The Surface Meanings of Positioning
This health care product lost the market share because it didnt find the correct position and failed to win the consumers favor.
Working in the office, you should know your position clearly to win the praise of your colleagues and get a promotion.
This company positioned itself to be a third-party hotel which only provides top grade services and thus got remarkable profits over time.
The definition of positioning is accepted and used widely. However, if we do a sample survey of business managers and marketing personnel, and people working in market consulting services and the advertising industry for their understanding of “positioning “, I believe you will get a variety of answers. It seems that even many professional people, just simply accepted and memorized the term “positioning”, and use it in some specific situations! Few people truly consider “positioning” as a tool and how to put it in to practice.
If “positioning” is indeed effective, at least we need to understand the concept, master the methods, and put theories into practice. We can not just purely discuss about what “positioning” is and treat it as a fashionable term to enrich our vocabulary.
Now, lets look into “positioning”.
Advertising Age, an authoritative advertising magazine in the United States, published Positioning Era in 1972 written by Al Ries and Jack Trout, which declared the birth of positioning.
Al Ries and Jack Trout thought that “positioning” is a method of occupying a market position in the minds of the target audiences. Therefore, they use the present continuous tense “Positioning” to express the process. Any country, company, organization, individual, product or service could use this method to occupy a position in the minds of consumers.
The “positioning” that Al Ries and Jack Trout mentioned actually refers to in-depth study of the target audience from the perspective of the audience themselves in order to choose information to distribute effectively and guarantee a means for consistent communications. This will create a method which impresses consumers and gets them memorize the company in a certain way. Using common language to express these ideas we can name it: the what to say approach.
The principle of positioning brought forward a new era. With this concept widely known and accepted by the mass, marketing experts also tried to connect this principle with the existing marketing theory systems. Thus, we have the classic “S-T-P” steps, S stands for segmentation; T for targeting and P for positioning which is something that occupies a certain place in the minds of the consumers with its unique designs in supplies. (Philip Kolter, Marketing Management 10th edition). Please note that “positioning” here has surpassed its original meaning, it is not just a means of communication, but also holds meaning of unique design in supply.” In other words, the meaning of “positioning” lies in how to design the products, how to price them and what special services should be provided. Obviously, providing uniqueness in supply has actually become the key work of marketing! Therefore, “positioning” changed from a means of communication to the core point of marketing. Marketing experts have completely accepted the term “positioning” and admits the positive influence of adding “positioning” to Marketing Theories, and thus, its meaning have been enriched. Frankly speaking, from the perspective of marketing experts, “positioning” is not just matter of “what we should say”; it has become “what we should sell”.
When marketing experts promote the “S-T-P” method, strategic positioning” becomes the focus of discussion. Michael Porter’s On Competition said that: The essence of the business strategy is “positioning.” In his book, he pointed out: Enterprises can position themselves based on the types of specific products. Just as Galanz’s strategy has focused on the production and development of microwave ovens; enterprises can also position themselves based on all the needs or most needs of specific customers or as how IKEA positioned itself by providing a complete series of household products to young people, who care mainly about price, like to change styles all the time, and do not need services.
After determining a “positioning” strategy, a set of carefully selected activities can be carried out accordingly to strengthen the uniqueness value to their consumers. Take the Southwest Airlines for example, its “positioning” strategy is to provide serve- specific air routes and low-cost and convenient services, in this way, it can reduce boarding time, forgo providing any unnecessary VIP cabin services and only purchase Boeing 737 aircraft in order to enhance the efficiency of maintenance and strengthen its competitive advantages. These simplified activities are carried out based on the strategic “positioning” plan, and has helped to continuously consolidate their market “positioning”, so that other airlines can not compete with them at all.
From the perspective of Michael Porte, “positioning” has got even a richer meaning. The “positioning” of enterprises is what we should do and this is the essence of business management strategy and also the origin of competitive advantages.
There are three different levels of application of “positioning”. They are enterprise strategy level, marketing level and communication level respectively (see picture 1). Confusion often occurs because of the definitions of these three levels of “positioning” are actually different, but all of them are wide-spread and accepted. When we are able to examine “positioning” from different levels, then we can confirm in which level to use “positioning” correctly so that we can avoid confusion about its definition.
It is worth mentioning that the three levels of “positioning” dont contradict each other, on the contrary, the unification of the three levels can form a strong competitive advantage.
For example, Volvo focuses on producing safe cars, the “positioning” of which is in the enterprise level and also in marketing level, this is consistently shown in the process of their communications. So in the minds of consumers, Volvo occupies a market position of safety.
The ideal state of the three levels of “positioning” is a united one. Southwest Airlines, IKEA and Harley Motorcycles are some of the best examples of unity among the three levels of positioning. Strategic “positioning” is the core and direction of business management, so as to determine the direction of the products and services development, and further establish its unique position in the minds of target consumers through communications. We can see that such enterprises are strong powers in their markets.
Positioning and Brands
Clients often need an advertising company to provide positioning services for a certain brands. However, because Al Ries and Jack Trout didnt attempt to construct a theoretical system, nor there is clear definition about the relationship between “branding” and “positioning”. Therefore, the following situations are likely to occur: the clients who believe in the positioning theory claim that they need brand positioning for their shampoo products, for instance, but actually, they do not know what kind of materials concerning the brand the advertising company will submit. Proceeding from the view of business, the advertising company is willing to provide this service for the client, yet due to lack of theoretical basis and standards, clients can not actually identify the quality of the proposal submitted by the advertising company. The two sides will not be able to have in-depth negotiations or revisions on the proposal.
We should change this situation by creating a clear definition; otherwise this problem will seriously affect daily work progress and market results for many enterprises. Like the invention of the light bulb is based on the discovery of electricity, the “positioning” of a brand comes from the unity between “positioning” and “branding”, it is closest to Al Ries and Jacks classic theory on positioning–the positioning of communication, which is the first of the three levels of positioning in theory and practice mentioned above.
“Branding” is the general awareness of consumers on specific organizations, products, services, and the differences among them (Please refer to my article If You Are Confused About the Concept of Branding, and Graphic II in this article to familiarize yourself with the concept of branding). “Positioning” is the process of occupying a position in consumers minds. Therefore, we can consider “branding” as a result, and “positioning” as an approach.
Distinguished-What the brand represents?
Entity-What the brand stands for?
Awareness-to who the brand is meaningful for?
Giving positioning to a brand is to rebuild consumers awareness through the means of communication, which is actually a process of establishing a position or adjusting the present position. When this is completed, in the minds of consumers, a brand will be established or the awareness about a certain symbol has fundamentally changed.
If “positioning” is an approach, then from the perspective of overall brand management, what is the relevance of positioning itself? We know that the core means of brand management is to establish the “symbol system” in the minds of target consumers which is, in fact, to manage the communications and the differences mentioned in the materials provided to further manage the awareness of the target consumers. For this aspect of brand management a relatively complete methodology system exists; David Aakers brand recognition system.” In this system, as a process, brand management is divided into four steps:
1. Establishing brand awareness
2. Brand positioning
4. Following and checking the effects of communication activities and continue to improve them.
In these four steps, the main task of brand positioning is to have the brand recognition content and brand value orientation communications initiatively communicate with the target consumers.
Perhaps we can use peoples thoughts as an example to help us understand David Aakers insightful view. View points of Brand recognition is how a man sees himself, brand positioning is how this person describes himself and brand awareness is how others look at this person.
It is very simple; the essence of brand management is to combine other peoples opinions about you and your own opinion about yourself through various means. Brand positioning, however, is to let others remember your methods in this complex and saturated competitive environment (Graphic IV shows the relationship among brand identification, positioning and awareness).
This article aims to dissipate the fog of the concept and directly reveal the core concept.
Many people are confused about positioning, the reason is that the concept of positioning originated only from communication, but it has been further developed to the following three levels: strategy, marketing and communication.
Many people are confused about the relationship between branding and positioning as well, it is because they confuse branding itself with brand development and management measures.
The problem that we are facing is not the lack of theories, but actually having too many theories on this topic. Lets learn how to distinguish and select proper theories, not only select them but truly, systemically and creatively devote ourselves to implementing the theories we believe in. If these things are accomplished it will be more likely for enterprises and individuals to continuously achieve success in the more and more mature and fierce market competition in China as well as the global market.