What About Product Positioning: Part Three: The Key to Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations Success

(NOTE: This is the third and final part of an article posted on this blog as a public service for medium-to-large businesses worldwide by On-Target Research and Research Target Group. More information about either company’s services is available through researchtargetgroup@gmail.com)

What About Product Positioning: The Key to Marketing, Advertising and

Public Relations Success


The Easy Way to Position a Product

“The easy way to position a product is to get into the mind first. The first product into the mind will usually dominate the category and be very difficult to dislodge. COKE in cola’s. Bayer in aspirin. Disney in theme parks. Kleenex in tissues. Philadelphia in cream cheese. Webster in dictionaries. Pitney Bowes in postage metering. And Gillette in razor blades, to name a few. These guys got into the mind first and their product itself became the icon of their category. As such, they are very difficult to dislodge as the leader.

“In the old days you never even mentioned the competition. But again, positioning requires that you relate the product or issue to something that is already in the prospect’s mind–something with which they are familiar–and one way to do that is relate your product to the leader.

“The most famous of the early positioning campaigns of this nature was the ‘against’ position taken by Avis against Hertz. They wisely didn’t try to take Hertz head on. Instead, they said

“’Avis is only No. 2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder.’avis-logo-2

“Avis had lost money for 13 years in a row until they acknowledged that they were number 2 and as such would try harder. A masterful position. And they started making money immediately.

“Trying to take the leader head-on usually results in marketing suicide. When no less a company than RCA announced that they were going to take on IBM in computers in the 1970’s, Robert Sarnoff said that he expected it would take them a year to get to #2 in the computer industry. A year and $250 million dollars later RCA walked away with its tail between it legs.

“Why? IBM had the computer position in the minds of the public. IBM meant computers. RCA meant radio, TV, records–they had the communication position in the public’s mind.

What If You’re Not First?

“What if you’re not Disney or Gillette or CNN? Is there a way to take market share from a leader? The Avis example demonstrates that there is, and that is by finding a position that is available in the mind of your public.

“’To find a unique position, what you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind. You won’t find an ‘uncola’ idea inside a 7-Up can. You find it inside the cola drinker’s head,’ said Trout and Reis.

“Here are some unique positions, which carved out handsome market share for the products or services that were marketed into categories already full of products:

“VW took an immensely successful ‘small and ugly position’ in the late 60’s and early 70’s (which you may have noticed, they recently returned to after trying unsuccessfully to move out of the ‘small’ position. VW means ‘small car’).

“Virginia Slims created a distinguishing ‘gender position’ in the cigarette market.

“Budget Rent-a-Car has a ‘low cost or economy position’ in rental cars; Circuit City has this position in retail electronics, Motel 6 has it in hospitality.

“At the other end of the price spectrum, a few brands with a ‘top-of-the-line/luxury position’ are: Rolls Royce in automobiles; Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons in hospitality; Chivas Regal in scotch; Sax Fifth Avenue in retail; Tiffany in Jewelry, and Mont Blanc in pens.

“Head and Shoulders took a huge bite out of the shampoo market with the ‘anti-dandruff’ position.

“The NASDAQ has the technology position among stock exchanges.

“Locations have positions (places in the mind): Entertainment = Hollywood; Family vacation = Orlando; Casinos and entertainment = Las Vegas (But a long-standing and aggressive PR effort is working to change that position to a more family oriented vacation destination.).

“So do people. Who do you think of when I say ‘Interest rates?’ ‘Golf?’ ‘Ice Hockey?’ ‘Cuba?’ To most, these names will instantly conjure up–the Fed, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretsky and Fidel Castro (Sounds like a Manhattan law firm–Greenspan, Woods, Gretsky & Castro.)

“But most products and services don’t have that kind of instant name recognition and are competing in or being introduced into very highly competitive marketing environments. More competitive by far than when Trout and Reis first wrote about the need for positioning. These give one some idea of the challenge of finding a unique position for a product or service, and then getting it communicated.

“It takes the average person ¼ of a second to decide whether or not they are going to read your message or throw it in the trash (or turn the page). An ad must communicate instantly. If you look at an ad and don’t get a communication right away, the advertiser has missed the boat. That doesn’t mean that at some point some people might not read it, but the large majority will pass it by, and your marketing and advertising dollars go to waste or, at the very least, provide you with only a meager return.

Narrowing the Focus

“One of the ways to facilitate a strong position is by doing the opposite of what most marketers want to do. Most sales and marketing staff try to be all things to all people. This may provide some short-term benefit, but it clearly weakens the brand and the position in the long run. You strengthen your brand by narrowing your focus.

“Some examples from Al Reis’ 22 Immutable Laws of Branding make the point:22 Immutable Laws

“’Chevrolet was the number one selling car in America. It had a ‘reliable and reasonably priced’ position. In 1986, they sold 1,718,839 cars. But expanding their line to be all things to all people undermined the power of the brand. Chevy is all over the spectrum today with countless sub-brands and they sell less than a million cars a year. They have fallen to second place behind Ford (in 2006).

“’In 1988, American Express offered a few credit cards and had the position as the prestige credit card along with 27 percent of the market. Then it expanded its product line–a senior card, student card, membership miles card, Optima card, Optima Rewards card, Optima True Grace card, and the Purchasing card–and more. Today, American Express has only 18% of the market.

“’In the mid-90’s, Levi Strauss had 31 percent of the blue-jean market. Then, in an effort to appeal to a wider market, they introduced a number of different styles and options–baggy, zippered, wide-leg and so on. Today, they have 19 percent of the market.

“’Now what happens when the focus narrows?

“’Delicatessen shops have a history of selling ‘everything.’ Fred DeLuca narrowed the focus to one type of sandwich–submarine. Subway has grown to a huge success–the eighth largest fast-food chain in America with 13,000 units worldwide.

“’Coffee shops used to have extensive food menus; Starbucks narrowed the focus to coffee.

“’The Children’s Supermart used to sell all kinds of children’s furniture and toys. They wanted to grow. They narrowed their focus and changed their name. Toys R Us now sells 20% of the toys in the US.

“’Other examples of focused positioning include: The Gap = everyday causal clothing, Home Depot = home supplies, Victoria’s Secret = ladies’ lingerie, PetsMart = pet supplies, Foot Locker= athletic shoes, and Office Depot = office supplies.

Product Positioning Surveys

“Finding an exact position for a product or service requires conducting surveys of a company’s customers and prospects. Fortunately, Mr. Hubbard’s research of the subject lead him to develop highly precise survey techniques that enable one to find a position for a product or service that will communicate instantly to a particular public–a wonderful tool for those of us in the business of communicating to people about products, services and ideas.

“Positioning is a place for your product in the mind of your prospect. Without product positioning surveys your marketing, advertising and PR dollars are at risk of being wasted. But with them the sky’s the limit on results and returns.”

Who performs positioning and product positioning surveys for your company is your choice. Of course, we recommend our services. For over 27 years On-Target Research has worked with client companies all over the world. Combined with the resources of Research Target Group, we have more than half a century of marketing experience.

OnTarget logo

For more information contact:

Ron Kule, Research Target Group



© 2014 by Ronald Joseph Kule. All Rights Reserved. (Blog content only, not logos.)

About Ronald Joseph Kule, Biographer/Novelist/Ghostwriter

Acclaimed biographer, novelist, ghostwriter, and sales-training expert. I write/ghostwrite biographies and historical fiction books commissioned by clients. Always five-star quality, I deliver more than what is expected. My sales-training books/courses series, LISTEN MORE SELL MORE, is the basis for my training workshops. On commission, I ghostwrite books for clients whenever available. Since 2010, I have written, ghosted, and published 10-12 books. Inquiries to commission my services for a biography, historical fiction novel, memoir, or a sales-training workshop or keynote speech should be emailed to: kulebooksllc@gmail.com. Your inquiries and posts are welcome!
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