After your targetting section of any marketing plan comes the positioning. The term positioning here refers to 2 interrelated ideas: how the brand positions in consumers’ mind and how it positions against its competitors. In order to have an effective positioning statement, two requirements must be met:
- Reflect brand’s competitive advantage
- Motivate customers to action
There are many cases of brands failure due to failure of meeting one or both of these requirements. One of the very familiar cases is Vietnam’s tourism marketing. The slogan for Vietnam’s tourism from 2006 to 20011 is “Vietnam- The hidden charm”, and the current is “Vietnam- Timeless charm”. In my opinion, the slogan is very ambiguous, not reflecting any competitive advantage. Yes, the word “charm” sounds greater than “beautiful”, but still, it is too general. What is the definition of charm by the way? Is it about the charm of the people, charm of nature, of history or scenery or even everything? If you want to describe Vietnam as being “charm” in everything, that is really an objective opinion. Any country would describe themselves as being charm by the way. This positioning statement, from my point of view, fails because of not reflecting Vietnam’s tourism competitive advantage and creating very little appeal to tourists, failing to motivate customers to action.
To illustrate the outcomes of our positioning based on success or failure to achieve the above 2 positioning requirements, let’s look at the below graph.
As shown in the graph, if you can only reflect your competitive advantage but no reasons to appeal customers to take action, hard work is not going to be paid off. And if you can only motivate your customers to take action towards your brand that shows no competitive advantage compared to others, you are just promoting other brands having the same attributes and benefits.
After understanding this success rule in positioning, let’s talk about how can we position our brand. Using the brand image framework, which determines the four brand associations including types, favorability, strength and uniqueness, let’s focus on the types of brand association:
- Benefits: functional, symbolic, experiental
- Attributes: product-related (color, size, design…), non-product related (price, packaging, user and usage imagery…)
Among these types, a focus of positioning on the benefits offers more compelling reasons for customers to choose our brand. Firstly, functional benefit is the benefit offered which promises to solve consumption’s problems or potential problems. Functional benefit is mostly about practical benefits a product brings, which can be an appealing positioning to those practical consumers, such as the Innovators, Thinkers, Believers and Makers in the VALS model. Examples include Croc shoes offering lightweight, comfortable and odor-resistant footwear, Blendtec offering the super-strong blender that is advertised through the famous “Will it blend- Iphone?” Youtube video, Aquafina or LaVie satisfying the need for water, and Nokia’s “Connecting People” obviously positioning itself on the practical use of mobile phones: to communicate.
Next, symbolic benefit refers to products that can satisfy customers’ need to express themselves, belonging to a group or other abstracts. For example, a jewelry brand often positions itself on the symbols and images produced by the products to customers, such as high-class, stylish or other desired images, rather than focus itself on the functional benefits, such as being very durable or light. Symbolic benefit can appeal towards the Innovators, Achievers, Strivers and Experiencers in the VALS model.
Regarding brand positioned on experiental benefit, it satisfy customers’ need to experience through sensory value. For example, a teddy bear brand positioned on being very cute, a chocolate brand positioned on being very tasty, an event positioned on being very exhilarating or a cafe positioned on bringing peaceful moments.
For most brands, they often offer a mixture of function, symbolic and experiental benefits. There is an argument about whether a brand should focus on positioning itself on one benefit or multi-benefits. While focusing on only one benefit, such as Dove chocolate or most coffee shops focusing on the experiential side, is much easier to manage and provides a strong USP against competitors, it may fail to appeal to customers who seek multiple needs from a brand. The pro-side for multi-benefits positioning holds true for technology products because customers often look at a lot of criterias, such as design, software compatibility, weight, size and many others to decide their purchase. So, the need to focus on one or multi benefits somehow depends on consumers’ buying decision. I said “somehow” because complex buying decision may trigger consumers’ need to look at different criterias, but that cannot be applied to every product types.
If a product is positioned on attribute, it focuses on that attribute to make it a competitive advantage. Product-related attribute positioning highlights a particular attribute of the brand and makes it become a competitive advantage, such as luxurious design, safety, comfortable or low price. This can be very similar to the functional and experiental benefit positioning. The other attribute positioning is on non-product-related attributes. This often associates with usage or user imagery, such as a sporty and self-expressed image when using Nike or image of a young, high-class person when consuming Starbucks. This is very similar with symbolic benefit positioning.
To sum up, different brand in different situations need a different competitive advantage focus. However, all of them must firstly assess the 2 requirements for positioning: must reflect competitive advantage and must motivate consumers to purchase. This is the end of the positioning subject. See you on the next Marketing theories!