It’s time to put the brand definition and customer understanding together into what is probably the most confusing aspect of marketing – positioning. Many people have very divergent interpretations of what positioning is, which on the one hand is ok. But on the other hand, it can lead to a lot of very unproductive conversations and misinterpretations.

To tell you the truth, I find that most marketing people don’t really know what positioning is.

Positioning is not a claim, and it’s not a promise. It’s not really a tagline either, although the tagline is the nearest thing in the marketplace capturing it.

Despite its inherent confusion, positioning is potentially the most important aspect of building the brand experience. It’s kind of like the summation of everything we’ve been exploring so far: brand definition, target market, competitive assessment, etc. and, as we’ve been saying, it starts with a really good understanding of the consumer.

So now that you are a marketer, and you’re turning your small business into a brand, let’s get this mystery of marketing right. Let’s start out with what positioning really is. If you can understand this, then you are truly, officially a marketer.

Scratch that, truly, officially a good marketer!

Positioning is one of those nebulous concepts that is kind of hard to pin down – yet at the same time it is so important to the success of the brand. It is at the heart of what the brand is all about, because it encapsulates everything known and understood about the customer, and everything developed for the business.

I want clarity, so I want to simplify all of this so that you can actually apply it to your business. Positioning is not a buzzword, and it’s not marketing du jour. It’s a fundamental aspect of the process of marketing, and honestly we can’t have a business plan without it, so it’s important to really understand what it is.

Positioning starts with the brand definition but goes much further.

Here’s how I generally define it, in its most simple form: positioning is the mental space that we want to occupy in the customer’s mind about the brand. It’s how we want our customers to picture the brand, and it’s the first thing that we want people to think about when they hear the brand name.

Positioning is essentially the emotion we want our customers to feel about our brand. It’s how we want our brand “positioned” in their minds.

Can you see that positioning should be inherently emotional?

Jim Joseph is president of Cohn & Wolfe North America. This is an excerpt of his new book, “The Experience Effect for Small Business”.