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8 Rules Of Positioning

In a market crowded with a lot of brands offering similar products, a good positioning makes a brand and its products stand out from the competition

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


Getting in front of customers and prospects is an important thing, but more important thing is what you will communicate about your brand and product when you are in front of your audience. Positioning helps marketers to connect their brand and products best with their target audience. In a market crowded with a lot of brands offering similar products, a good positioning makes a brand and its products stand out from the competition.

Positioning is one of the most important components of marketing strategy and vital to success of any brand. Al Ries and Jack Trout, in their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, introduce the subject by saying: Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.

Let's have a look at a few important rules of positioning:

1.    Positioning drives marketing strategy: The process of creating positioning statement requires identifying target audience; product category; product's specific benefit, strengths and weaknesses and differentiation from the nearest competitor. Positioning drives all components of marketing strategy such as advertising, packaging, pricing, distribution, public relations, merchandising and brand communication. Additionally, strong positioning attracts partners, employees, investors, customers to associate with a company owning top positioned brands. Moreover, good positioning attracts influencers such as journalists, analysts, thought leaders etc. to cover a brand in their articles and reports. For example, in extremely competitive, coffee selling business, Starbucks has positioned itself as an upscale brand. Its stores' locations, service, products display, packaging, socializing environment, pricing etc. are designed according to its positioning of an upscale brand.

2.    Positioning is relative: In any category, customers think about brands relative to other brands in the same category. To gain strong position for its brands, a company must differentiate its brands and products from others in the market. The most important point is that differentiation has to be sustainable. Differentiations such as price and features can be surpassed by competition in some time but it is difficult for competition to surpass the differentiation of quality, service, availability and leadership. For example, there are many digital wallets such as PayTm, MobiKwik, Freecharge, BHIM, State Bank of India's SBI Buddy etc. All of these wallets have almost similar features and pricing and solve the similar purpose, but in customers' mind PayTm has taken up the top position and has strong perception of quality and leadership.

3.    Positioning changes as market changes: In today's fast changing world, products change, markets change, customers' demands change, competition change, technologies change, regulations change and so on. These changes can create an opportunity for a new player to shake the positioning of an established player. For example, non-polluting electric vehicles are seen as norm of the future and Tesla is a prominent player in elegant electric vehicles. As per an article in recode, the 14-year-old company Tesla is now worth more than 113 year old company Ford. In a way, Tesla's positioning seems to be surpassing Ford's position.

4.    Positioning is multidimensional: Positioning has multiple dimensions such as product positioning, market positioning, industry positioning and leaders' positioning. Product positioning is defined by a company based on its strategy, focus on market segment, price point, distribution channel etc. Market positioning of a brand or product is defined by word of mouth of influencers such as customers, analysts, retailers, journalists, partners etc. Industry positioning is defined by revenue and profit of a company. And most importantly, success of company elevates the positioning of its leader. For example, iPhone is a product brand, Apple is a company brand and Steve Jobs is a leader brand.  iPhone is positioned as a premium smart phone with higher price point targeted towards upper middle class and rich customers and available through selective channels. Positive word of mouth by influencers including customers has helped iPhone in gaining market recognition as the top positioned smart phone. Revenue through sales of iPhone helps Apple in achieving better positions in rankings such as Fortune 500. Success of Apple's products such as iPhone has contributed to Steve Jobs' position as one of the best business leaders. Again, Steve Jobs' positioning as one of the best leaders drives positioning of his company, company's products and so on.

5.    Positioning evolves over time: As company grows over time, its market segments evolve, its products evolve and it's positioning in market evolves. If a company is focussed on niche market segment then it has to position itself for niche customers. But over the time, when market segment evolves or when company tries to enter into adjacent market segments then its positioning evolves. For example, when Uber was new in India, smart phones were available with limited number of people and taxi riding was not a preferred option as compared to auto rickshaws. Initially, Uber targeted customers who were looking to enjoy a luxury experience, had smart phones and credit cards. It was positioned as a taxi ride service for classes. Later on, Uber expanded its offerings such as low cost small cars, medium cost sedans and higher cost big cars. It also expanded its services from point to point transfer to outstation travel, taxi hire for personal usage, economical ride sharing etc. Moreover, along with credit card, it started accepting money through PayTm and cash. This evolution not only expanded Uber's market segment, but also their positions from a transportation option for classes to a transportation option for masses.

6.    Positioning is strongest in the new category: In a mature category, there are already established players and to create its position, a brand has to compete with existing brands. But if a brand is able to create a new category then it can achieve leadership status in that category. For example, fast food is an overcrowded category with many popular brands such as McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, Dominos, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks etc.  But all of these brands have created their leadership positions in separate subcategories within fast food category. For example, McDonald's is known for burgers, KFC is known for chicken, Subway for sandwiches, Taco Bell for Mexican food, Dominos for pizza delivery, Dunkin Donuts for donuts, Starbucks for coffee and so on. Though all these players try to enter into each other's' offerings but their positioning is strongest around their key fast food offerings.

7.    Positioning is internal: The purpose of positioning statement is to align internal stakeholders such as marketing team, sales team, delivery team etc. on a common view of market. This alignment helps in having common interpretation of target audience, product category, differentiation from competitors, benefits for customers and so on. When everybody internally is on the same page, external communication becomes homogenous, relevant, targeted and clear.  For example Harley-Davidson's internal positioning statement is: The only motorcycle manufacturer that makes big, loud motorcycles for macho guys (and "macho wannabes") mostly in the United States who wants to join a gang of cowboys in an era of decreasing personal freedom. Taglines are external facing catch phrases that summarize positioning statement extremely concisely. For Harley-Davidson, tagline is "Define your world in a whole new way."

8.    Positioning gets spoiled by brand extension: Brand extension is a common method used by companies to launch a new product by using an existing brand name on a new product in a different category. A company using brand extension hopes to leverage its existing customer base and brand loyalty to increase its profits with a new product offering. If a company expands its business too fast by launching multiple products using its powerful brand name, then it is necessary for it to maintain quality. If quality of a few of the products of a respected brand is bad, then customers no matter how loyal they are will start rethinking about the brand. Lowered image of a few products in customers' mind would eventually impact the brand position and the business' revenue. For example, Baba Ramdev's Patanjali brand has a strong positioning in Ayurvedic products. But since last few years, Patanjali has been launching many new products in different categories and that's too fast. There have been incidences when government's food safety departments have raised questions on a few of the Patanjali's products. Though strong brand name of Baba Ramdev and Patanjali have helped the company to launch and distribute many new products, quality concerns on a few products, effect overall positioning of the brand Patanjali.

(Views expressed are author's personal and don't necessarily represent any company's opinions.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Harsh Pamnani

The author is a Marketer & Author. He is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur

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