In marketing, a positioning strategy highlights the unique features that distinguish a brand from its competitors. In this article, we explore the three keys to strategic positioning and review seven positioning strategies.
What is positioning strategy?
Positioning is a marketing strategy, also referred to as product positioning, which refers to how a brand wants to be perceived in the mind of customers relative to competing brands. The objective of a positioning strategy is to establish a single defining characteristic of a brand in the mind of the consumer. Effective positioning strategies consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, the needs of the customer and the claims of competitors. Product positioning allows a company or brand to illuminate areas where it can eclipse the competition.
The 3 keys of strategic positioning
Creating an image and shaping how a brand is viewed by consumers is a very purposeful and meticulous act. Background research and an understanding of the market are crucial to your brand's success. Product positioning begins well before the creation of brand identity and is crucial to branding. The three keys to strategic positioning are often referred to as the three "C's":
- Customer: Central to positioning is knowing your focus by identifying what the buyer wants and needs. Research to see if there is a problem customers need a solution for and what needs they might report via surveys, interviews and reviews. Listening to buyer needs and placing a high importance on those needs is pivotal in getting customer attention and loyalty.
- Channel: Your channel, or sales team, is central to understanding customer needs and is where you will likely find the majority of information for successful positioning. Your channel is a direct connection to the customer, and through their experience, you can get information such as the customer profile, customer problems, competitive intelligence and the purchase process. With experience in the entire sales cycle, channels will help you identify brand strength to effectively focus your positioning strategy on what you do well as a brand.
- Competition: A final step in formulating a product position is paying attention to your competition and their position. If yours is unique and easily differentiated from what is on the market, then your positioning statement (your assertion of brand uniqueness) is effective.
Seven types of positioning strategies
There are several different routes to take when employing positioning strategies. Although there often needs to be a central one, it is effective to use several in unison. This method allows for greater market reach and helps to inform your customers through different modes. The seven basic types of positioning strategies are:
- Product characteristics or consumer benefits: In using this strategy for positioning, the focus is on quality. It addresses the brand's durability, dependability or reliability and style. An example of positioning based on characteristics is when toothpaste companies refer to the product as "refreshing" or "cavity fighting." A slogan like "stronger than steel" communicates strength and reliability in a market where similar products exist but are differentiated through consistency of product characteristics.
- Pricing: This positioning strategy focuses on the relationship between price and quality and the consumer's perception of the value of a product. In comparing jacket prices, a buyer might assume that a jacket higher in price is higher in quality. Conversely, a lower-priced product will position for affordability. Designer jeans boast quality because of price, while department store jeans are accessible to all.
- Use or application: When a brand reaches a larger market or changes the purpose of the brand or product, positioning based on use is functioning. For example, a company that advertises its hot tea during colder seasons begins to advertise an iced version during the summer to alter its brand's use to reach a larger market through modifying applications. Tape or adhesives often used for home repairs can reposition the brand for decorative or craft projects. Widening the reach accesses a different type of customer.
- Product process: This is when a brand is associated with a specific user or class of users. Endorsements by famous personalities or product influencers are examples. The athleticism exhibited by basketball players who wear specific sneaker brands is expected to be associated with the brand in consumers' minds. In purchasing that brand, the expectation is that all who wear it will be as athletic. Another example is a shampoo once specifically marketed only for babies might change the application to be used by people with sensitive hair or scalps too. Repositioning based on the application will help a brand that is already positioned to expand by sharing the market.
- Product class: This consists of positioning two related products in the same product class simultaneously, resulting in an increased customer base. By positioning dried milk as both a breakfast substitute and a protein shake, the appeal is doubled to two different customer needs.
- Cultural symbols: The objective in positioning based on a cultural symbol is to identify something like a symbol very meaningful to people that have not been used by competitors and harness it to associate your brand with that symbol. Airlines have done this with cultural symbols to associate with royal treatment.
- Competitors (relation to): Using competitors as a frame of reference to differentiate a brand is another type of positioning. Positioning your brand against competitors is an obvious challenge on quality and asserts that your brand is superior with a competitive edge. For example, one chicken-based fast food restaurant boasts a bovine mascot who encourages customers to eat chicken, being aware that most other fast-food chains market beef burgers. Positioning in relation to or against competitors inferentially acknowledges similarities but focuses on the differences, thus spotlighting your brand over the others.