Martin Jelsema

Article Summary:

Positioning companies and products against competition is a fundimental step in developing a brand strategy.

Positioning: the first step in establishing a consistent and unique brand

The concept and practice of "positioning" is important in defining competitive strategies and differentiating your company or product from its competitors. It is an integral aspect of building a strong brand.

Your company and your product will be "positioned" whether you take a proactive part in it or just let it happen. So it behooves marketers to influence customers and prospects to establish themselves in the best position they can. This article may help you do just that.

Positioning defined: When Al Ries and Jack Trout labeled and defined the term "positioning" in their breakthrough book, Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind, they stated that any company or any product in any business will establish a "position" in the collective mind of their customers and the prospects who know about them.

That position is built through the accumulation of contacts (touchpoints) with the company and its competitors, through their experiences and their impressions based on everything from the color of a salesman's tie to the overnight express service they use. In other words, the position is built through the sum of all the exposures, direct and indirect, positive and negative, that customers experience about you and your competitors. Customers will judge and then label a company/product/service based on these exposures, and it's extremely difficult to dislodge that label once established, whether it be positive or negative.

Competitors compound the issue because they, too, have made impressions and have occupied specific positions in the collective customer mind, and they are almost impossible to dislodge. Trying to occupy a position preempted by a competitor is next to impossible. Customers tend to "pigeon hole" and rank suppliers, and only through a major event or circumstance will they wish or need to reevaluate their initial opinions.

Competitive arenas - product categories: If you wish to occupy a favorable position in your customers' and prospects' minds, it's best not to attempt to unseat a competitor from their established position. Rather, attempt to find an equally positive, unoccupied position. If this is not possible, or if you're seeking a leadership role in a product category, try to reposition your product in another category or create a new category in which to compete.

For example, in the mid 1970's, Tectronix had a hefty lead over Hewlett-Packard in the analog oscilloscope market. Both companies introduced "digital oscilloscopes" in the same time frame, but H-P established a different playing field by naming and promoting a new category, "digital analyzer", and forcing Tectronix to compete there instead of "digital oscilloscope" category. H-P became the undisputed leader in the new category in two years.

Positioning in action: By determining what attributes of a particular category of product or service are important to customers, and measuring how individual companies rank in these attributes, the positions of the competitors can be determined; their strengths and weaknesses exposed. Thus, you can identify positive, important positions which are unoccupied (customer needs not being adequately met). You can also determine which positions to steer clear of because of entrenched competition. Moreover, you will be able to differentiate your offerings from competitors in a way that's meaningful to customers.

The research used to survey existing and unfulfilled positions is usually a two-step process. First is identifying attributes of relevance to target market members. Once defined, the second step is to determine from the same universe who occupies positions associated with the important attributes.

Once a company has identified the position it owns, (or if a new company or product, finds a positive, unfilled position) branding and marketing strategies can then be developed to strengthen or occupy a positive and unique position in the minds of those who really count: customers and prospects.

Martin Jelsema is CEO of Signature Strategies where he helps small businesses profit from the power of branding. Martin has 50-years experience with ad agencies (BBDO, Marstellar, J.M.Mathis) and companies (IBM, Coors Ceramics, Information Handling Services). He has been a marketing consultant and freelance writer since 1983. Martin also blogs at The Branding Blog. For more info, visit Signature Strategies.com

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