Positioning, part two

A couple of respondents to this blog (and thank you all for commenting) have used Coke and Seven up as examples of successful positioning strategies. I appreciate they are great brands and they were built up over time but that was during an economy that no longer exists. Many sugary drinks launched in more recent times using similar positioning strategies to build the brand have failed to make a significant impact or even failed completely. Even those launched during the mass economy era, when positioning was considered the holy grail, failed.

One example is Pepsi One, a diet cola lauched in October 1998. Sales were healthy enough to begin with thanks to a hugely expensive positioning campaign and Pepsi One soon had 2% market share. However, it didn’t take long for consumers to realise that it tasted much like Diet Pepsi. Pepsi One’s market share dropped to about 1% and never moved.

New Coke was launched in April 1985, it was an unmitigated disaster and in fact, it is considered by many to be the ‘biggest marketing blunder of all time’. This despite a huge advertising budget funding a massive positioning strategy. Remember in the 1970’s, Coke had been positioned as ‘The Real Thing’ and at the time of the New Coke launch, the tagline for Coke was, ‘Coke Is It.’ So basically, Coke tried to position it as ‘The New Real Thing’ or worse, tell consumers, ‘Sorry, Coke wasn’t it, this is it.’ Al Ries said it best, ‘It was like trying to introduce a new God.’ Even Mecca cola, that should really be the number 1 cola in any muslim dominated country, hardly sells anything outside of a few cities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

BTW Coke is acknowledged as the world’s most popular soft drink, with about 50% of the global market. I would argue, and this is really setting the cat amongst the pidgeons, that what built the coke brand was not its positioning strategy and its iconic advertising, but actually its brilliant use of the supply chain via its franchise system and its ability to distribute to just about every nook and cranny in 200 countries and territories on the planet.

Other problems I have with positioning, and I didn’t really go into this in the earlier piece, is that developing a positioning strategy is extremely expensive and impossible to measure. So essentially you spend a small fortune to play a guessing game. If you are a multi national, like Coca Cola, then this may be an option, although if I owned, the stock, I would do my best to resist such an approach. If you are a small business, or even a large Asian organisation looking to develop a global brand strategy, you are simply wasting valuable resources in the hope that consumers or other businesses will take note, remember and buy your product or service. However, as Rick Page said, ‘Hope is not a strategy’.

One person commented that lower valued brands don’t occupy any position in the minds of consumers. If by lower valued brands, he means smaller sized companies, then he is right, they generally don’t occupy any position in the minds of consumers, because 1) In today’s fast paced, complex and cluttered world, most consumers don’t have any space in their minds for anything and 2) because the communications or content do not resonate with them.

Another comment was related to who is responsible for the brand, strategic development or the creative department. Well, brand building is a strategic endeavour not a creative exercise.


One thought on “Positioning, part two

  1. With all due respect, without a strong positioning statement, marketing doesn’t know what to say and to whom in its effort to sell a product or service. It has no clear unique selling proposition and it’s not differentiated from anything else in the marketplace. Its like starting out on a trip – not knowing where you’re going and not having a map or any kind of guidance to help you get there. The probability of getting to where you think you want to go is rather slim.


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