The power of positioning: a series

In this blog series we’ll be looking at the role of positioning within marketing strategy starting with an introduction to positioning: what it is, why it matters and what you need to consider when building your positioning strategy.

We’ll then move on to explore how you can better align your positioning ambitions with your audience’s understanding of you. And finally, we’ll explore when you know it’s time to reposition and the different types of repositioning available.

What is positioning?

Positioning is a key part of any marketing strategy. A quick Google search will tell you there are a number of different positioning strategies available to help you position yourself appropriately for competitive advantage. Options include, but are not limited to:

  • Convenience-based – when you want to position as the easiest to use or most accessible;
  • Price-based – when you are the most affordable or premium player in the market; and
  • Product characteristics-based – when a certain product feature or capability really is stand-out.

Despite its key role within marketing, like many of the tools and frameworks that we use within our day-to-day work, there is no agreed industry standard definition for what positioning is. Al Ries, the ‘Father of Positioning’, defines it as ‘how you differentiate yourself in the mind of the prospect’, which, for me, is a very simple but useful guide for keeping you honest about the subject.

Why? Because it highlights some critical points about positioning: whilst the positioning of a brand or product starts from within the organisation, e.g. the features, the price point, the service level, etc, it is almost meaningless until it is placed in the external environment of competitors and audiences’ needs. Successfully positioning your brand or product relies on your audience not only perceiving you in the way you want them to relative to your competitors but also in a way that is distinct or differentiated enough for you to be memorable – as Jon Bradshaw said “The most important search engine is still the one in our minds.” If you can’t meet these two criteria, you risk being misunderstood and, therefore, risk not making it onto the purchase consideration list or blending into the background of your competitors and again risk not making it onto the purchase consideration list.

How to find your positioning

Unfortunately, you can’t be all things to all people and if you try to be relevant to everyone, you are relevant to no one. That is where both the challenge and beauty of positioning lies.

As mentioned above, finding an effective position requires aligning your product or brand to the needs and wants of your target audience and doing it in a way that’s distinct or different from your competitor set. Getting to that place can be hard and it requires you to make tough decisions along the way because, as our trusted friend Al Reis also stated, “the essence of positioning is sacrifice”. In order for you to establish a particular position in the mind of your audience you have to be willing to give up some things.

This can feel daunting as nobody wants to feel like they are losing out on a potential opportunity but being clear on who you are for and who you are not for creates a clarity that can’t be undervalued or understated.

Consider this typical structure for a positioning statement:

For [target audience], [product/service/brand] is [the category] that will [problem your product/service/brand solves for the customer] so they can [customer benefit].

Unlike [competitors], our product/service/brand [differentiation from the competition].

On the surface, it’s a simple fill-in-the-blanks exercise but getting to the point of being able to complete this statement can require a lot of work and a lot of effort. In fact, it’s a good example of something that looks simple being confused for something that is easy. But, I digress. The beauty of a framework like this is that you are forced to make decisions such as sacrificing one audience to focus on another, choosing a particular customer problem you want to solve, or how you differentiate against your competitors. It places you both in the context of the audience and their world and in the context of your competitors and what they are offering.

If you are able to get to the point of confidently filling in the blanks of the statement above you will have a clear understanding of your positioning and create a focus for where you put your money, time and efforts.

A key consideration for defining your positioning

Now, I’ve danced a little around the subject, but it’s important to be explicit – to give yourself the best chance of defining and owning a position, you need to take your entire marketing mix into account. Often, intentionally or not, the expectation is that the promotion will do most of the heavy lifting for positioning the product, service or brand in the mind of the audience. As it’s the part of the marketing mix that the audience will notice most, this thought can be understood to some degree.

However, this expectation is misplaced. To establish your position and continue to defend it successfully all seven Ps of your marketing mix (product, price, promotion, place, people, packaging, and process) need to align and make a single coherent strategy. The campaign you create to promote a specific offer or thing is simply one of the many tools you have in your remit to reinforce your positioning and it needs to reflect the reality of the offer or thing it is promoting. It needs to be consistent with everything else that you are doing.

If that fun, light-hearted ad which espouses value for money and fantastic customer service doesn’t materialise into a product, service or brand that is customer-centric and cost-effective then you risk customer churn in the short-term and damage to your brand or product’s reputation in the long term.

To sum up:

  • Whilst positioning starts from within the organisation the goal is to find an ownable space in the mind of your audience. One that reflects who you are, what you are offering and differentiates you from the competition.
  • Defining a clear positioning requires some tough choices to be made but don’t let that put you off. If you are prepared to make certain decisions at the beginning you’ll find that other decisions become easier as minds and efforts are focused. It requires discipline but it can be done.
  • Don’t rely solely on your advertising and comms to do the heavy lifting for your positioning. You need to consider your entire marketing mix when defining your positioning and consider how changes in one area, e.g. partnering with a new channel partner, could impact your overall positioning in the mind of your audience.

In the next post, we’ll look at how you can better align your desired positioning with your audience’s perception in order to find a more ownable position.


(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)