An image of RedShift's Content Strategy process. On the right is onboarding, following by positioning brief and content roadmap. To the right is a content creation loop for "direct," "produce," "test," and "fine-tune."

Want a better content strategy? Start with a positioning brief.

Want a better content strategy? Start with a positioning brief.

When you first start a business (or even if you’ve been in business for a century!), it’s important to do things in the right order. As a longtime business strategist and mentor once explained it to me:

“A lot of entrepreneurs start off marketing and selling to customers. They accept the money into a personal account, don’t track their expenses, and don’t know the laws in their industry. Then they have to go back, collect all of their receipts and hire a lawyer and accountant to make up for all of their early mistakes. It’s better to go in the reverse order: talk to a lawyer to make sure you’re operating legally, then analyze the market and financial implications with an accountant, and then get to operations and marketing so you can grow your business sustainably and aboveboard.”

The same principles apply to your content marketing strategy. While writing new content for your website or cranking out blog posts and sharing them with the public may feel exciting, writing effective content requires a strong foundation. If you have not established your company’s driving purpose and written it down so you can keep it in mind as you produce content, you’re going out of order and may end up with content that doesn’t attract the customers you’re looking for—or worse, actually drives them away.

Instead, maximize your brand’s potential. Champion your brand’s purpose and rallying cry with the foundational document upon which all other elements of your brand strategy rely: your positioning brief.

What is positioning?

To fully understand the purpose and value of a positioning brief requires understanding the definition of positioning. Positioning is the theory that in order to become a leader in your market, you must establish and safeguard a market position.

What is a market position? According to the classic marketing book Positioning by legendary thinkers Jack Trout and Al Ries, a market position is an idea that your brand owns in the mind of the market.

In the grocery store market, Whole Foods owns the idea of “high-end organic foods.” Walmart owns the idea of “cheapest foods.” HEB owns the idea of “affordable local Texas products.” La Michoacana is where you can go to get “Mexican foods that are not available at most other stores.” Each store is positioned differently, speaking to a different audience and occupying a different market position.

In automobiles, a Camry represents the position of a reliable, affordable, no-frills vehicle. A Charger is a muscle car. A Ford F-150 is for people who either haul stuff or want to flex their country credentials. An Aston Martin is for someone who wants a unique, expensive, luxury vehicle. Camry buyers aren’t interested in an Aston Martin; an Aston Martin occupies a different position.

The same can be seen in virtually every market. If you think of a product that you personally use, you can probably also think of a competitor to that product, and spot the differences between them because they each have a different position in the market.

What is a positioning brief?

A positioning brief is a document made up of smaller, fragmented pieces of commonly used content that put your market position in writing. You will commonly use your positioning brief to communicate ideas to people both inside and outside your company, and to guide the actual execution of securing your market position.

Because your positioning brief helps you create a clear vision for your brand and its messaging, it should precede any piece of content, even if it’s just an email newsletter or blog post. Ideally, you should produce a positioning brief even before you establish a content calendar, content guidelines, or any other content strategy documents. All content follows your positioning brief.

Why should I spend time creating a positioning brief?

The main reason to create a positioning brief is the same reason you do anything else in business: it preserves resources and drives profit.

When your market position is unclear, you can never know whether or not your marketing strategy is based on a solid foundation, and can therefore never test whether or not your marketing is effective. You have to constantly reinvent the wheel (or in this case, the brand). 

Conversely, a solid positioning brief helps you: 

  • Seamlessly launch sales and marketing campaigns
  • Edge out competitors
  • Appeal to the right customers
  • Impress a wide variety of stakeholders with tailored messaging, including employees, partners, investors, media, prospects, and customers

What is in a positioning brief?

A positioning brief includes:

  • Audience Analysis
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Name Analysis
  • Category
  • Unique Value Proposition
  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Brand Voice Statement
  • Tagline
  • Brand Story


You should create the analysis portions of this brief before any other content. However, the rest of the content can (and should) be created concurrently, as each block may inform and adjust the next. For example, your mission may give you insight into your values and vice versa.

Let’s examine each part of the positioning brief to see why they are all critical to the rest of your content strategy.

Audience Analysis

Always start with your audience. Why? Well, they’re the ones you are trying to persuade and communicate with. Often we write with ourselves in mind and fail to consider our audience, but that’s a major mistake. Just because something sounds good to us doesn’t mean it will sound good to our audience. Our audience is the boss. Their needs come first. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Who are you talking to? 
  • What do they need and want from you? 
  • How can you help them? 

Conduct thorough research to find the answers to these questions. Look around online to get information from a bigger pool. LinkedIn is particularly helpful because you can search by job title and find the exact people in the audience(s) you are targeting. Google your prospects and see what appeals to them.

Once you have gathered all of the information you need, you’ll be able to create personas or “typologies” (two terms that are often used interchangeably) that define your ideal customer. Personas are fictional representations of actual people—they’re not necessarily an exact description of any single individual but rather an amalgamation of characteristics shared by many people within a specific context.

In your persona, include your ideal customers’:

  • Role at the office or as part of a community (eg. CEO, digital marketing specialist, surfer, etc.)
  • Pain points
  • Solutions they may consider
  • Possible objections
  • And anything else that is relevant to their purchasing behavior

Many businesses market to more than one persona, so create as many as you need. For example, at RedShift Strategists, we market to founders, CEOs, CMOs, and web developers, all of whom have different pain points and needs as they are related to our service offerings. By creating multiple personas and addressing their pain points, we are able to fill our sales funnel via multiple connected audiences.

Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis is a full assessment of the competitive landscape of your company. Competitive analyses cover not just the actual companies you are going head to head with but also any possible emerging technologies or changing market conditions that may impact you.

To create a competitive analysis, gather:

  • A list of your direct competitors, including new entrants into the market
  • A list of adjacent competitors who do what you do but do not position themselves directly against you (eg. a printer who may be able to print and ship stickers, but they are an adjacent competitor to a company that specializes only in stickers)
  • A list of potential technological alternatives to your products or services, including newly created markets that render old ones close to obsolete (eg. cloud-based software replacing legacy systems or even pen and paper at automotive repair shops, or ride shares eclipsing taxis)

Once you have your lists, size up each of your direct competitors using a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), particularly as it applies to their content and the rest of their brand. Figure out what benefits or features they emphasize as well as how they discuss them.

Brainstorm and research any industries that challenge you. Think about how you can out pivot them, or find ways to incorporate what they do into what you do. In some cases, researching alternatives to your product will sound the alarm and let you know when to adjust your business.

For example, just after our company RedShift Strategists turned ten years old, the media that many of our ideal clients read, such as Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur and WIRED, not to mention lesser known marketing and technology publications, started discussing the power of AI writing tools. As a content writing agency, we knew we needed to evolve and pivot what we did.

Today, our company is deeply involved in testing AI and learning how we can leverage these new technologies to enhance what we do. Our mind for writing and for producing quality content is only enhanced by these cutting-edge tools. More than simply a writing firm, AI tools have empowered us to develop more amplified content production and more effective outcomes, driving enhanced ROI for all of our clients.

Name Analysis

What’s in a name? A few letters and a heckuva lot more. A good name sticks in the mind of the market. A lousy name is either forgotten, or worse, remembered for representing something bad, such as the famous Chevy Nova automobile, which flopped in Spanish-speaking markets, where no va meant “doesn’t go.”

A lot of company names are pulled out of thin air. We’ve met clients who have named their companies after their kids or even their dog. Unless your kids or dog are important to your brand (looking at you, Barnaby’s), you probably don’t want to go that route. 

Instead, be more methodical. Analyze your name’s benefits, drawbacks, and potentialities.


  • Does it make an emotional impact?
  • Does it sound good?
  • Is it easy to spell and pronounce?
  • Is it “finger-friendly” (easy to type)?
  • Does it fit in with other products in the industry?
  • Does it sound too much like other companies (especially your direct competitors)?
  • How does it relate to your business goals, mission statement, and values?
  • What are the short-term and long-term effects your name can have on the brand and how they will affect your content strategy?

Helpful tips for picking a good name:

  • Avoid the generic. Think of something meaningful and creative to your audience. If you sell mops, avoid something like “The Mop Store.” The world’s largest online retail store, Amazon, is named after a forest. The world’s leading toothpaste, Crest, is a word that refers to the top of a wave. Rarely will you find a generic name at the top of the market.
  • Avoid acronyms. They’re not usually memorable. Your customers will already give your nicknames and use your acronym to discuss you. You don’t need to shorten your own name.
  • Consider what your name means in other languages, especially if you want to go global.


A category is a one-to-three-word idea that you represent in the market. A category helps you define your offering and understand how it fits within the marketplace. It also helps you steer clear of any existing brand associations or companies that consumers may think they know well before they’ve even encountered your brand.

Every market starts out as its own category. Competitors then enter the market, expanding the category until it becomes saturated. Eventually, a new category emerges that challenges the solution of the previous category.

The first high caffeine soda was Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew saw a slew of direct competitors such as Surge and Jolt, but these knockoff products failed to gain traction within the subcategory of the already crowded soda market. 

Eventually, Mountain Dew and all other high caffeine sodas were challenged by a new category: energy drinks. In the energy drink market, Red Bull, which catered to athletes, became first in the mind of consumers. Rock Star, which is more focused on late night partiers, became second. Eventually other brands joined in, such as Monster, Amp, Nos, and Full Throttle.

And then history repeated itself: 5-hour Energy started a new category, energy shots, and challenged the old category of energy drinks. Today, competitors have piled into the energy shot market, and will continue to do so until someone finds another way to target the same consumers with an entirely new category. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have energy soap!

Ask yourself:

  • What do I do for my customers?
  • How am I positioned in the market?
  • How am I different?
  • Is this an existing category or something new?

Then come up with several categorical options that are 1-3 words long. Think about the strengths and weaknesses until you find a category that gives you the best shot at coming out on top.

Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

All brands have similarities as well as differentiators from other brands. Wendy’s and Five Guys both make burgers, but they each stand out for what makes them different from other brands. For a company to hold a viable market position, it must possess a unique potion of differentiators that can be distilled into something that makes the brand totally unique: its UVP.

Uber says it’s “the smartest way to get around.” Casper says its mattresses are “designed for amazing sleep, without the hassle of shopping.” GEICO “saves you 15% in 15 minutes or less.”

UVPs present another dimension by which you can outposition competitors. Dollar Shave Club has been able to carve out market share in the tough, super-crowded razor market that is led by Gillette, “The best a man can get.” Dollar Shave Club promises you “a great shave for a few bucks a month.” Their promise appeals to the skeptical consumer who thinks, “What do you mean by ‘best’? The closest shave? The smoothest? The easiest? The best shaving experience?” The Dollar Shave Club has offered a position that is much more defensible, and appeals to people who consider shaving more of a practical matter.

What is your UVP?


  • What do you do that no one else does?
  • What makes your business unique?
  • Why are you special?
  • How does your product or service function differently from others in its category?
  • What kind of value can you deliver that other companies cannot or do not provide?

Then boil the answer down to a single sentence. That’s your UVP.



Your mission is why you exist. It is why your organization was put on this planet, and why you get out of bed in the morning and go to work. It’s what inspires you to do your best day in and day out.

Your mission statement should be clear, concise, memorable and inspirational.

Why does LinkedIn exist? “To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

Why does Google exist? “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Why does Nike exist? “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Why does Apple exist? “To enrich people’s lives through the power of technology.” Why does Microsoft exist? “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Mission work is central to your entire business. What do you want to do? Why are you doing it? What do you care about?

Condense the answer to a single statement: your mission.


Your vision is the future you would like to see. It is a description of the world as it would be if you had already succeeded, and how it would feel to live in that future, a dream of an ideal world. Your vision should be so bold and ambitious so as to be extremely difficult to accomplish. If your vision ever came true, you would need to create a new one so that your organization could continue. Otherwise, you would have nothing to work toward!

The League of Women Voters once fought for universal suffrage for all women in the United States. Now, LWV’s vision is “a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge, and the confidence to participate.” Given the difficulty of achieving 100% voter turnout, LWV’s vision is still relevant to their cause.

To set your vision statement, ask yourself:

  • What does success look like for me?
  • What do I want my company to look like?
  • How does it feel to do what I do?
  • Where do I see my business in 5, 10, 15, and 20 years? What about even more?

Fill in the picture, then summarize it in 1-3 sentences.


Your values are your virtues. They are what you believe and stand for as an individual or a company.

Here are the three values for Tekmetric, the market leader in the auto repair shop management system industry.


What we say is what we mean. We’re open, we’re honest, and we stay true to our word.


We consider how people feel and what they might be going through, and then respond in a way that shows them that we care about their feelings and their needs.


We want people to feel good. We believe in the Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated. Compassion brings us closer together and shows that we are dedicated to each other’s happiness and success.

To determine your values, make a list of the ideas you believe in.


  • What do you live for?
  • What are you willing to defend?
  • What are your principles?

Make a long list, then narrow it down to only the 3-5 values that feel like they cover everything you care about. Then write 1-3 short sentences unpacking for each value that discuss what that value is important to you.

Brand Voice Statement

Your brand voice statement declares how your brand sounds: your tone, language, and personality. Developing a brand voice statement can help to ensure that all communications from the brand are cohesive and consistent, and that the brand’s messaging is aligned with its overall mission and values. 

SuperBetter, a game that helps people build resilience, has an incredibly clear and consistent brand voice. Their website is bright, colorful, and engaging, which reflects their mission to help players become “superbetter” by building up their resilience. They speak in a confident, enthusiastic, and most of all, supportive tone. Their dedication to achievements and accomplishments carries through in their voice.


  • How do you speak to your customers?
  • What tone do you use?
  • How do you speak to your employees?
  • How do you speak to your partners?
  • How do you speak to your investors?
  • How do you speak to the media?

Write a paragraph about how you want to sound. When it is eventually time to create content, it will come in handy.


Your tagline is your catchphrase, the headline, and the essence of what you want people to say about you. Make it simple and memorable, but also congruent with what’s on your website.

Aim to evoke a feeling in your customers that they can identify with, and remind them of your unique value proposition. L’Oreal’s “Create the Beauty That Moves the World” reminds customers that L’Oreal is the largest global makeup brand, the leader in their space.‘s “Where Pet Lovers Shop” similarly reminds you of their leadership for e-commerce pet products. Van Leeuwen Ice Cream’s “GOOD-GOOD, NOT GOOD-BAD” reminds you that their artisanal product is meant to taste good while also being nutritionally better for you than other ice creams. Bounty’s claim to being “The Quilted Quicker Picker Upper” evokes the feeling of solving your cleaning problem quickly by sopping up liquid with a wad of paper towels.

Write something that will remind your customers of you in only a few words. Envision what it would look like on a variety of different marketing collateral such as your website, brochures, the bottom of press releases, digital ads, and more.

Brand Story

Created by Donald Miller and based on the classic storytelling model of the Hero’s Journey, your brand story (or StoryBrand) has seven essential elements: a character with a problem, a guide, a plan, a call to action, a struggle, a success, and a transformation. By incorporating these elements into marketing messaging, businesses can create a clear and compelling narrative that resonates with their audiences.

The StoryBrand framework also emphasizes the importance of focusing on the customer as the hero of the story, rather than making the business or brand the hero. This helps to create a message that is relatable and compelling, and that connects with the customer’s needs and desires.

Ampersand, a professional development platform, presents its brand story as follows:

New professionals want to succeed, build a career, and have a positive impact on the direction of the world, but they haven’t had some of the critical training needed to succeed in the workplace such as how to write an email, how to manage their calendar, or how to interact with clients. 

Employers have spent a lot of time and resources to develop their people and their organizations, but find it challenging to retain talent and relate to the newest generation of workers.

Career services departments at universities work hard to make sure that new professionals graduating from their schools’ programs are well prepared for their jobs so that their new alumni can succeed and the university can improve its rankings, but time and resources to assist every student are limited, especially at smaller schools that can often get skipped by top employers.

Parents of young professionals are proud of their kids and want them to succeed and get a good job but don’t always have a way to get them there. In the current approach to education and job training, their kids may not yet be prepared to start their careers.

Ampersand has created an intuitive, engaging training system that equips young professionals so that they can confidently join the workforce, which helps employers retain more talent, creating a bright future for employers, universities, professionals, and the people who care about them.

Who is the hero of the Ampersand story? Not Ampersand. Rather, Ampersand is the tool used by the people Ampersand serves so that their end customers can succeed (as detailed in the final sentence of the brand story).

In fact, Miller recommends condensing the entire story into a “one-liner” that demonstrates the problem, solution and what success looks like for the customer. In the case of Ampersand, it might read like this:

New professionals want to succeed, build a career, and have a positive impact on the direction of the world, but they haven’t had some of the critical training needed to succeed in the workplace such as how to write an email, how to manage their calendar, or how to interact with clients. Ampersand has created an intuitive, engaging training system that equips young professionals so that they can confidently join the workforce and be ready to succeed on day one.


  • How can you make your customer the hero?
  • What can you do to prepare them to conquer their challenge?
  • How can you be the guide that supports them as they successfully overcome obstacles and complete their journey?

Write it down, then create a short version that you can always use to inform your content.

When to update your positioning brief

Positioning briefs, much like the market positions they outline, must evolve over time. Update your brief every 3-5 years or whenever you undergo major brand changes in response to rapidly evolving (or devolving) market conditions.

Still not sure where to start? RedShift Strategists specializes in content strategy and execution, including positioning briefs, content roadmaps, content creation, and consultations.

Learn more by booking a meeting with RedShift Strategists.

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