Enhancing the Tangible, Tangibilizing the Intangible
Positioning as a Marketing Discipline
Once a vision of the brand has been developed and a decision taken on its product-market focus, the company needs to develop a positioning strategy within each segment. Product-market strategies can be limited to a specific market segment or to multiple markets. Depending on the breadth of the markets being addressed, market strategies can differ widely, ranging from limited to broad product-market focus. Breadth of market coverage is not to be confused with competitive position since competitive positions can be determined in every key product-market segment.
It is through brand positioning that a company implements its segmentation policy and also its pricing strategy.
Positioning is closely related to the association and image concepts except that it implies a frame of reference, i.e. competition. A brand image is a set of associations, usually organized in some meaningful way. An association and an image both represent perceptions which may or may not reflect objective reality. Brand positioning is the basic selling concept used to motivate customers to select a given product over that of competition. Without competition, there is no need for a positioning concept.
Brand positioning is a series of decisions which in total cause potential customers to recognize that the brand is designed to meet a very clear, specific purpose. Positioning consists of (1) identifying a set of possible competitive advantages; (2) selecting the right one(s); and (3) effectively communicating them to the market.
The advantage of solving the positioning problem is that it enables the company to solve the marketing mix problem. The marketing mix – product, price, distribution, promotion, customer relations – is essentially the working out of the tactical details of the positioning strategy, i.e. the tool for the imaginative application of the positioning concept in the marketplace to achieve the desired differentiation of the product or service offering in the prospect's mind.
In signaling its competitive advantage to the marketplace, a company has three communications strategy options: (1) to strengthen and leverage its own current position in the minds of its target audience; (2) to search for a new unowned position that is valued by enough customers and occupy it; or (3) to deposition or reposition the competition.
One of the key criteria of a good positioning is focus on the one value proposition that will motivate customers to select the brand over that of competition. Positioning means focus. Focus prevents a brand from becoming all things to all people. Another is that the decisions are wholly consistent with each other. Yet another is that the decisions are limiting: not only do they define what the brand consists of, they also deny managers and advertising agencies the freedom to move from those decisions. In short, they lock the company into a strategy of marketing behaviour that will, over time, develop a brand's personality.
In practice, all brands acquire some sort of positioning: when a brand's history is made up of inconsistent decisions and activities, or when its positioning has been changed too often, the brand will be perceived unclearly. Three possible results can occur: (1) different members of the target group will perceive the brand in different ways; (2) the perception of each member of the target group will be confused; or (3) both effects occur together.
A brand's positioning is, of course, not fixed for all the time. Competitive events, particularly new brand entries, a shift in consumer attitudes and needs, new technologies, raw material costs, quality problems, etc., can all effect or threaten the existing position of a brand. There is, therefore, a need to review formally, on a regular basis, the company's brand positionings, together with the relevant marketing strategies.
Range brands present additional problems of judgment to the marketer, particular in striking, over time, the right balance between the brand as such, and its separate varieties. Differing rates of scale and differing profit margins between varieties are the chief factors that tempt managers to distort a range brand's position.
Consistent with the idea of brand positioning is the notion of a "strong brand", or a brand with a strong brand equity, as one for which the members of the target group hold clear and precise knowledge and attitudes. Conversely, a "weak brand", or a brand with a weak brand equity, is one where those attitudes and knowledge are confused or at a low level.