Why are you still using positioning to build a brand?


Back in the late 1960s, Al Ries and Jack Trout published their first article on positioning. But the term didn’t really become advertising jargon until the articles entitled “The Positioning Era”, were published in Advertising Age in the early 1970’s.

You can read the original articles here

There are numerous definitions of what positioning is today (Google ‘what is positioning’ and you get 24,900,000 responses). Even wikipedia isn’t sure but anyway you can read their definition here

But in today’s marketplace, positioning has multiple problems. Here are 11 reasons why you shouldn’t use positioning to build your brand:

1) Positioning was developed for the US mass market of the 1970’s. Is the Malaysian market similar to the US market? I don’t think so. The Malaysian market isn’t even similar to the Singapore market and they used to be the same country! And Thailand has little in common with Indonesia and so on. So why use the same model here?

2) In a smaller, flatter more competitive world, advertising agencies have used increasingly desperate and outrageous claims in their advertising to position products in the consumer mind. In Malaysia, Proton uses ‘You’ll be amazed’ to describe it’s MPV. I’m sure it is a good car but if it will amaze me, how will a Lamborghini make me feel? Consumers have been carpet-bombed with such claims for so long that now, they rarely take any notice of traditional advertising.

3) 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. It’s also about retention and relationships. Does this mean that a company should develop different positioning for different niches? Or does it use the same approach for every niche? And does it use the same approach for existing customers as well as prospects?

4) 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 competitors. Furthermore, it is impossible to measure the ROI or benchmark positioning.

5) 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.

6) Positioning is one-way. The company knows best and you must listen to us. We tell you how our products are positioned and you will accept what we tell you. But today, if you are not entering into 2 way conversations with consumers you are about to join the brand graveyard. Today, consumers get any information they want on anything from anywhere at anytime and then make their own decisions.

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. This means you are always playing ‘catch-up’.

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 TV? Surf the Internet? Put the kettle on? Go to the bathroom? Text a friend? Basically, you do anything but watch the commercial. How many TV commercials can you remember seeing over the weekend? It’s the same with billboards. How many billboards can you remember from your morning commute? And even if you remember those commercials or billboards, how many of the brands have you explored and purchased?

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?

11) To use a sporting analogy, in the early 1970s, professional tennis players were still playing with wooden racquets. Soon after the first non-wood racquets appeared. These were initially made of steel, then aluminium and after that, carbon fiber composites. Today’s racquets include titanium alloys and ceramics. As technology has broken new ground, the tools have improved. It is the same in every Industry yet when it comes to building brands, we’re expected to use the same technology and tools as we have been for the last forty years.

If your agency recommends developing a positioning strategy to build your brand politely show them the door and call us!