“Why eat with a clown when you can dine with the king?”
This proposition was once displayed on a billboard of US fast-food franchise, Burger King, with the “clown” counterpart referring to its rival, McDonald’s. If this message worked its magic, it would have the reader perceive Burger King as a higher class dining experience over the less-sophisticated McDonald’s.
This billboard message describes how positioning in a marketing context essentially works. Tertiary Marketing courses define market positioning as how customers distinguish the organisation, its products and brands, from that of competitors when they are selecting from among the vast alternatives.
Why is market positioning important?
Because positioning works on customer perceptions, it is important to note that these may not always line up with the product’s characteristics or the brand’s intended portrayal. No two people view things identically.
Nonetheless positioning is important because it is fundamental to how customers make sense of the complex and crowded array of offerings that compete for their dollar, preference and loyalty.
Identify your target market
The first question you might ask yourself is, “Should my brand hip and cool? Rough and tough? Or sleek and stylish?”
Rather than choosing the one you think would be most appealing to you as a consumer, you need to think about the customers you are selling to and see through their eyes.
Even the most desirable and company-favourable image can turn out ineffective and – in worst case scenarios – catastrophic, should it not be targeted at the appropriate demographic. In this sense, consumer segmentation may be necessary in some cases.
Let’s say a health food company saw a viable opportunity to help a segment of 5-12 year old children; a significantly high number of whom are overweight or obese.
Segmentation would identify two distinct audience groups: children and their parents. While they may be related, these groups have starkly different priorities.
While your organic, “loaded with vegetables” market positioning will gain the trust of mums and dads, this may not bode as well with their picky, stubborn cherubs who have sworn off peas and broccoli.
Current market positioning, competitive positioning, and repositioning
Qualitative market research
Once your audiences have been identified, your next step is to find out their opinions, attitudes and perceptions. Is your new line of prescription glasses perceived as smart, or geeky? Which colour has more of a “royal” vibe, purple or navy blue? Is Erin Brochovich a powerful lawyer, or just a bully?
Qualitative research methods – such as focus groups – are commonly used to gain a descriptive insight into more complex, abstract concepts unique to every individual.
What needs to be researched?
A useful area to investigate first are product features and attributes that consumers use to distinguish between competing products or brands.
Let’s say a university were being scrutinised here – course availability and difficulty level can be identified as factors by which prospective students differentiate between universities.
Bring on the competition
Using these attributes, you then needs to find out how these are perceived compared to that of your competitors. But before you think about beating them at their own game, you should be more concerned about the ideal image you want your product or brand to convey.
You then need to ask yourself: does your organisation have what it takes to present itself in the best light and deliver its propositions?
A market positioning strategy not only has to be ideal, but also attainable and in line with your organisation’s strengths, mission, capabilities and available resources.
Repositioning in the market
Despite the golden rule of market positioning – which is maintaining consistency – repositioning is sometimes a necessary step. It needs to be done with meticulous planning, reason and clear, realistic objectives.
Think back to the university example. Imagine if their overly strict and elite position were perceived as intimidating by many prospective students: the 18-25 year old segment. Repositioning is clearly warranted in this scenario, so the next thing to determine is how might they tone down this demeanor to be more approachable to their younger target segment.
A plausible outcome of this would be flaunting toga parties, sporting events, clubs, societies and cultural activities without compromising the university’s calibre.
Splash this message across the popular hangouts for young people – for the bricks and mortar world, try the library or café. Clicks and mortar – your choice. Just don’t forget the hashtag.
Implications for content generation
Regardless of the mediums and verbal tactics used, tertiary literature provides some general guidelines when developing a marketing mix:
- Be consistent with the desired positioning
- Be internally consistent – each marketing mix element should be coordinated and supportive of the other elements
- Be sustainable in the long term
Marketing positioning in a nutshell
- The way an organisation is perceived can mean either a competitive advantage or disadvantage.
- Despite consumer perceptions being unique, there is still much a company can do to influence these.
- They will inevitably have more than one target segment which might differ in demographic factors, priorities and ways of interpreting marketing messages.
- The company’s current market positioning must be analysed and compared to that of their competitors. Repositioning may be necessary if it is both justifiable and attainable.
- Finally, a marketing mix – in this case, specifically, a content strategy – can be developed as the market positioning tool.
This entire process needs to be guided by market research, fall within organisational capabilities and resources, and kept consistent with objectives and missions.
The information gathered and positioning strategies developed will determine what to communicate with each segment using the most appropriate language and channels.