well-planned and effective product positioning strategy can beat out competition | Daily News
From crisis to sustenance

well-planned and effective product positioning strategy can beat out competition

Your product positioning strategy is one of the most important marketing initiatives you will grapple with when introducing or re-branding goods and services. What exactly is product positioning?

Positioning a company’s product or service is simply defining who you are in the customer’s mind. Marketers attempt to create an image or identity for a product, brand or company and usually express positioning relative to other competitors in the market. For example, the position of a low-price paper towel is expressed relative to the higher-priced brands.

When positioning a product or service, the key is to decide what the sustainable competitive advantage of the product is against its chief competition. If a product has a sustainable advantage, meaning that the product has some unique offering competitors do not have and that it can hold long term, the product will have a better chance of success.

For example, a glass cleaner made of environmentally friendly and patented ingredients might have a sustainable advantage over competitors providing those competitors do not develop their own eco-friendly products.


However, as painful and challenging as it can be for a business to build a competitive advantage - that advantage is often fleeting. External change such as competition, markets, business models, environment, customer preferences and technology deprecate your competitive advantage with time. In business, what works today won’t work tomorrow.

Another reason that competitive advantage decays is that firms tend to copy each other. If you develop a successful product, it will quickly be mimicked. If you develop a effective marketing technique it will be copied.

Sustainable competitive advantage is something you do better than any other firm that’s not likely to decay.Sustainable competitive advantage is a lasting ability to outperform all competition in a particular area or industry.

Your assets

As elusive as sustainable competitive advantage is, it’s easy to think of examples.

1. People

The knowledge and abilities of your people is the source of most competitive advantage.This applies to organizations big and small. Your people are typically your greatest competitive asset. Products come and go - a team that can repeatedly design products that wow your customers is sustainable.

2. Culture

Sustainable competitive advantage is all about your ability to innovate and change. You may have a highly talented team. However, if they don’t work together towards a common mission that’s unlikely to translate to a sustainable competitive advantage. Your culture is the way your team works together to focus their energies towards common goals.

3. Processes

If you can manufacture shiny-blue-widgets faster and cheaper than anyone else — this may represent a sustainable competitive advantage. Superior processes can be difficult for your competitors to emulate.

Some firms have good relationships with customers that continue decade after decade. Other firms have combative relationships with customer that continue until the firm goes bankrupt.

4. Technology

Firms weave together technologies to support innovation, production, processes and customer relationships. In large firms, these technologies stacks become extremely complex.

Firms that effectively architect and govern technology may enjoy a significant competitive advantage over firms that struggle to develop technology capabilities and efficiencies.

5. Capital

Capital investments can represent a sustainable competitive if you own unique capital that no one else can buy.

On a less grand scale, retail or hotel locations can represent sustainable competitive advantages. If you buy land next to the most popular beach on an island - you may be able to consistently outperform hotels located near less attractive beaches

Business change isn’t always predictable. However, once in a while a giant trend comes along that makes or breaks everyone. If you have sustainability competitive advantage, you can put on a fight.

Positioning characteristics

To be successful, product positioning must achieve three objectives:

1. Differentiate your product from the competitions;

2. Address important customer buying criteria;

3. Articulate key product (or company) characteristics

During the process of generating product positioning strategies, marketers review each one against the certain characteristics.

Does it convey one primary message at a time? Will it connect with the target audience? Does it contrast your strengths against the competition? Is it pertinent and significant to the target audience? Will it resonate with the target audience well into the future? Will it ring true with the target audience? Can you clearly substantiate your claims?

The process of product positioning will be based on the results of the answers the marketer gets.


Let us now discuss a few of the established product positioning strategies.

• Against a Competitor: Positioning your product directly against a competitor typically requires a specific product superiority claim. Avis tried unsuccessfully for years to wincustomers, pretending that the number one Hertz did not exist. Finally, it began using the line, “Avis in only No. 2 in rent-a-car agency; so why go with us? We try harder” After launching the campaign, Avis quickly became profitable. Consumers finally were able to relate Avis to Hertz, which was number one in their minds.

• Away from a Competitor: Positioning yourself as the opposite of your competitor can help you get attention in a market dominated by some other product. Coca-Cola historically focused on nostalgia for childhood and characterized as “family-friendly”, and often relies on “cute” characters (e.g. Polar bear mascot and Santa Claus). Pepsi adverts often focused on celebrities choosing Pepsi over Coca-Cola, supporting Pepsi’s positioning as “The Choice of a New Generation.”

• Benefits: This strategy focuses on a benefit your product provides to your target audience. In the toothpaste trade, Close-up emphasis on breath ability to give long-lasting fresh breath and Sensodyne targeted at cavity ability to prevent tooth decay.

• Product Attributes: Highlighting a specific attribute of your product can also be compelling. For example, Singapore Airlines focus on luxury; Mihin Air focuses on economy.

• Product Categories: Comparing your product to a product in a different category can be an effective way to differentiate yourself. In a soap-compares-itself-to-lotion example, Lux liquid soap claims that it moisturizes and softens your skin hands while you use it.

• Usage Occasions: This kind of positioning stresses when or how your product is used by your target audience. Mitsubishi Montero’s focus on off-road driving is an excellent example.


Marketers follow two main approaches to positioning a new product in the market;

Physical Positioning

Physical positioning focuses on physical properties of a product. Some cellphone manufacturers market their products based on the phone’s thin and water-proof design. The physical properties of the product are used to create a message and appeal to a target market, as well as keep the product fresh in the consumer’s mind.

Perceptual Positioning

Perceptual positioning focuses more on ideas and concepts of a product. A company might list the features of a new computer or provide examples of how the new computer can improve your life while positioning the product. Similarly, companies that do not offer a tangible product, such as a law firm, might use perceptual positioning to market their services to people in need of lawyers. They might offer low fees or the best success rate in the area and use those messages to position their firm.

The major difference between physical and perceptual positioning is the strategy behind the messages used to market a product. Some people are more attracted to a product’s physical appeal, while others are more attracted to features and concepts. Other differences include how the message is designed. Physical positioning typically includes more graphical advertisements to show off physical attributes, while perceptual positioning might include more text or voice-over dialog explaining how a product can improve a consumer’s life.Some products can use both approaches. Technology products, such as new phones or computers, can appeal to consumers both in their appearance and technical capabilities.

Positioning is making choices

Establishing a position is a process of both inclusion and exclusion. Mont Blanc serves as an easy example. Its positioning includes people for whom a pen is a fashion and a status symbol, probably more than it is a writing instrument. It excludes people, even affluent people, who don’t want to pay Rs.100, 000or more for a pen.

Positioning, in other words, is sacrificing some portion of the marketplace so that you can focus on the marketplaces of most value to you - and bring clarity of message to those markets.

Sacrifice is difficult. It’s financially difficult and emotionally difficult, especially for those whose “baby” the product is. The notion of leaving money on the table is terrifying. The notion of telling someone, “This product that I love isn’t for you” is even more so. But it has to be done.

Market size

A conceptlike positioning typically arise in the “large” rather than in the “small” business context. The underlying concepts apply to both, but access to the mass market requires substantially more preparation. The preparation of major product introductions and related packaging design, promotional and advertising campaigns, incentives for the supply channel, etc. can be very costly. Money can be wasted unless careful planning comes quite early.

Market segmentation, an early step in the positioning of products, is intended both to limit the costs of sales and marketing and also to channel the money to the most cost-effective points in the communications network. Related market research, distinct from segmentation, is often used to set price points, identify competitive aspects of the product, etc.

Probably the biggest difference between mass marketers and small businesses is that in most small businesses the positioning of products is based on the opinions of the business owner, and selected managers and customers.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a freelance newspaper business and feature writer and could be contacted on [email protected])


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