Marketing has gone through many phases over the years. When understanding where we are now, it’s good to read Ries and Trout’s Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, a book cited often by marketing experts.
Core to their message is the all-too-relevant phenomenon of positioning. This book looked to the past when describing the shifts we’ve seen regarding how products are marketed. It pointed to two past eras–the “product era” and the “image era”–as essential in understanding the current state of marketing.
The “product era” was a whimsical time where people could get noticed on the merits of their product alone. It seemed like every product was unique, like there was only one toothbrush or one toaster, because these products were recently invented. Showing the consumer the product was enough to get them to buy it.
The “image era” began when imitators started to pop up and it became harder to distinguish between two brands that made the same product. Advertising began to focus on differences between the brands’ images, and concepts like prestige or hipness could be established through advertising. Showing the consumer why your brand was better became key to getting them to buy the product.
Eventually, the “image era” ran its course, which made way for the “positioning era”, where image became a commodity. So much advertising was going on that it became hard to single out any particular marketing campaign. Marketers were presented with a new challenge: they needed to focus on one or two key qualities that would grab consumer’s attention.
How did they do this? Brands had to “position” their strengths and weaknesses against the competition’s. Thus, an “image” was not good enough. To get consumers to buy their product, brands needed to establish themselves as leaders and innovators.
In the Internet Era, Positioning Is As Important As Ever
Even though Ries and Trout established their theory almost 40 years ago, positioning is more important now than ever before. There’s an almost endless supply of ads competing for such a limited window in the consumer’s attention span. To stand out, brands need to show that there is something unique that qualifies them as leaders in their field.
In crowded markets (aka pretty much every market in the Internet age), positioning is a way to stand out. Marketing consultant and positioning expert April Dunford puts it nicely when she says “positioning uses what people know the help them understand what they don’t.”
What does this mean? In order to be a “unique leader” in a customer’s mind, you have to speak their language. You have to communicate in terms they understand in order for them to learn about you.
Specifically, when they first encounter your product, they will naturally try and compare it to other products they know. This will be the base of assumptions they make about what your product can and can’t do, how it is priced and who is supposed to use it.
Positioning requires you to anticipate that comparison and make sure you have a concrete answer to every question a consumer might have. Positioning recognizes that, if you don’t have the answers, your reputation as a leader will vanish and consumers will lose trust in your product.
Case In Point: Airbnb
There are many examples we can look to for great positioning, but one of the best is that of digital travel agency Airbnb. There’s a reason so many startups are calling themselves the “Airbnb of _____”; it’s because Airbnb has mastered positioning, setting itself up as the benchmark against which all other companies in its market will be judged.
How did they do this? They offered an alternative to hotels, which are traditionally pricey, by allowing consumers to stay in someone’s spare room—space which would otherwise be left empty. It also gave property owners a platform to sell space that they had trouble filling before, creating a fair and accessible marketplace between buyers and sellers.
So what is stopping competitors from accessing this edge? Airbnb has tapped into a feeling that is core to hospitality: the feeling of belonging.
You can find this core value in their logo, the Beló. It’s a symbol that represents a combination of people, place, and love. By defining the values that separate its offering from the competition, Airbnb was able to single out what makes its brand click with consumers, allowing its marketing team to make sure these values shine in everything it puts out.
To Position, You Need to Choose the Best Market Category
Here’s something interesting: pretty much any product can be marketed to different market categories. It is your job as a marketer to identify which one is the best; that is which group of people will resonate with messages about the value of your product (or service) and how that value compares to the competition.
When picking a market category, you need to ask yourself this: who really cares about your product’s value? Who can you target that will see what you do and identify how your brand can add to their life?
The ideal category to market to is the one that will easily understand your core values, the one that knows the weaknesses of the competition and will recognize how you fill the gaps. Once you figure this out, you will see how the success of your product not only depends on what you’re offering, but what everyone else is offering as well.
Positioning Isn’t a Strategy, It’s the Foundation
If you’re a marketer, you can’t afford to think of positioning as optional. Without positioning, your marketing materials will have no well to draw from, no common values to put on display in every connection they make.
Everything you do in marketing—copywriting, podcasting, campaign planning, content development—is based on the foundation set by positioning. You can’t say anything until you understand the message that you’re putting out there. If consumers detect a lack of consistency, they will see that you don’t understand the value of what you’re offering them. So why should they?
Once you figure out the context that your company exists in, everything will get easier. Positioning is the catalyst to sweet, satisfying success.
Start your path to positioning and success by starting a conversation with a Rainfactory marketing professional today.