Positioning is the marketing blueprint that defines brand borders and shapes communications strategy. Because positioning can sometimes set the course of innovation, effective strategists take steps to optimize it in the earliest phases of product development in order to influence the "DNA" of product design. Establishing the product positioning capable of creating greatest leverage in the marketplace is a critical success driver.
Positioning needs to occur in a disciplined but flexible framework that takes account of factors like market structure and degrees of positioning freedom available to each individual product. Within that broad framework, we routinely advocate a programmatic approach to address the positioning and communications challenge.
Mapping the Options
Product positioning starts with a market mapping process that explores customer aspirations and unmet needs, then plots existing products against those coordinates to identify attractive vacancies. This type of opportunity assessment can be purely qualitative, but often involves a quantitative survey component to thoroughly size and map available positioning opportunities left by needs not currently filled.
Aligning the Value Proposition
A second critical step in the process is to determine which candidate positionings credibly fit the product and which of them optimize convergence between product attributes and customer aspirations. In cases where a product is "discovered" rather than engineered, there may be fewer degrees of positioning freedom, and the focus may shift quickly to message development. Our research process, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative input, helps marketers explore the suitability of candidate positionings (or repositionings) and seek positioning coordinates that accurately reflect market "permissions" and constraints. This stage marks a transition point from positioning to messaging, and, in fact, a critical mistake often made at this stage is to focus prematurely on the narrow vocabulary of positioning statements at the expense of the “big idea.” We help streamline and discipline the process with techniques that keep the focus squarely on the search for a core value proposition, not turns of phrase.
Framing a Message Strategy
Once a positioning concept is selected, successful implementation requires tailored messaging strategies that effectively communicate the most salient aspects of the positioning. Qualitative communications research helps clients identify the messaging content and "proof points" that most clearly and creatively convey the product positioning to prospective buyers. In some markets, we rely on quantitative techniques, including choice modeling, to optimize message bundles within target segments and across the broader audience. This message development process concludes with creative concept testing.