In today’s information-driven society, people are bombarded with messages from a wide variety of sources. In this confusing environment, many businesses can’t get their messages heard, understood and remembered. As a result, their products or services are overlooked or misunderstood by prospective clients.
The process of developing a clear and simple understanding of a brand or product has been characterized by Al Reis and Jack Trout as establishing a position in the minds of one’s prospects.
“To succeed in our over communicated society,” they argue, “a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”
Three rules of effective positioning come from a basic understanding of how people screen, process and store information.
Your positioning message should be unique in an important and/or novel way. If your position is not unique, your product or business will generally be thought of as a “me too” imitator of an existing competitor. If this is the case, you should ask yourself “Why should a prospect buy my product or patronize my business?”
Earlier this decade, Pepsi tried to expand its market appeal by abandoning its long-held slogan of “The Taste of a New Generation,” which had built on its position as a soft drink popular with the young and young at heart. The slogan was changed to “Gotta Have It!” in a highly publicized Super Bowl campaign. Unfortunately for Pepsi, Coke had built an image as the category leader. (Its earlier campaign had claimed “Coke Is It.”) Pepsi’s campaign was unsuccessful and was subsequently changed to “Generation Next,” which again built on the brand’s youth-oriented image.
Your positioning message should be easy to understand. A message that is complex or confusing will often be disregarded unless it is viewed as important enough to justify the mental effort required to understand it.
An ideal positioning message can be summarized in a phrase or even a word. For example, when you think of cavity prevention, you probably think of Crest. Often businesses get tempted to fully explain what they do and in the process they confuse prospective clients.
This seems to be a growing problem in the telecommunications industry with the increase in the types of options for communicating electronically ranging from PCS phones to the Internet, not to mention the wide array of calling plans.
Your positioning message should be believable and not significantly inconsistent with existing beliefs.
A company may find it very tempting to break this rule when it’s trying to expand its market or reposition itself. A classic example is Levi-Strauss, which had tried to expand its brand into more formal men’s clothing. In the process the company introduced Levi’s Tailored Classics and Levi’s Action Slacks and Suits. They failed in large part because Levi did not have the reputation for making high-quality formal clothing.
But when Levi introduced Dockers, which had a new brand name and only a moderately more upscale image, the company achieved great success. Levi was able to establish a separate but complementary position for Dockers, which would have been difficult to achieve using only the Levi brand name.
If the message readily makes sense, it is simplified and categorized in our memories. If the message is not compatible, it is often discounted or ignored. It is very difficult to change people’s minds once they have an established perception or opinion.
Trying to be all things to all people rarely works. Developing a unique, simple and believable position in your clients and prospects’ minds will simplify their purchasing decisions. They’ll often thank you for it.
By Robert Sarwono – International Business Development Consultant