40 years ago this year, Jack Trout published his first article on positioning. But the term didn’t really become advertising jargon until his articles entitled “The Positioning Era”, were published in Advertising Age in the early 1970’s.
There are numerous definitions of what positioning is today but to ensure we’re all on the same page, I propose this version: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positioning_%28marketing%29
But in today’s marketplace, positioning has multiple problems:
1) Positioning is immeasurable: You can’t say “our positioning has improved our sales by 5 % or as a result of our positioning strategy, our brand is 12% better than competitions. Furthermore, it is impossible to measure the ROI or benchmark positioning.
2) Positioning is only suitable for mass markets. Yet branding today is about segmentation and communicating and engaging with those segments via relevant channels and with messages that resonate specifically with those segments or niche markets. Does this mean that a company should develop different positioning for different niches?
3) Positioning is suitable for mass markets with limited competition and limited consumer access to media and information. Today, consumers can get any information they want on anything from anywhere.
4) The wikipedia definition is a top-down, company knows best, hierarchical marketing approach. Yet we live in a C2C environment in which consumers define brands.
5) Positioning is one-way. The company knows best and you must listen to us. We tell you how our products are positioned. But today, if you are not entering into 2 way conversations with consumers you are about to join the brand graveyard.
6) Positioning was developed for the US mass market of the 1970’s. But we’re in a globalized world now, with much more competition and more knowledgeable consumers.
7) Positioning is competition, not customer driven. The basic premise of positioning is that you want to be number 1 or number 2 in a category in a prospect’s mind. If you can’t be number 1 or number 2 in an existing category because of competition, you make your own category. In today’s congested marketplace, the investments required to develop a new category are enormous. Furthermore, besides the difficulty and expense of creating your own category, you are also letting your marketing be driven by the competition rather than consumer demands for value.
8) Positioning is dated. With limited competition (by today’s standards) in most categories, positioning was a compelling theory. The problem is that the world has changed a little since 1969. Yet agencies continue to recommend positioning as the foundation for any brand strategy.
9) Positioning uses mass market channels such as TV and billboards to reach as many consumers as possible using repetition to create interest. Yet ask yourself, what do you do when the commercials come on? Surf? Put the kettle on? Go to the bathroom? Text a friend? Surf the web? Basically, do anything but watch the commercial. Same with billboards. How many billboards can you remember from your morning commute?
10) Positioning requires massive, and I mean massive budgets that few companies have. If you do have a massive budget and you do execute your campaign across multiple channels for say six months, what happens if it doesn’t work?
So my question is, what are agencies doing recommending a theory that was developed before the PC was invented? I welcome your comments.