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Balancing Centrality and Distinctiveness for Mapping Brand Strategy


A brand strategy is a long-term plan for the growth and evolution of a public image in order to achieve specific goals. A well-defined brand strategy for any business should guide all aspects of it including consumer experiences, messaging, internal culture, and even positioning. Creating your brand strategy is like drawing out a map, and positioning is determining the location and destination of brand goals.

Understand where the brand currently sit within the market’s competitive landscape is perhaps an eternal dilemma in the process of developing a brand strategy. This helps companies to determine how the brand is perceived in general within the market compared to competitors, depicting brands certain brand attributes and identify opportunities for differentiation. The most challenging job of a brand managers is finding a balance between two contradictory goals – keeping the brand distinct and making them central in their category.

  • Centrality

    • Brands envisioned to be central in their category. Central brands shape category dynamics. They’re the first ones that come to mind when we think of the category. Central brands, such as Coca-Cola in soft drinks and McDonald’s in fast food, are those that are most representative of their type.

  • Distinctiveness

    • The ability of a brands to be standing out from the crowd. It helps brand to command a slightly higher price for its handsets than its nearest rival. Distinctive brands, such as Tesla in cars and Dos Equis in beer, stand out from the crowd and avoid direct competition with widely popular central brands.

In an effort to find a balancing combination of these two goals, Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar developed a new approach called the centrality-distinctiveness (C-D) map that enables companies to plan their strategy with value positioning and brand positioning in mind. Using the Centrality-Distinctiveness (C-D) Map approach, Bagga and Dawar argue that companies can identify desired market positions for their brands, improve allocation of resources and optimize brand strategy. They can also track their brands’ performance against competitors over time.

Understanding C-D Maps

Creating a C-D map begin with, a company identifies the geographic market of interest and the customer segments to be surveyed. They will then run a survey in order to gather data which scores consumers’ perceptions of the brand’s centrality and distinctiveness on a scale of 0-10. These results will generate unique coordinates to determine the brand’s position on the map.

The C-D map is split on a 2×2 basis, with 4 distinct quadrants. Each quadrants possess distinct category attributes and strategic implications. Where the brand falls on the map – based on its unique coordinates – has implications for key decisions such as pricing, sales volumes, risk, and profitability. The mapping useful to not only identify brand position on a C-D map but also to determine competitors stand in the market landscape.

C-D Map

Let us take a look at the key aspects and strategic implications of each category.

1. Aspirational

Often attracting the most profitability of the four categories, ‘aspirational’ brands combine both centrality and distinctiveness in high measure. This means they hold mass appeal but can keep their prices high due to a strong reputation. For example, brands such as Mercedes and BMW fall into this quadrant which accounts for a solid 30% of unit sales of cars (Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar).

Key Aspect

Take advantage of high sales volumes and premium pricing. These trusted brands are well positioned to launch innovations that redefine the category.


Often challenged by brands from the more distinctive unconventional quadrant or more central mainstream quadrant.

Strategic Context

Must focus to make their distinctive features sufficiently mainstream to be widely appealing without becoming run-of-the-mill.

2. Mainstream

Mainstream brands build their central position through careful engineering and product development to align with (or even shape) popular tastes and through heavy advertising to make the brand synonymous with the category. They can shape markets & consumer preferences more adeptly than brands in other quadrants can. For example, car brands like Ford and Chevrolet and popular beer brands like Miller and Busch fall into mainstream quadrant (Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar).

Key Aspect

Their strategic position calls for risk-averse stewardship of the brand; they avoid rocking the boat. They are generally regarded as reliable, recognizable brands.


The primary competitive challenge to mainstream brands comes from peripheral and unconventional products that could become central as consumer tastes shift.

Strategic Context

Align centrality with distinctiveness by influencing the market and generate higher sales volumes by offering lower prices.

3. Peripheral

Peripheral brands are neither central nor distinctive, yet they can still generate high profits due to low marketing and innovation costs. They offer benefits similar to the central brands; consumers typically buy them as substitutes, generally because they are attracted by lower prices or have minimal engagement with the category. For example, car brands like Hyundai fall into peripheral quadrant (Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar).

Key Aspect

Tend to replicate a product or service of a mainstream brand and draw in customers with lower prices. However, business models may still prove profitable due to low marketing and innovation costs.


Low marketing and innovation cost result lower engagement with the category, which in long run effect the business growth and sustainability of the brand.

Strategic Context

May attempt to shift positioning by adding distinctive features or launching advertising campaigns, but this is an uphill and expensive battle.

4. Unconventional

Unconventional brands are usually specializing in a niche product or service and aren’t particularly central. As such, unconventional brands should expect low sales volumes, and instead look for profitability through higher prices. Unconventional brands are not especially appealing to the population at large. For example, car brands like Tesla fall into unconventional quadrant (Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar).

Key Aspect

Profitability at low volumes by charging higher rates for their service due to not standing within a crowded market.


The niche market brand may be invaded by large companies, and small marketers may find it difficult to compete.

Strategic Context

Migrate from the unconventional to the aspirational quadrant by making the brand’s unique features more mainstream or adding mainstream features.

Potential Applications of C-D Mapping

Brand’s position on a C-D map can be used to formulate and optimise ongoing brand strategies. Companies can create what-if scenarios for a range of strategies to move a brand along the centrality or distinctiveness dimension and assess how those moves would affect sales or profitability.

1. Assess brand’s positioning strategy

Measuring customers’ perceptions of a brand’s distinctiveness and linking that statistically to performance provides an instant check on a strategy’s effectiveness.

2. Track the competition

C-D maps reveal a brand’s location relative to others in a way that reflects consumers’ mental representations of the category. This helps focus competitive efforts on actual rather than perceived competition.

3. Manage your brand portfolio.

C-D maps allow companies to compare brand performance and strategy across categories. Thus a multiple brand company could use the maps to allocate resources objectively across categories.

4. Manage global brands

C-D maps offer a way to visualize differences in consumer perceptions and in performance across markets. it helps global managers make decisions about brand standardization versus localization

5. Track and analyze results

The two dimensions that C-D maps track—centrality and distinctiveness—are shared by all brands and remain relevant over time. marketers will be able to gauge how their actions affect consumer perceptions.

Concluding Thought

In a nutshell, the central-distinctive map helps companies assess the strengths and weaknesses of the brand by repeatedly chart position following campaigns, incentives and otherwise and track how these changes have affected this.  It can help to decide whether to stay in place or find the strategies that will help them move to a more advantageous quadrant. However, there are numerous variables that must be taken into consideration to effective draw the C-D map and identify brand position. Indeed, brands should expect to see differing results when things like geography and demographics are taken into account. Nonetheless, they are valuable tools when used thoroughly and correctly.


    1. A Better Way to Map Brand Strategy
    2. Mapping Brand Strategy More Effectively

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About Md. Moulude Hossain

FinTech | Digital Payment | Product Strategy | Product Management | EMV | Business Development


9 thoughts on “Balancing Centrality and Distinctiveness for Mapping Brand Strategy

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    Posted by Minaoar Khansokar | June 3, 2020, 8:26 pm
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  4. This is an interesting article and offers a great platform for discussion.

    Posted by Abid Hasan Badol | June 4, 2020, 11:04 pm
  5. I also think that in addition to those dimensions listed in the article, product specific features also have an impact on whether higher prices or sales volumes can be had for a product/brand. Similarly, not all distinctive brands would be able to command higher premiums, and vice versa for those more in mainstream.

    Posted by Shahidul Akter Shamim | June 4, 2020, 11:07 pm

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