Should we rethink the idea of Positioning?
The idea of positioning dates back to the late 60's early 70's or at least the solidification of the way in which we all talk about it today does. It all started with a couple guys (Al Reis and Jack Trout) writing articles about "mind share" vs. market share which turned into one of the most referenced books in marketing today.
Owning a unique brand proposition made sense for years, in fact, as markets continued to get more crowded, the advertising world seemed to buy into the idea more and more. But, something happened recently that may have shut down the "USP" assembly line. "Stop the press... what happened???" Somewhere along the way, the customer was given a voice. Imagine that, the customer having an opinion on what they want to think about a brand. In this new WIKI-world perhaps positioning is as old as, say, reading the newspaper for news.
I'd like to introduce an idea for a new type of positioning, one that fits todays world. One that is not as rigid as the chrome bumpers of the 60's. I'd like to introduce you to the idea of Personalized Positioning.
My goal for this blog is to stimulate a discussion, dialogue, even a debate for all us marketing fanatics. Some of you may be diehard believers in product positioning according to Ries and Trout. Some of you may be advocates of Segmentation, somewhere between personalized positioning and traditional positioning. And, some of you may just say "I'm not buying any of it," much like Larry Light, McDonald's chief global marketing officer, who publicly noted the mega brand no longer subscribes to the belief of positioning.
Lets review all the various options briefly before I share my new idea of Personalized Positioning.
Fairly simple idea, figure out what you want your brand to stand for and "own" that idea in the mind of the customer. This concept relies, thrives actually, on simplicity. What is that "one" idea the brand can own. When Ries and Trout presented the idea, it seemed very logical, customers were being bombarded with continuos streams of advertising. But, the customer can only focus on so much stuff, so as a reaction the logical thing seemed to be make the ownable idea simple and consistent. Overtime, the customer would ascribe to that idea. The main point of positioning was to get the customer to ascribe quickly otherwise they will establish there own idea for your brand and you will have a hard time changing that perception.
There have been several adaptations to positioning over the years. Many marketers and agencies understand and appreciate the thought of simplicity, but at times can not give up on the idea of owning "just a few more things." This lead to a whole host of weird formulas for developing the best position that covered everything you needed to know about a given brand. The simple idea Ries and Trout started with became known as the unique selling proposition or a "key" part of the larger positioning statement. One of the more popular adaptations for product positioning is Segmentation.
I want to first provide a disclaimer. I am not suggesting the origin of segmentation is based out of the ideas from Ries and Trout. I could not find an originator, but I believe it dates back further than positioning as defined by Ries and Trout. What I am suggesting is that many marketers "position" their brands differently for different segments. These segments are typically based on psychographics including, beliefs, lifestyle, interest, even social class. So, essentially a brand can be many different things to many different types of people. But, holding true to classic positioning, at least each of the segments still only have one idea they ascribe to the brand based on this positioning. And, if none of the segments talk to each other, the success of the brand should be smooth sailing...
There is one small flaw in this approach, people DO talk to each other. People have always talked to each other. It is human nature and it's becoming even easier since Tim Berners-Lee introduced us to the worldwide web.
So, what's next? Is positioning completely obsolete? How will we ever function? Well, I'd like to introduce you to a new way to look at positioning. It relates to both classic positioning and segmentation. Perhaps it is just thinner sliced segments. Perhaps it's not positioning at all, but rather an absence of positioning. You be the judge.
You may have heard the term "Yes Man," well think about personalized positioning as a way to allow your product to be a "Yes Brand." Sounds negative at first, I am sure. But, if a brand says "yes" to the need of any consumer regardless of their beliefs or behaviors it starts to sound pretty intriguing. It's pretty simple, allow your brand to be whatever the individual wants it to be. Why should we care if one person thinks its fast acting and another person thinks it provides them confidence, just as long as they buy the product. Why is this idea practical? Lets look at today's world of communication... it's wikidiculous. Our thoughts about brands are influenced everyday, not by companies but by customer generated content. And, the brands that are succeeding are those who know how to connect at a personal level.
With the shift from mass media marketing to more micro media marketing—blogs, Youtube, Facebook, etc., perhaps the way in which we position a product should also be micro based.
I will continue to add perspectives and support points throughout our discussion, please share your view point of view. But, first, do you support the idea of a YES brand? Do you disagree? Imagine if you were the head of a council determining how advertising should handle positioning moving forward, what would you do? PLease post your comments for the others to review and comment.