There is so much literature to address the topic of brand positioning that one would need help knowing where to start. We should go deeper into this concept and beyond the colloquial definition found in most marketing and advertising books. In that case, we must consider what we saw in previous blogs—in this way, positioning as such takes on a new dimension.
Positioning is a revolutionary concept developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout in 1981. The authors defined positioning as the scaffolding on which companies build their brands. Also, a tool to create strategies for brand planning and extending customer relationships. Positioning takes into account the combination of price, product, place, and promotion: the famous 4Ps of marketing. These are but the four dimensions that affect sales.
Ries and Trout affirm each company must determine its position in the customer’s mind. In other words, consider the client’s needs, the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and the competitive landscape.
We can understand it better when they say that “the fundamental approach to positioning is not to create something new and different but to manipulate what is already in mind; reorder existing connections.”
At first glance, this concept of positioning is entirely outdated for the times. So it’s time to think about new ways to reach customers and put aside obsolete communication concepts.
Positioning is not manipulating
It is essential to reflect that we cannot think of positioning as a form of manipulation nowadays. More than trying to influence the minds of consumers, communication sciences must be aware that people are less and less like sheep following a herd. They are the ones who make the decisions from the depths of their limbic brain, the most emotional part. They are the ones who feel what is right and what is wrong.
That is why today’s positioning is not the place that a brand or product occupies in the minds of consumers but the place they occupy when interacting with those. In other words, if during the last century, we found positioning in little boxes in the neocortex, the most rational part of the brain, in the new millennium, we can see it in an interconnected constellation of emotions within the limbic brain, where decision making lies.
First does not mean Number 1. Why?
Similarly, as Ries and Trout mention, we cannot think that the best way to position a brand is to be the first. We can base this concept on a simple, practical check. For example, ask someone who was the first human being to walk on the moon, and then ask if they can name the second. Or what is the name of the highest mountain in the world, followed by what is the second? These questions seem irrelevant in an age where you can have information from five national libraries on a smartphone.
Today, the principle of first-come advantage postulated by Ries and Trout has been completely ruled out as a factor in achieving competitive advantage and, eventually, the success of a brand or product. One of the hundreds of examples of this is the case of the Apple iPod. Not only because it wasn’t the first company to put an mp3 music player on the market – Creative Technology Ltd. did it almost two years before Apple – but because the other companies were much better able to launch this kind of music player. Despite this, the six-day queue outside the premises was for the IPod and not for Creative Technology’s Zen.
You can see then that the new generations don’t need to memorize. They don’t need to go to the part of their brain where they keep the little boxes of analytical data. They are more connected to the limbic part of your brain, the emotional part. That is why what they are looking for is not tangible things, products, or services. What they are looking for are experiences. Therefore, the products and services offered in the market and eventually purchased by consumers are only tangible evidence of their beliefs. That is what they want to externalize to the world.
Again, it is not about the brands, their products, and services but about how consumers see themselves with them. Simon Sinek is worth quoting on this point when he says that “products with a clear sense of why give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe in.” Therefore, we should no longer seek a positioning in the consumer but from the consumer. That should be the starting point and the goal of any advertising or communication campaign.
Positioning and Leadership
Correspondingly, talking about positioning implies, to a great extent, talking about leadership. Every company is looking for its brands to be top of mind in each category. But to analyze this issue more deeply, what we do is to differentiate the leader from the one who leads. That is, fight to conquer the minds of consumers.
The leader holds a position of influence or power and has got there through some kind of manipulation. Instead, someone who leads is the one who manages to inspire the audience and reach their hearts. Leaders don’t need to resort to manipulation. They are what they are and make their followers feel they can be too. Sinek makes this distinction when he mentions that the leader has a plan. The one who leads has an idea, a vision, and a dream. That’s where the inspiration comes from, which calls the audience to follow him. Leaders invite them to believe they can also contribute to the cause. They encourage them to take it as their own.
In this way, the key to leadership is to lead people to action and do things they wouldn’t otherwise be willing to do. It gives them a purpose, a channel to express their being. But becoming a leader is something that takes work to achieve. It is not something that happens overnight. Leading requires time, consistency, and communicating the brand’s purpose and vision. This way, we will generate a strong sense of belonging and community.
Beyond a simple competition
On the other hand, leadership also requires seeing further. Those who lead don’t have to jump barriers because they don’t directly see them. Their authenticity, vision, and intuition are the attributes that differentiate them from the rest. Having a plus over the rest leads the brand to offer something the audience does not expect.
In this way, the question of leadership could lead us to think that positioning is, in a certain way, a competition, a struggle to reach the top. But the reality is that it encompasses much more than this.
For Salanova and Schaufeli, we should not see leadership as a game of power relations. Instead, we should see it as transformational, motivating leadership that raises interest and generates a clear collective vision. The authors, specialists in positive psychology, argue that leaders act as role models. They must inspire and stimulate innovation and creativity, thus fulfilling a clear motivational mission.
Positioning is as complex as the consumer’s mind
This analysis shows that we must address the issue with a flexible approach. That is because infinite practical, emotional, psychological, social, and cultural matters coexist in the minds of consumers. At the same time, we also find habits, customs, desires, beliefs, values, norms, and estates. All this derives in a complex plot when approaching the target audience with an advertising message.
People live daily with many brands, even those that don’t use and don’t even know what products or services they provide. This coexistence occurs in the consumer’s mind. That is why the mental construction they make of their world leads them to consider countless scenarios in which they interact with brands.
That notion can reach such a point that one customer in a bar doesn’t order a beer but a Corona. In this example, the separation in your mind between the product and the brand becomes impossible. That is how it loads it with a new meaning and turns it into a signifier. That doesn’t mean that for this person, the only way to say beer is the word Corona. The same consumer can have a Corona on the beach or a Heineken at home without this conditioning their positioning. Both may have equal positioning as each is perfect for every consumption occasion in the consumer’s mind. Again, the important thing isn’t how the brands want to be seen but how the consumers see themselves when interacting with them.
In this new millennium, we subscribe the competition to occupy a place in the customers’ minds to a struggle to get into their lives, dreams, beliefs, and values. That is a battle to be part of their daily life moments, accompanying them in their achievements and failures.
So we can no longer consider positioning in categories like beers, cleaning supplies, mp3 players, or computers. Companies must go beyond categories. Make their way into the different consumption occasions and, if they do not exist, try to create new ones. That could constitute a disruption within the consumer’s mind, which is neither more nor less than market segmentation.
In summary, positioning is essential in constructing a brand since it is directly linked to its identity and character. These elements explain the brand’s “why,” its reason for being, and what differentiates it from the competition.
What is base positioning?
Finally, the problem with brands today is the risk of falling into the same strategies that make them so difficult to differentiate from one another. Suppose we add the excess of information, the oversaturation of messages, and the attention deficit of consumers. In that case, it creates a vicious that makes companies bet on the same remedies that caused the pandemic.
Therefore, what brands must look for, if they want to lead the minds of their target audience is to become the very expression of the subject’s interiority. That is, to be the visible face of their personality, their representation to the outside world. Similarly, it is vital that both share beliefs and values that take the subject-object relationship to a deeper level.
We call this type of positioning base positioning. It is essential for developing any communication, branding, or brand management plan. But it’s not the only one. There are other types of positioning in strategic terms, such as product, point of sale, communication, or price.
In conclusion, the main brands’ problems are not being able to stand out amid so many messages and channels and their lack of connection with the audience. Therefore, today’s brand fights are not about a place in the minds of consumers; they go on to fight for a place in their hearts. And, as we will discuss later, this leads to emotional relationships—couple relationships.