Marketing is a fascinating field. Ever since my close up exposure to early Citrix marketing, I’ve always wondered how these things really work. There was always a taste of what it was, but never any really deep understanding.
Recently I searched for marketing related topics and found one that really interested me. It is called positioning marketing and is used primarily to shift how consumers think about particular products or companies.
Surprisingly it is a fairly new field having been created in the late 1960s. It probably needed something like television to really catapult the possibility of doing this kind of marketing.
Wikipedia has a brief description of positional marketing that is a good starting point.
In marketing, positioning has come to mean the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization. It is the ‘relative competitive comparison’ their product occupies in a given market as perceived by the target market.
Re-positioning involves changing the identity of a product, relative to the identity of competing products, in the collective minds of the target market.
De-positioning involves attempting to change the identity of competing products, relative to the identity of your own product, in the collective minds of the target market.
The original work on Positioning was consumer marketing oriented, and was not as much focused on the question relativity to competitive products as much as it was focused on cutting through the ambient “noise” and establishing a moment of real contact with the intended recipient. In the classic example of Avis claiming “No.2, We Try Harder”, the point was to say something so shocking (it was by the standards of the day) that it cleared space in your brain and made you forget all about who was #1, and not to make some philosophical point about being “hungry” for business.
The growth of high-tech marketing may have had much to do with the shift in definition towards competitive positioning.
Positioning is all about changing how you look at products and companies. In many cases the products and companies do not change. Rather, marketing is responsible for portraying the product or company in a different light to cause a mind shift in the consumer.
The most likely benefit comes from isolating the product/company away from the competition by providing something that the other companies cannot provide or as well. Echoing the thinking of “Good to Great”, marketing is responsible for identifying the “Hedgehog” philosophy of how to sell the image most successfully.
Companies are constantly re-adjusting their image based on new opportunities or threats. Most companies see this process as a sort of battle that occurs between new products or services. Probably the most important realization is that the thoughts of the company/product become more important than the actual true benefit/performance provided. Obviously loyalty will overlook a newcomer even if they are better. Loyalty comes from thinking which comes from marketing image.
There are two people credited with popularizing the concept of positioning and their names are Al Ries and Jack Trout. I went looking for more information on them and they have spent their lives refining this model and trying to convince companies how important this is.
Please watch this video from Jack Trout. It summarize his exploration of marketing and strategies for business success through marketing. It stresses that business needs to focus on marketing and innovation. Marketing is seen as a differentiator from other companies. This all makes sense once explained but someone like me does not find this kind of advice as being obvious.
Jack has a column on Forbes.com that covers different topics that he cares about. As an example, please read “Differentiate or Die“. Once you get a feeling for what he is saying, you can see the value of the advice. His experience in the business has led him to form many conclusions that clash with popular marketing thinking in some companies. He gives a good example with Coke being so focused on the “show business” angle of advertising and losing touch with differentiation. Jack calls this a lack of focus. He does have a point.
Perhaps I enjoyed this topic because it is so different from what I normally do. Obviously I’m way behind the understanding of someone trained to do marketing from the field or school. However, I do have a good sense for knowing which teachers to listen to and apply. Jack Trout is certainly on my list now.
To summarize, positioning is used to convince customers of the relative value of something they can buy. It essentially is the art and science of getting you to think a certain way about a thing that makes it different from everything else you know but yet be relative to what you know. Said more simply, positioning is about putting the ideas in your head about what relative value the product or service has. It can’t be the same as something else otherwise the consumer will most likely pick what they already know. However, you can refer to the other product so that the consumer knows why they should pick you instead. It sounds easy to explain but it is not.
The ultimate goal is to find the spot of your brain that does not have any current opinion and give it one. The idea is that consumers don’t like mind conflict on the same topics and will better receive a new product when it comes with a new story. Something radically new would be perceived as being too risky to try so that is why being relative to other products is so valuable.