Crash Course in: Taking your brand upmarket

Your core product is struggling and margins are almost non-existent. Maybe the answer is to reposition upmarket. So what's involved?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Do your research. The traditional approach is to undertake a positioning study among both customers and non-customers in which they rate your brand and competitors against different attributes, according to Paul Baines, director of the strategic marketing MSc at Cranfield.

Plot your destination. 'Identify a clear target and ensure your brand is relevant to it,' says Ian Stephens, head of global strategy at Saffron Consultants. 'When the Mini was relaunched it was aimed at urban women, even though all kinds of people were attracted by that positioning.'

Develop a business strategy. To justify the expense and effort of repositioning, you need a clear idea of how it will lead to increased revenue and/or profits. 'Going upmarket typically results in selling lower volumes but at higher margins,' says Baines.

Consider alternatives. 'It's often easier for companies to acquire more upmarket brands, such as Unilever with Ben & Jerry's, which they couldn't easily develop themselves,' says Paul Cowper, brand director of consultancy Added Value. Another option is to develop a more premium brand in-house.

Differentiate the product. If you want customers to pay more, you generally have to deliver more - what's known as re-engineering the value proposition. 'More product sausage alongside the emotional sizzle,' as David Taylor, managing partner of Brandgym, puts it.

Invest in the experience. 'People want more than utility from a brand,' says Stephens. 'Customers' perceptions are formed from their overall experience, which includes packaging, communication, customer service and the culture of its people.'

Massage the message. 'As you go upmarket, product attributes become less important and the brand image more so - the language is more about emotional characteristics and lifestyle,' says Terry Tyrell, chairman of the Brand Union.

Be careful who you're seen with. Associating with the right partners, champions, and sponsorship properties contributes to your brand's perception, adds Tyrell.

Restrict distribution. 'Becoming more premium usually means having to be more exclusive,' says Cowper. That could involve saying 'no' to Tesco and other retail giants.

Evolution or revolution? 'You have to do something with enough impact to provoke re-evaluation,' says Taylor. But because there's a significant lag in people's perceptions about brands, it may require persistence to achieve a meaningful shift, warns Cowper.

Do say: 'We will invest significantly to create a more exclusive higher-value proposition that will yield stronger margins.'

Don't say: 'Call the ad agency and brief them to turn us into a luxury brand.'

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