Positioning is Best Viewed as a Request, Not a Verb

Positioning has long been described as an action that a company does, but this is a flawed premise as it presumes that an organization can fully control the position it holds.

Before elaborating on this inherent defect, I’ll offer a basic definition of a position from a marketer’s perspective. A position held by a company or brand is the place it holds in the minds of its target customers. Essentially, a position is whatever adjectives are used by customers or potential customers to describe the product, company or brand.

The mistake in stating that we, as marketers, position our brands lies in failing to appreciate that customers ultimately come to their own conclusions. If a position is a mental association held by the customer, a degree of success or failure will always be outside of our control – especially when the concept is considered on an individual basis. John Smith has one opinion or association with a product but Janet Jones has another. The seller is not able to guarantee reconciliation between their opinions or even guarantee that either person’s views are exactly what is desired by the company.

A better way to approach positioning is to pay heed to the proposition part of the term “value proposition.” Note that this simple phrase acknowledges that companies are proposing a way of offering something of worth. They are not dictating that value will be realized. It’s a suggestion or, better yet, a request for acknowledgment from the marketplace. The company would not make this proposition if it did not believe it to be true, but that does not mean others will feel that the value exists.

Companies do not position themselves, their products or their brands. They merely ask for a position. This request will either be granted or denied by their customers.

This is not to suggest that companies are weak in this process. Their influence in creating an effective and desired position is tremendous as the likelihood of success in requesting a position is amplified by consistency in communications and actions.

Looking at one of the most cited examples of successful brand positions, we know that Wal-Mart might tout its everyday low pricing strategy in its advertisements, but the discount retailer would not be successful in its request for this position if it did not follow through with consistently lower prices. The fact that it might not be the lowest price on every item in the store is inconsequential when it is true often enough for its loyal customers to believe that they’re saving money. Other potentially less obvious ways by which the retailer reinforces its positioning request are through layouts, store design, color schemes, etc. All visible cues tell its customers that this is a no-frills experience, thereby enabling them to save money.

Another common example of a successful brand is Apple, a company which is most commonly associated with innovation.  Nonetheless, simply saying that the company is innovative or telling customers to “think different” is not enough to guarantee the loyal following of Apple enthusiasts. Instead, the company seeks to make its request through regular product launches and seemingly customer friendly advances in technology. If we reflect on the introduction of Apple stores and their layouts, there is little room for suggesting the company was anything less than innovative when it came to its retail format. Like with the previous example, there are clearly limits to this company’s success in truly being innovative. Even its most loyal customers will acknowledge that one phone or another lacks in being much of a breakthrough compared to its predecessor model. Nonetheless, this suggests that a tipping point exists for customers to be willing to accept a request for a position if the request is made consistently.

Both of these examples are brands with strong contingencies of loyalists as well as their many critics. The existence of critics only reinforces the concept of positioning is a request and not a verb. The question becomes whether those critics would ever consider becoming customers. If not, the success of these and others companies’ requests is best measured by the acceptance of their target markets and not by the marketplace at large.  

While it might sound like grammatical semantics, appreciating that positioning is not a verb, and therefore not an action that a company controls, underscores an appreciation for your customers. In the world of positioning, there are two verbs at play: the company requests and the customer grants – at least if all goes according to plan.

Lewis Greenberg, M.B.A., P.C.M., is an Adjunct Professor in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University, and a Marketing Manager at Marcum LLP. He can be reached at lewis.greenberg@marcumllp.com

Repositioning: The Wheels of Marketing in Action

A very important topic in marketing today is that of Repositioning, sometimes also referred to as Brand Repositioning. The main objective is to basically pump new life into a declining/mature brand by attempting to change preconceived opinions and carve out a new distinctive space in the minds of its target market(s).  I find the practice of repositioning extremely interesting because as an observer (whether consumer or professional analyst) you can really see the wheels of marketing/branding in action. You can see firms trying to steer the ship in another direction so to speak, as they try to boost up an older brand and/or change its current image.

Taking a look at today’s marketing environment we can see that a number of brands have or are currently trying to reposition themselves. For instance, a few recent examples of brands who have attempted to reposition themselves that come to mind are Buick, Domino’s Pizza, and Cadillac. In the case of Buick and Cadillac, those brands are attempting to reposition themselves to seem more current, stylish, and hipper in order to appeal to younger consumers. A very good example of this repositioning at work is Buick’s commercial showing consumers’ surprised reactions to its newly redesigned vehicles: http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7UbT/buick-summer-sell-down-unexpected. Additionally, as a further effort to enhance their images, both Buick and Cadillac are even adding built in Wi-Fi to many of their new cars, which turns the vehicles into a hotspot with 4G LTE Internet connection speeds.

Regarding Domino’s, while still not considered gourmet pizza by any stretch, the company was able to turn around its lagging image and sales by initiating a new commitment and focus on quality. The company also completely overhauled its pizza recipe, from dough to sauce to toppings. In addition, the brand launched a creative advertising campaign, which included the “Pizza Turnaround” documentary-style commercial, in order to spread the word to consumers about the changes it was making. Together these initiatives helped to reposition the brand’s image. Additionally, Domino’s has tried to keep this momentum going by embracing technology in its pizza ordering and delivery process, introducing such features as the “Pizza Tracker”, as well as “Dom” the voice ordering assistant mobile app, and most recently the ability to order pizzas by way of text message, smart watches, smart TV’s, and even Twitter:  https://vimeo.com/139141726.

So what do you think about repositioning? Any thoughts on the brands I mentioned and whether or not they’re doing a good, bad or indifferent job in their efforts? Also, any examples of brands that you can think of (either recently or historically) that you’ve noticed trying to reposition themselves? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

*Images: Buick Avenir Concept (Buick.com, 2016); Cadillac Elmiraj Concept (media.cadilla.com, 2016).

John Gironda, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University. His teaching and research interests include digital and social media marketing, consumer behavior, marketing strategy, advertising, personal selling, and sales management. He can be reached at: jgironda@nova.edu;  http://www.business.nova.edu/about/faculty-bio.html?jgironda