When we think of the Volvo make and compare it with others, the image and the word that comes to mind is “safety”, for this is what distinguishes it.
But what happens when I think of fruit and I compare them with the rest of the replacement products: artificial desserts, snacks, etc. What comes to my mind? Or when I think of apples in general in comparison with bananas, or when I think of a specific brand “Plátano de Canarias” against “Chiquita”, what words or images come to my mind? I am talking about positioning, a term so widely used as it is little understood, but fundamental in marketing. In fact this is a strategic decision that is taken before doing any kind of advertising.
Today, any marketing or communication professional has to reflect on the concept of positioning if they want their products to win the battle of being distinguished from the competition and becoming the benchmark for their potential customers.
This has been the case since Al Ries and Jack Trout conceived the concept in 1986 and published it in one of the historic books of marketing, “Positioning, the battle for your mind”. Since then it has evolved and been enriched, but it has also been distorted, partly because there is no academic consensus either on its definition or on its use. All of this does not imply that it is clearly separated when it is ill-used and that the positioning is considered a key and central idea of marketing by the principal thinkers in such matters: D.A. Aaker, G. Hooley, P. Kotler, M. Porter, etc. We see an example in the fact of how the positioning of the Spain brand for wine and oil takes away a great deal of value in many international markets and leaves us behind France and Italy, respectively. It is necessary to know what positioning should be chosen and how to achieve it before starting a hypothetical advertising campaign to reposition the Spain brand wherever it is needed.
To understand what the positioning is in the conquest of minds, it might be good to think of what happens in the process of conquest between men and women or vice versa: the first thing we do is to catch the other’s attention, and so we will try not to be just one more and to be distinguished in something. Once we have caught their attention, the second will be for there to be attraction and not rejection. This depends on what has been used to create this distinction (we saw this in the previous article). To get this right, I will first have to know what the opposite sex thinks, desires, appreciate and rejects as far as I can, and I will therefore discover two things: who I can please and how. What the positionings of the word or image that women would use to define me after my attempted conquest will be. This naturally happens the same the other way round.
In fact the most widely used acceptance of positioning is “to take over a word or image in the consumer’s mind”. If the whole process has been done well, we will have connected. On the level of our products, if we do the positioning process well, the word or image the consumer will have will exemplify our value proposal in a simple way, it will be something relevant and will not have previously been “taken” by my competitors, it will be unique. In a single word, we will have a unique value proposal (“safety” for Volvo). Although after this, in the advertising, we might express this proposal creatively with a phrase.
The positioning is something desired at the beginning. It is the image we want consumers to have of us when they compare us with the competition. The curious aspect of this process is that the consumers, whether we like it or not, are going to form an image of our brand, product or category of products spontaneously, as everything that the senses perceive communicates: the product itself, its appearance, price, quality, place of sale, the type of consumers to purchase it, word-of-mouth opinions, etc. and they are going to compare it according to their beliefs and values. Therefore we are interested in influencing with everything we have in our hands to be able to communicate and direct the process, so in the meantime the positioning will become reality. All of these factors creating positioning must therefore be consistent and coherent with the chosen value-attribute with which we want to be distinguished. Of course in all of these factors, if the advertising is consistent and massive it will make our brand better known, and secondly, if the message is correct, it will transmit the desired positioning. It is therefore crucial that advertising must be built on a well conceived, solid and well defined positioning.
If we want to position ourselves badly, we can do three things:
We can try to have an unsustainable positioning, when we would like to be something that our product is not. We can attempt a wrong positioning by focusing the consumers’ attention on a characteristic of our offer which is not the most important characteristic for them or in which the competition excels us. And we can choose an indistinct positioning, one that is the same as many of my competitors to which I just add “more or better”.
For the positioning process to be done well and these errors not to be made, I suggest a simple three-step process.
This first step is a summary of my previous article on distinction in which a decision is taken on the basis of in “what” I am going to be distinguished. It is necessary to have as complete a global view as possible of three things: the beliefs, values and desires of the target audience; the offer of the competition and replacement products, and; the strengths or attributes which distinguish my product.
The base of the process is the consumer’s knowledge. It is necessary to explore the ideas, beliefs and values prior to a communication, as this is the area where we are going to move and it is not possible to impose or implement anything on this level as it would lead us to certain failure. I remember a chairman of Intercitrus who said in order to sell more oranges, the publicists had to make people peel more oranges and eat them. I suggested that if most of the consumers preferred to squeeze the oranges, and to peel and eat tangerines, why didn’t we explore this route. He answered that it was because the Spanish farmers strived and spent a lot to achieve the prettiest oranges.
So then we must think: who are Spanish oranges competing against; against the Moroccans, against tangerines, against apples, and against yoghurts, against a little of each of these and with what intensity, who does most harm?
The offer must be analysed broadly considering all of the products no matter how far they are from satisfying the same kind of desire or need. Can a medlar be positioned as a beauty product because it purifies the blood and this can be seen in the skin? It can if it really achieves something in this area and the proposal is of value to a wide segment of consumers, women for example. This example may seem extraordinary, but it is what I suggested to Callosa d’en Sarrià.
Finally, in this first step it is important to know the details of the offer itself, all of its characteristics, properties, curiosities, etc. as this is where our distinctive strengths must stand out.
Once we have a clear view of our distinctive points we have to ask, in what context and on the basis of what distinction are we the best option for our possible customers? This gives rise to the positioning in itself.
For example, in such a mature market as shower gels, when the strategists analysed the tendency and needs of the consumer in their search for bringing out a new product, they realised the proliferation of gymnasiums in recent years and the fact that people shared the showers.
In this context, why not bring out a gel that would protect the skin from infections, which would keep it healthy, and they presented Sanex. In a little time they became the market leader thanks to this new context.
Another example, when all watches competed on the base of time, their precision, luxury, etc. along came Swatch and was presented in a new context, fashion. It triumphed.
Seeking the context in which our product is the best option also requires a lot of information, quite a lot of imagination and sometimes bravery. Bravery to be the first and only one to take a place that already existed but which others were unable to take or unable to see and therefore to mark the attributes of most interest to us for others and consumers.
The last step in the positioning process consists of communicating our value proposal in the right context in a way that is simple, and if possible, popular, understandable and creative, “Sanex, healthy skin”. This is the creative expression of the positioning and is no longer the work of strategists, but rather creators. Good strategy and good creativity are the two faces to good advertising, effective advertising.
And now we are going to reflect, for example on the positioning of fruit and vegetables analysed as a whole and individually.
In the case of fruit, each fruit is different, has its colour, shape, flavour, texture, properties and different uses and therefore they cannot all be positioned in the same way and in the same context, as is usually done, for they all want to be the number one in healthy properties, which is also something that cannot be communicated.
Each characteristic gives them an attribute. Therefore they will all have to be studied and we will have to see which of them considers consumers most and see whether it beats the competition. After this work, we will see that some fruit have the attribute of peeling easily, others of purifying the blood and beautifying the skin, others of preventing colds, others of being consumed easily in the form of juice, others of being refreshing, others energy giving, etc.
For instance, the banana cannot be positioned in the context of energy and the same thing done with apples for two reasons: one of the two fruit will have better reasons for being in this position and leave the other out of place and second because the consumer is being confused. All fruit are selfishly interested in each one holding its place, a unique place which is also the most appropriate.
With respect to wine or oil, it is not the same positioning for wine in general, quality wine, wine with the nomination of origin, DO Calificada Rioja, Spanish wine, organic wine, etc. The positionings of generic products or national products must be brought and not exclude any specific one; they must solve problems that affect everyone and give value, especially among the private brands, which in the end are those that sell and all of this requires study and reflection.
To position or reposition a product correctly and increase its competitiveness, the key is to analyse in which context and on the basis of “what” my product is the best alternative. It is therefore previously necessary to make a good study of the consumer and the competition, to have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of my product and to compare them with the strengths and weaknesses of my competitors and the desires and needs of target consumers. To build a positioning of private or geographic brand such as “aceite de España” in the mind of a brand’s consumers takes a lot of time and money. Therefore to do it badly, to make a mistake and not to choose the right one is doubly dramatic for what it costs and for what you fail to achieve.