important today than it ever was before because advertising is now within reach for every company. Until about 10 years ago — that is, until “self service” online platforms were developed — advertising depended on spending money on mass media. Those price tags had 4-5 zeros at the end (or even 6 or more for TV). Consequently, brand positioning was reserved for the big companies with even bigger advertising budgets.

Now it’s possible to reach a significant number of users (tens of millions of Italians are Facebook users for example), and be extremely targeted (impossible with mass media), with prices closer to 20 euros. That means that the number of companies that can afford to invest in marketing has grown exponentially. Today it’s completely possible for just about any business to create a brand with digital tools.

Il Brand positioning.. ora una grande opportunità anche per la piccola impresa

You talk about a new era that started with the spread of the internet and picked up speed now through social media. How should we respond to this evolution?

For entrepreneurs — and in this case i mean the small and medium enterprises that make up 95% of all Italian businesses — the first thing to do is understand that you need marketing and that you can do it. Attitudes about marketing in SMEs are changing, and the internet has lowered the threshold for gaining access. However, there’s still resistance and the perception that “marketing isn’t for us, it’s for big companies.”But marketing is for all companies, plain and simple. There’s no business without marketing. It’s at once sophisticated (for targeting,  offering possibilities for interaction, multichannel and multimedia) and inexpensive (starting around 20 or 30 euros per day).

The second concept — and this goes for all companies, not just SMEs — is understanding that digital marketing is a”direct response,” also called “direct marketing.” When I first started working in this field almost 30 years ago, the idea was: direct marketing = mailers. Basically people thought mainly of catalogs and printed mail outs.

Most companies had very limited capabilities when it came to direct marketing. Today, the internet is a complete direct marketing tool: you can’t even think of online marketing without thinking of interactivity and asking the user for some kind of action: click, sign up, buy.

Italy is behind in terms of the direct marketing culture and needs to close the gap quickly. But the good news is that online direct marketing is easy and cheap. And you can experiment and learn without huge risks. Do it.

In your book you also talk about bad marketing strategies like focusing on the quality of the product, low prices, creative advertising… all things that were considered vital until a few years ago, but that you say don’t work anymore. Are people really immune to impulse buys now?

To tell you the truth, these ideas were already being expressed by Ries and Trout since the very first “Positioning” in the early 80s. They all come from the same basic principles of brand positioning, which are: start from your potential customer’s perspective, understand their limits and respond accordingly.

You could say that the concept of positioning was revolutionized when we realized that there’s a fundamental element of subjectivity in the interaction between marketing and potential customers. You need to understand them, cater to them and figure out how to use them to your advantage. Regarding impulse buying, that’s more about sales and distribution strategies than a brand strategy. It’s that idea of items by the checkout that are typically bought on impulse. They’re not choices based on the brand, they’re based on perceived cost-benefit ratios and “predisposition to buy.” These days the internet lets you impulse shop with a single click, without getting off the sofa, or even while you’re walking down the street. E-commerce has definitely increased our ability to impulse buy.

You talk about how brand positioning can be a great opportunity especially for small business. How should startups and entrepreneurs change their approach with that in mind?

The attitude of SMEs should be an understanding that they need marketing, and that they can do it thanks to digital tools that lower the threshold for access and make it easier to do. For startups, the discussion is analogous to the one on digital tools. However, I hope that startups–whether traditional or even more digital — are clear in the fact that they *need* marketing. I mean that you don’t need special training or education to meet that target.

In both cases, it’s about understanding brand positioning as a cornerstone of any marketing activity. Or, for a different metaphor, as a map (Google or otherwise) that shows you where to go with your message, with your brand promise.

Your book is also a users manual with concrete advice. I found the “Brand Positioning Statement” especially interesting. Can you tell us about that?

The Brand Positioning Statement is a formula I came up with (inspired by various authors and my own experience) for writing a brief document (one page max) that lets you define your Brand positioning and guide your actions in pursuit of it. It’s short and practical, composed of 3 paragraphs:

  • Paragraph 1: what is your company and what does it do?
  • Paragraph 2: what does the competition do and how is your company different?
  • Paragraph 3: how is that thing you do differently an advantage for your customers?

In my book Zero Concorrenti (Zero Competition), and even more so in my course “Easy Brand,” I explain in detail how to write it and put it into practice.

In the last part there’s a series of case studies that highlight how brand positioning was the key to differentiating and showing a product’s uniqueness. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to put your advice into action?

Both the book and the course — at different levels of detail and support — are practical tools for understanding how to use brand positioning with what I call the “Brand positioning formula.” This is the principles of positioning in practice, which I’ve developed over 30 years of work on this topic, with large and small businesses alike.

If I had to name one conclusive key message, I’d say: find what sets you apart from the competition. A relevant, sustainable difference. Then once you’ve found it, show it off, show it off, show it off.


Michela Di Nuzzo

« Se scrivo ciò che sento è perché così facendo abbasso la febbre di sentire». - Fernando Pessoa Giornalista e co-founder, vivo il digital come imprenditrice e appassionata. Percepisco il cambiamento come un'opportunitá mai una minaccia. Occhi spalancati e orecchie aperte, sempre pronta alla condivisione, la chiave di ogni evoluzione.

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