Yellow ladybird located in space surrounded by a cluster of red ladybirds

Positioning is one of the simplest marketing strategies to implement, and yet is one area that is often not even properly considered.  This article takes a closer look at why you should carefully consider how your brand is to be positioned in the marketplace.

The benefits of positioning

The ultimate benefits of positioning your business effectively are huge.  During any purchasing process, the customer is looking to be guided to a product/service/brand of “best fit”.  Sometimes it may not always be crystal clear from the outset what they are looking for exactly.  However, they will have a need, and a rough idea of what may be the solution to fill that need.

Very few of us are in the privileged position of being in a monopolistic market, where our brand is the only option.  With this in mind, our offering will be competing against a number of alternatives.  These competitors will be of various shapes and sizes. Although we may consider ourselves in a different league to many of them, to the purchaser they are all available options.

Why positioning is one of the most important marketing strategies is that if we do not stand apart (in the mind of the customer) from such competitors, then it makes the buying process much more difficult.

Get it right and watch your perfect target customers come back to you again and again.  As marketing strategies go, surely this is the nirvana for most businesses.

The following few paragraphs will help guide you to understand where you are currently positioned, where you want to be positioned, and what you need to do to make it happen.

Positioning Marketing Strategies – Step 1 – Identify the market

Before you can attempt to analyse where your business is currently positioned, you must first identify the market you are positioned within.  For some businesses this will be really easy, and for others much less clear.  Why this is critical is because unless you have clarity on this element, you cannot really understand who you are competitively positioned against.

Competition concept with businessman beating competitors

Let’s take a look at an example to show the impact that this could have.  Let’s say for example I run a small Yorkshire animal welfare charity.  Before I can truly undertake this positioning exercise, I need to ascertain whether I consider my marketplace to be local charities within Yorkshire, or alternatively, animal charities. 

In order to arrive at my decision, I may well look at my existing supporter base and, perhaps, even speak to them.  Do the majority of supporters start with wanting to support a local charity first, and then select the cause – or vice versa?

If my market is Yorkshire based charities then I will be competing for donations against a raft of different causes – such as children, the elderly, the homeless, poverty, abuse, terminal illness etc. 

If, on the other hand, I am competing against other animal welfare charities I am more likely to be up against organisations like The Dogs Trust, RSPCA, Donkey Sanctuaries, World Wildlife Fund, RSPB, Blue Cross & PDSA.

Once we are clear on this, we can move to stage 2.

Positioning Marketing Strategies – Step 2 – Identify the competitors

Now that we know the market we can start to consider who our major competitors within this marketplace are.

Competitive Noise Graphic

Undoubtedly there will be 2 or 3 that jump out at you straight away that you have always considered competitors of yours.  It may because you always seem to be up against them for new clients, you may have lost clients or staff to them, or their marketing might just be making the most noise.

However, we often find with most clients we work with, there are a number of other competitors that they are not even aware of.  These are the dangerous ones.  After all, if you don’t know your enemy, how can you create marketing strategies to overcome them.

 Undertake some research to identify any new companies moving into the marketplace, who is most prominent through online search, or who is diversifying their offering (may be from other sectors altogether).

Once you know who the competitors are, you can start to plot the landscape of the market.

Positioning Marketing Strategies – Step 3 – Plotting the current landscape

So, we now know the market we are operating within and the key competitors within the marketplace.  Now we need to understand where we currently fit in the overall competitive landscape.

Irrespective of whether you have ever consciously positioned your business before or not, you will be positioned somewhere in the mind of prospective customers. 

To plot the current landscape, you need to draw an intersecting vertical line half-way along a horizontal line so that you have four equal quadrants.  Now at the end of each axis, label them as two ends of the same scale.   What the scale actually represents is up to you and the key drivers within your target audience.  Examples could be….

Traditional – Modern

Safe – Edgy

Economical – Expensive

Value – Quality

Luxurious – Basic

Healthy – Indulgent

Fun – Serious

Utility – Performance

National – Local

Premium – Mass Market

Older Market – Younger Market

Fitness – Fashion

Ethical – Convenient

100% natural – 0% natural

Simple – Technical

Creative Led – Results Led

Retainer model – Project Model

When you have your axis labelled (a marketing consultant may help you with this) you then need to plot your competitors on the chart, along with where you currently sit.  You may need to get some independent customer feedback because it is important that you get a realistic view of where your customer’s see you, as opposed to an internal view.

Positioning Marketing Strategies – Step 4 – Spotting the Opportunity

Most businesses become a little obsessed with the competition.  Many companies we have worked with try and replicate successful initiatives competitors have undertaken, or price in line with competition, or follow their product development trends.

We do not feel that such obsession is overly healthy.  After all, how can you carve your own in niche in the marketplace if you are just following somebody else? You merely become part of the noise, another sheep in the flock.

Flock of sheep illustration

However, competitor analysis, particularly when used in conjunction with positioning marketing strategies, can prove to be highly beneficial.  What this exercise does is enable you to take a helicopter view of the marketplace and spot huge gaps of untapped potential.

The diagram below shows an example where a fictional company is currently plotted against a number of brands who are positioned as modern and high quality.  However, it is clear from the matrix that there is a big gap in the market for modern and value.  This company therefore has a decision to either try and reposition itself or launch a new product range or brand to exploit this gap in the market.

Example Positioning Matrix

Positioning Marketing Strategies – Step 5 – Planning the best course of action

When analysing the competitive landscape is important to consider the strength of the brands who sit in close proximity with you.  Are you wanting to distance yourself from them, or are you happy enough to be in the same space as them?

This will largely determine whether you may want to consider repositioning the business.  This could be a slight tweak, or a major move to take advantage of current market forces.

Once you have a plan of where you would like to be positioned, you then need to consider what marketing strategies may be required to facilitate the move.  Is the brand fit for purpose?  Does the website need a rethink?  Do you need to get listed with a different type of reseller?  Do your marketing communications need addressing? Does your packaging need updating? Once you have clarity over what needs looking at you can start to address the issues. 

A note of caution

Remember you cannot reposition a business overnight.  It takes time.   Also, it is worth remembering that your positioning matrix is only ever a single snapshot of time.  Whilst you are reviewing where you sit in the grand scheme of things, so may your competitors be.  

Whilst this is happening there will also be external forces on your industry outside of your control which can also affect the relevance of the axis you have labelled.  As we covered in a previous blog article, one example is a definite move from convenience to conscience, so brands that can embrace this shift can strengthen their place in their respective marketplace.

If you have never plotted your market position against your competitors previously it will be an interesting exercise to take, and will challenge the wide marketing strategies and techniques employed within the business.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.