Brand Positioning for Privacy Products

For a long time, people with an interest in personal data protection have had access to privacy-focused technology that’s powerful but often hard to use for non-techies. Thankfully that’s changing, and simpler and more polished products are now available to everyday consumers, those people that want privacy (everyone?) but aren’t sure where to start.

Illustration of a meter showing "too technical" on the left, "too vague" on the right, and "sweet spot" in the middle.

However while the products may be ready, sometimes the branding and marketing isn’t. 

Privacy products are largely targeted at a privacy-aware audience – people who know the solution they need, who know the terminology used, who know there’s a difference between Google saying something’s private and the EFF saying something’s private. I’d like to push for branding that can introduce privacy products to a wider audience without specialist knowledge. So how can we do that?

Brand Positioning Guidelines

Let’s keep it simple and just focus on positioning, in particular the phrase used to explain a product in a tagline. It’s called positioning because in a consumer’s mind, they’ll try to position the brand or product alongside others they’re familiar with, as a shortcut to understanding what’s on offer. Which brings us to Rule 1:

Rule 1: A brand statement should invoke something the target audience is familiar with.

This is where I think a lot of tech products and services fall down. They either position themselves too vaguely, e.g. as “solutions”, or rely too much on industry terms, e.g. “VPN”. 

What I think would be more effective is invoking something universally familiar, even from the physical world. We see this already with terms like “shield”, which may be a cliché but at least the reader has a starting point.

Rule 2: A brand statement should have a single purpose: Make the target audience want to know more.

In your sales funnel, every element should have a single purpose – to get *relevant* people to the next stage – and the brand statement is no different. You don’t want to waste the time of people who are not your intended customer, and you want people who are your intended customer to realise that immediately.

To achieve this, the brand statement shouldn’t try to explain how the product works. It shouldn’t even try to get customers to buy. That’s what landing page copy and feature descriptions are for. The brand statement should simply make them interested enough to keep reading. It will fail if it tries to do too much. Speaking of keeping things simple…

Rule 3: A brand statement should be short and memorable.

So far we’ve focused on customers, but the brand statement is also useful for the internal teams that build, sell and support the product. If there’s a common foundation for talking about the product or service, there’s less chance of misunderstanding and miscommunication, and being short and memorable is an important aspect.

There’s one more group of people we mustn’t forget – the fans. These unofficial lobbyists are so in love with your brand they’ll spread the word for you. When they provide technical support to friends and family, notably during holidays, they’ll evangelise your product as a solution. A short and memorable brand statement makes it easy for them to explain why.

Quiz Time!

It helps to see examples, so here’s a quick quiz plucked from the real world.

Can you work out what each of the following products is? (Answer below, so scroll slowly)

  • Your Data. Your Rules. Stay Anonymous
  • Take Your Digital Privacy from Zero to Hero
  • Secure your digital life
  • Privacy Protection Service
  • A Connection To Above And Beyond
  • Security, reliability and speed — on every device, anywhere you go.
  • Resist Online Surveillance
  • Effortless Security, Built by Experts
  • Unlock Anything. Protect Everything.

So what is each product described here?

The answer is…

↓ 

…they’re all VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)!

Such vague taglines may work when your brand is widely known, like Facebook or Coca Cola, but for smaller businesses the primary focus is surely to make people aware of what you actually do, and you only have a few seconds to achieve that. That’s where these taglines fall down in my opinion, because in all cases I’d need to keep reading to work out what each product is.

Here are some more specific approaches:

  • The VPN that just works
  • The high-speed Swiss VPN you can trust
  • Take back your online privacy with [redacted] VPN

Better, but these all assume you already know what a VPN is, and not everyone does. Remember, the goal is to reach a broad, mainstream audience.

Good Brand Positioning Examples

One example of a company doing it right is LBRY:

LBRY does to publishing, what Bitcoin did to money.

Admittedly you have to know what Bitcoin is first, but at least this gives you a starting point to working out what LBRY is. I’m going to guess it’s a decentralised publishing network. (I deliberately didn’t read the rest of the website, so I could be embarrassingly wrong!)

In a similar vein, one of ConvertKit‘s early taglines was:

The power of Infusionsoft, but easier to use than MailChimp.

That’s all the information you need to decide whether the product is of interest to you.

Often you can find inspiration from your customers. Reviews for a company called Turo frequently start with the reviewer explaining that “it’s like AirBnB for cars”. Perfect – there’s your tagline!

And finally there’s this classic example for the first Apple iPod:

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

Case Study

So after all this preaching, let me put my money where my mouth is and try a case study. Let’s look at the newly-launched Proton Drive. Its landing page copy is currently this:

Screenshot of the Proton Drive website's tagline. It reads: "Secure cloud storage and file sharing. Proton Drive is an end-to-end encrypted Swiss vault for your files that protects your data."

This is fine for their target audience of techies, but how could we tweak it to appeal to mainstream consumers too? When trying to describe tech products, I usually think of certain family members who are not tech-savvy. In this case, I see a few issues:

  • I think “secure cloud storage” would not be easily understandable. It sounds more business-focused than for personal use.
  • The term “file sharing” could even sound suspicious.
  • The word “file” itself is fairly vague. Some of my family would not think of photos being the same as files, yet photo sharing is probably a big use case for Proton Drive.

On the plus side, comparisons are very powerful and “Swiss vault” is a good choice. No matter how non-technical you are, that conjures up a feeling of privacy. Comparisons are also useful for showing off an advantage or USP (Unique Selling Point). For Proton Drive, the widely-known alternative is obvious – Google Drive – so that’s a good starting point. Next comes the advantage. In what way is Proton Drive better than Google Drive? That’s obvious too, which makes it easy to generate a simple tagline that anyone can understand:

Like Google Drive but private.

The lawyers might complain that this indicates Google Drive is not private, so a safer alternative could be:

Like Google Drive but more private.

Still too lawsuit-prone? How about going back to the “Swiss vault” from the original sub-heading:

The power of Google Drive, the privacy of a Swiss vault.

Getting better. Quite long though. Removing all the unnecessary words could turn it into:

Google Drive power, Swiss vault privacy.

Now we’re on to something! The “vault” is optional, but including it balances the syllables nicely.

The lawyers might say that competing brands can’t be mentioned at all, in which case we can find a commonplace, real-world alternative. Going back to my earlier comment, I think “files” is too vague and it’s better to be specific, so assuming photo sharing is the biggest use case, let’s use that:

Store family photos with Swiss vault privacy.

or:

Your family photos, Swiss vault privacy.

or:

Swiss vault privacy for your family photos.

“But the product stores more than just photos!” OK, I hear you. 🙂 Let’s fix that with a couple of possible solutions:

  1. Place an asterisk beside the word “photos” with a footnote saying “as well as videos, songs, recipes, documents, memories…”
  2. Have an animation that swaps out the word “photos” with “videos”, “songs”, “recipes”, “documents”, “memories” on a loop, like this:

Maybe “family” is optional but because it implies sharing, personally I’d keep it.


And so back to the point of this article. I believe the test of a good brand statement is this:

When you show your brand statement to a random person in the street and ask them if it’s relevant for them, do you get an immediate yes or no answer? “Yes” – good, they’ll very likely want to know more and hopefully become a customer. “No” – fine, they can carry on with their life and we’re not wasting resources on an uninterested prospect. The worst answer would be “I don’t know.” That indicates a lack of understanding leading to wasted time for everyone and even potential risk to the brand image.

So when considering brand positioning, in addition to the rules above, here are a few questions that should help with brainstorming.

  • What’s the most common use-case of the product/service?
  • What’s a well-known alternative product/service? Why is it highly regarded?
  • What does your product/service offer that the well-known alternative doesn’t? (Think benefits, not features.)
  • If your product/service were an everyday physical object, what would it be?
  • How would you explain your product/service to a 5 year-old?

I’m sure the examples here could be much improved but hopefully this provides food for thought and further discussion. We need more privacy-first tools in the hands of non-technical users, and to achieve that we need branding in their language.


Original meter image source: https://openclipart.org/detail/295576/vu-meter

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