Positioning: Still a Key Marketing Tool - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Positioning: Still a Key Marketing Tool


Marketing communications theories come and go. Some may remember VALS, for example, which stood for “values, attitudes and lifestyles” and was supposed to be a method of pigeonholing consumers into psychographic boxes based on their zip code and what kind of car they drove. VALS was very big in advertising circles in the 80s and 90s, but we haven’t heard it seriously discussed in years.

One theory that has endured since it was put forward more than 30 years ago, however, is called positioning.

The theory postulates that the real battle for sales and market share doesn’t take place on retail shelves, in the offices of buyers, in magazines or on TV. It takes place in the mind of each individual prospect.

Positioning assumes that for every category, there is a hierarchy of brands in each prospect’s brain. If the category is fast food, McDonalds might be top of mind with Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell farther down the list. Obviously, the more top of mind a product is with a particular prospect, the more likely it is to be selected when the time for purchase arrives.

Three key points

There are three key points to remember: First, positioning is not something you do to the brand; it’s something you do to the minds of prospects to shape the way they perceive the brand.

Second, share of mind always precedes share of market ¾ and there will be no share of market without share of mind.

Third, the position a brand achieves in a prospect’s mind will be a compilation of everything he knows ¾ everything he’s heard or read about your product or company in advertising, from publicity, from brochures or spec sheets and by social media and word of mouth. That’s why every bit of marketing communications you do must be consistent in theme, tone and content.

Where to start

The object of positioning is to establish a strong brand awareness, identity and preference by capturing and holding a person’s attention, but the ultimate goal is to link the brand and product category so tightly as to make them virtually interchangeable.

So what are the specific actions you can take to successfully position your brand in the minds of your customers and prospects?

A good place to start is to determine what position you ¾ and each of your competitors ¾ already hold. Although it’s tempting to just rely on your own perceptions, the only way to do this properly is through the traditional research methods of surveys, focus groups and interviews. Granted, research is often time-consuming and expensive, but it’s the only reliable way to determine what differences in products or services people perceive and will pay for. Once you know what people are willing to pay for, you can create something that meets those criteria.

What’s in a name?

If you have created something marketable, name it carefully, because the name you give your product is an excellent opportunity to communicate its basic positioning and you don’t want to blow it. Internet Explorer, Intensive Care Skin Lotion and Close-up Toothpaste are good examples of products that tell you right up front what they’re about.

Especially in business-to-business advertising, where we often deal with engineered products, there is a temptation to go to market with an engineering name like “SU-900T,” an acronym or a meaningless nonsense word. Resist this temptation. Look instead for a name that tells your prospects something about the product and suggests why it’s better. Another tip: The obvious name will usually work better than the clever one.

Crank up the communications

Key components of brand positioning are advertising, public relations, social media and the rest of your marketing communications. And, if it isn’t already obvious, a positioning campaign is no time to wimp out with boring content. Your marketing has to break through the clutter and reach your prospects. Moreover, it has to stick with them ¾ studies show 98 percent of the advertising to which an individual is exposed is forgotten by the end of the day. If you’re going to own a position in your product category, you need ads and other promotion that will put you in that enviable last 2 percent.

Lastly — and here I’ll be brutally frank — it takes money to build share of mind; it takes money to establish a position in your prospects’ brains, and money to hold onto it. There’s no sense in starting a positioning campaign if you don’t have the resources to stick it out.

Capturing attention

There’s much more to positioning theory than we’ve touched on here. For example, because positioning is about how you want your brand to be perceived in your prospects’ minds, non-communications aspects of marketing such as pricing, distribution channels and perceived level of customer service will also play a vital role in the position your brand ultimately achieves.

We find the concept of capturing and holding attention to be a useful metaphor to help us “think like a customer” and imagine the kinds of persuasion that will resonate and stick in the mind.

The point of establishing, developing and ultimately owning a position in the prospect’s mind is to be top of mind at that precise moment when a purchase decision is made. In positioning, victory comes only to those willing to commit their energy and resources to the research, public relations and advertising it takes to stake out a clear position, capture it and hold onto it. Differentiation — positioning — in today’s overcrowded marketplace is a business imperative, not only in terms of a company’s success, but also for its continuing survival. It’s not easy. But it’s worth the effort.


About the Author

Cinda Orr is President and CEO of SCORR Marketing.

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