What’s the deal with positioning?


A brief overview of perhaps the least understood marketing concept: positioning. It’s what you need to get clear on before you start advertising.

Imagine you’re a wealthy business person and your birthday party is coming up. You’ve decided to book a comedian to perform for your friends and you can afford any performer in the world. Who do you choose? Maybe you come up with a short-list of people you think are equally funny: Billy Connolly, Woody Allen, Tina Fey and your next door neighbour, Tim, who does amateur stand-up.

I put it to you that you have a clear mental picture of where each of these people sit in the comedy landscape.

Who would you choose if your friends were mostly Jewish psychologists? Who would you choose if they were mostly people working in politics? If they were mostly blue collar workers? Each performer occupies particular mental territory in your comedic imagination. That territory is their positioning. Connolly is positioned strongly as ‘outrageous’ and ‘irreverent’; Allen ranks for ‘sophisticated’, Fey ranks for ‘sex appeal’ and ‘current affairs’.

Probably you’re unlikely to choose Tim because you recognise that in the minds of the audience he doesn’t have a profile. He hasn’t established a positioning in the market. He might be as funny as the rest, but for the important attributes of ‘famous’ or ‘credible’, he doesn’t rank.

We build up these mental pictures of where people sit in relation to everyone else – different people stand out in different areas.

Same applies to business positionings. What marketers try to do is mark out mental territory and make that territory as proprietary as possible. Because if our positioning is powerfully clear, it will jump into the mind of the consumer easily.

Some positionings are more valuable than others. A surgeon would rather be positioned highly on ‘technical expertise’ than ‘lives close by’. So choose a positioning that is meaningful to your target market.

Pick the absolute most concise positioning. If you are trying to position your widget as ‘convenient’, ‘value-for-money’ and ‘long-lasting’ you’re going to confuse the market. Be single-minded. You don’t have a $50 million budget. (And even if you did…)

In all cases we’re trying to latch onto territory that we can own. Territory that becomes identified with your brand and no-one else’s. It’s hard to own the positioning ‘quality’ if everyone in your industry says they are the best quality. And they probably do. Choose something that you can own and take into account your budget and your competitors’ budgets. You might want to own ‘convenient takeaway’ but you probably can’t match McDonalds’ budget.

Bind the positioning to your brand name so that when customers think of that positioning, they think of your brand. If you are the top-of-mind product you are likely to get the first phone call the customer makes.

Can you successfully communicate that positioning in your advertising? If you’re saying ‘better quality finish’ than your competitors’ furniture, you’d better make sure the finish looks better in your photography than theirs.

Finally, your positioning should reflect who you are as a business. If your advertising says ‘reliable’ and the customer experience is not that, you’re in trouble. If their experience with you reinforces what you’re promising, you’re unusual. People will talk about you. Otherwise you’re just another bullshit artist. I mean advertiser.

1. Choose a positioning that is majorly meaningful to your target market.
2. Make it incredibly concise. One idea. Three words. That kind of concise.
3. Make sure you can own the positioning, given your competition, your budget and your advertising message.
4. Make sure your positioning is a reflection of the experience you actually deliver.


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.