By Angelo Ponzi

Whether you’re a manufacturer or retailer, branding within the snowboarding industry has never been more important. Your brand or brand image is more than just a logo on the products you sell, it’s everything you do–advertising, promotions, hang tags, sponsorships, distribution–everything that builds and/or positions your brand in the mind of your target consumer.

Understanding your brand better than anyone else, including your competition, is essential to your success. But just as important is understanding how your brand is positioned within the market you serve, and how your brand is positioned compared to your competition.

For example, if you asked yourself the question, “Who is my direct competition?” what would your answer be? How does your direct competition position themselves in the market? What is the image they portray? Do you have similar positioning? Do you distribute your products via the same distribution channel (snowboard specialty stores, ski stores, sporting-goods stores, and so on)?

These types of questions are extremely important, and they are questions that you should be asking yourself on a regular basis. Why? Because, while the market is constantly changing, the image of your brand should not. To ensure that your image and market position is protected, you have to stay in constant touch not only with the ultimate consumer, but also with your competition–and, if you’re a manufacturer, with your distribution channels as well.

To help you get a handle on your position within the market, as well as how you are positioned against your competition, we’ve developed a quick and easy two-step process to help you to determine how your brand is positioned.

Whether you position yourself as a ’core brand purchased mostly by the most-dedicated cadre of snowboarders or as more of a lifestyle brand that appeals to those who may not snowboard but are influenced by the sport of snowboarding and the lifestyle it represents, you most likely can position yourself into one of the four quadrants in the following chart. Many of the same rules apply if you’re a retailer, and this exercise is just as valuable.

INSERT CHART #1 HERE (see attached)

Or, maybe your chart looks more like this:

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After you have determined your positioning, ask yourself the following questions:

First, what segment of the market does my brand target? ’Core snowboarders? Lifestyle? Or in between?

And, with that in mind, now ask yourself: How do I distribute my products? Snowboarding specialty shops? Snowboard and ski specialty stores? Some other distribution channel?

Now figure out where your brand would fit on this chart, and draw a circle representing your relative size in the market. Size can refer to revenues or market share. For example, if you only sell through specialty shops and target hardcore participants, you would place yourself somewhere in the lower left-hand quadrant.

INSERT CHART #3 HERE

Now, place your direct competition on the chart as well. Retailers can do the same. Are you and your competitor in the same position on the chart? Do you overlap? Now, also place your indirect competition on the chart as well. They would be those brands that may have similar positioning and/or are sold in the same stores as your brand, but aren’t considered to be direct competition. However, keep in mind that while you may not consider them a competitor, does your consumer?

Step back and look at your chart. Is the market position you occupy, occupied by other companies in the market? If yes, then how do you differentiate your brand from their brand to the consumer? If you were to ask those consumers what is the difference between your brand and the competition, what would they say?

Do you see a gap or area on your chart that is not occupied by anothher competitor? If yes, that could mean there is a potential opportunity for you to reposition your brand to capture and secure a unique position in the market.

Also, in looking at the chart you may see other opportunities as well as potential barriers to growth. Expanding your channel of distribution is always one method of growing your market. Keep in mind, as you move up the distribution chain, there is a greater opportunity to sell to those who are influenced by snowboarding, but are not necessarily participants. Yes, I know the ’core versus non-’core discussions, but just remember, if you have an e-commerce site or sell through any type of catalog, you’re most likely already reaching and selling to non-’core consumers anyway.

As an example, I looked at several companies in the market and positioned those brands according to our perceptions and knowledge.

As you can see, depending on your competition, the market can become very cluttered.

While this chart only address consumer focus and distribution, this type of positioning can be done with a variety of attributes. For example, price versus quality, individual products versus a fully merchandised line, and age versus sex, to name a few. By doing this exercise with a different set of attributes, you will most likely uncover opportunity gaps in the market, competitive weaknesses or just as important, your own weaknesses.

If you’re a retailer, the brands you carry define the image that the consumer perceives of your store. While other factors do come into play, such as selection of merchandise, staff, store environment, etc., the brands and the image of those brands are a primary factor in determining your image.

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We have positioned several retailers in the following chart. Where do you fit in? As an exercise, imagine that anyone of these stores changed the types of brands they carry, and in turn, the consumers they target. For example, if Snowboard Connection in Seattle changed the brands it carried, it wouldn’t be a ’core snowboard shop called Snowboard Connection any more.

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The market is changing on a daily basis. New brand choices to snowboarding’s traditional consumer demographic enter every day. Old ones drop out. Well-known name brands such as Tommy and Nautica have decided this is a market space they want to occupy and have implemented marketing plans to meet those objectives. Existing brands have expanded distribution. Other ’core skate and surf brands have decided to grow their business by entering into the snowboarding segment. Conversely, some hardcore snowboard brands are now looking at entering the surf and skate markets. (The Mervin Manufacturing Lib Tech skateboards are just one example.)

You can secure your position in this ever-changing market with a better understanding of your brand. Understanding and knowing your competitors’ brands as well as you know your own, is essential to your success. Don’t let your competition define your image. Position yourself today for a strong tomorrow.

________________________________________Angelo Ponzi is the president of Board-Trac