Positioning (marketing)

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Positioning is a marketing strategy that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct position, relative to competing brands, in the mind of the customer. Companies apply this strategy either by emphasizing the distinguishing features of their brand (what it is, what it does and how, etc.) or they may try to create a suitable image (inexpensive or premium, utilitarian or luxurious, entry-level or high-end, etc.) through advertising. Once a brand is positioned, it is very difficult to reposition it without destroying its credibility. It is also called product positioning.

Positioning is one of the most powerful marketing concepts and the meaning of positioning was rather limited in the earlier years when marketing was just getting started which focused on the concept of reputation. Positioning then became “the place a brand occupies in the mind of its target audience”.[1] Under this meaning many companies now use the concept of positioning as a part of their everyday marketing activities or strategies and is also used as a tool for explaining how consumers can relate to foreign markets easier.[1]

Enis & Cox[2] explain to us that word positioning was introduced by an advertising executive in his 1969 article which was published in “Industrial Marketing” and “Advertising Age” Jack Trout, an advertising executive. A few years later in 1972, Jack Trout teamed up with Al Ries who was another advertising executive, in order to write an article called ”Positioning cuts through chaos in marketplace” which was also published by ”Advertising Age”.[1] In the early 1970s, positioning became a popular word with workers within marketing, especially those that were working in the area of advertising and promotion. Positioning continues to be a frequently used term in marketing literature as Maggard[3] states positioning provides us with a valuable conceptual vehicle, which is effectively used to make various strategy techniques more meaningful and more productive.[3]


Positioning was first introduced by Jack Trout in 1969 ("Industrial Marketing" Magazine- June/1969) and then popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their bestselling book "Positioning - The Battle for Your Mind." (McGraw-Hill 1981)

This differs slightly from the context in which the term was first published in 1969 by Jack Trout in the paper "Positioning" is a game people play in today’s me-too market place" in the publication Industrial Marketing, in which the case is made that the typical consumer is overwhelmed with unwanted advertising, and has a natural tendency to discard all information that does not immediately find a comfortable (and empty) slot in the consumer's mind. It was then expanded into their ground-breaking first book, "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind," in which they define Positioning as "an organized system for finding a window in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances" (p. 19 of 2001 paperback edition).

What most will agree on is that Positioning is something (perception) that happens in the minds of the target market. It is the aggregate perception the market has of a particular company, product or service in relation to their perceptions of the competitors in the same category. An important concept in positioning is that it expects that consumers compare and analyze products in the marketplace, whether based on features of the product itself (quality, multiple uses, etc.), price, and/or packaging and image.[4] It will happen whether or not a company's management is proactive, reactive or passive about the ongoing process of evolving a position. But a company can positively influence the perceptions through enlightened strategic actions.

A company, a product or a brand must have positioning concept in order to survive in the competitive marketplace. Many individuals confuse a core idea concept with a positioning concept. A Core Idea Concept simply describes the product or service. Its purpose is merely to determine whether the idea has any interest to the end buyer. In contrast, a Positioning Concept attempts to sell the benefits of the product or service to a potential buyer. The positioning concepts focus on the rational or emotional benefits that buyer will receive or feel by using the product/service. A successful positioning concept must be developed and qualified before a "positioning statement" can be created. The positioning concept is shared with the target audience for feedback and optimization; the Positioning Statement (as defined below) is a business person's articulation of the target audience qualified idea that would be used to develop a creative brief for an agency to develop advertising or a communications strategy.

Positioning Statement As written in the book Crossing the Chasm (Copyright 1991, by Geoffrey Moore, HarperCollins Publishers), the position statement is a phrase so formulated: For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).

Differentiation in the context of business is what a company can hang its hat on that no other business can. For example, for some companies this is being the least expensive. Other companies credit themselves with being the first or the fastest. Whatever it is a business can use to stand out from the rest is called differentiation. Differentiation in today’s over-crowded marketplace is a business imperative, not only in terms of a company’s success, but also for its continuing survival.

Product positioning process[edit]

To be successful in a particular market a product must occupy an “explicit, distinct and proper place in the minds of all potential and existing consumers”.[5] It has to also be relative to other rival products on the market of which is has to compete with.[5]

Visibility and recognition is what product positioning is all about as the positioning of a product is what the product represents for a buyer the business is targeting. In this day and age markets are showing an increase in the intensity of rivalries and competition, which gives the buyer a greater choice and identification of the products certain intrinsic values that then become critical for the company to gain customer purchase of their products.[5] It is vital that a product or service needs to have a clear identity and placement to the needs of the consumers targeted as they will not only purchase the product, but can warrant a larger margin for the company through increased added value.[5]

Generally, the brand positioning process involves:[6]


It is the process of identifying variables that allow someone to divide the market into distinct subsets that can be selected as a marketing target to be researched using the Marketing Mix.[6] Segmentation is essential because without it, the best thing a firm could do is to deliver average value.

A central point to a marketing strategy is market segmentation, this makes segmentation a key decision area for organisations in all sectors.[7][8] Segmentation involves using groups of customers together that have similar preferences in products and buying behaviour which helps the business’ in dealing with market heterogeneity, this then goes on to help the business’ focus resources on relatively homogeneous customer segments and so ensuring there is efficient allocation of resources.[8][9]

A segmentation-driven marketing strategy can help companies design products that are responsive, promotional tactics and campaigns developments that are effective, scale of competitive positions and fine-tune current marketing plans or ideas.[7] Marketers must also recognize that a segmentation-driven strategy is generally more costly than mass marketing and brings a major commitment by management for “customer-oriented planning, research, implementation, and control”.[7]

Segmentation Methods[edit]

  • Characteristics of the customers (male, female, rich, poor, etc.)
  • Benefits sought
  • Systematic Product Related Behavior (by purchasing behavior or by channel)
  • Cohort Analysis
  • Geographic Segmentation


Targeting is the process of evaluating the attractiveness of each segment and choose a target. In order to select a target segment, firms must first balance attractiveness with capability and monitor whether actual buyers match the target segment.

One of the core parts of marketing is targeting.[10][11] In the marketing strategy targeting represents a particular stage in the process that is based on the selection of the specific segment to enter engagement with.[11][12] Different customers have a variety of desires and interests[13] in terms of buying behaviour, their needs, and benefits[12] it can be sometimes near impossible to satisfy all customer segments with a unique value proposition.[5][11][12]

The process through which a company engages in seeking and defining the desired customer and then develops its value proposition to reach the mind of customers is all apart of segmentation, targeting and positioning (STP) process.[5][14] The foundation of positioning theory is made of one of the most important postulates of the science of marketing. Scholars Groucutt, Leanly, & Forsyth,[14] (2004) state that “people are extremely diverse and that a product can not be liked equally by everyone” (p. 98). Referring to the postulate it is simple to define what the STP model is all about. The STP model states[14] that for a customer to like the product we have to present the product to those consumers, who want it and are able to actually acquire that product. The STP models first two steps help us to find and define the desired consumer and correct positioning plays for us to place the product in the minds of the targeted consumers, putting it in a more desirable position.[5]

Characteristics that make a segment attractive[edit]

  • Segment Size
  • Growth of Segments
  • Value of Segments
  • Stability
  • Current Company position within the segment
  • Ease of entry
  • Ease of competitive entry
  • Number and strengths of competitors


Positioning is the process of identifying concepts for each target segment, select the best and communicate it.

Positioning strategies help shape a consumers preferences which is a major source in guiding them towards a particular brand. It is essential to assess and analyse the consumers behaviour and psyche of how they will or already do perceive the offered brand by recalling the company’s communications with them such as advertising or any marketing campaigns. The right positioning strategy at right time is what can help a brand build the right image of itself in the mind of consumer(s).[15] Fishbein and Rosenberg’s attitude models[3][16] would be good examples of what is called, quantitative approaches. These models indicate that it is possible for a business to influence and likely change the positioning of the brand by manipulating various factors that will affect a consumer’s attitude with the brand or company. Research on persons’ attitudes suggests that a brand's position in a prospective consumer’s mind is likely to be determined by the “combined total of a number of product characteristics such as the price, quality, durability, reliability, colour, and flavour”.[3] The consumer places important weights on each of these product characteristics and it can be possible by using things such as promotional efforts to realign the weights of price, quality, durability, reliability, colour and flavour of which can then help adjust the position of a brand in the mind of the prospective consumer.[3][16]

Communicating a brand's position: Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)[edit]

To position a brand, candidate, or idea/ideology you must communicate messages which resonate to the forefront of a receptor’s mind.[17] Communication of the brand relies on occupying the niche which appeals to the conviction of a receptor’s narrative.[18] A model in which we use to cater these messages is best known as The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). This works alongside with Psychology, to deduce that there are two pathways of persuasive messages: Central, and Peripheral.[19]

Traditional persuasion modelling assumes that persuasion occurs when receptors learn a message.[20] Learning isn’t always part of persuasion, in that a receptor may dislike or disagree with a message, detest the brand/product/service, and may only receive the beginning of the message in which the receptor associates other memories as they were distracted, and don’t participate in the absorption of the initially intended message.[21] The model indicates that prior to purchasing a high-involvement product, or engaging with a brand consciously, a receptor must process all given content, and carefully constructed a perception.[22]

Cognitive Response Model (CRM)[edit]

States that receivers can be conscious reactive members in the persuasion process.[23] The main theme of the CRM, is that persuasion isn’t directly caused by messages; but by thoughts which agree with the message – to align attitude of recipient, is to provide messages which build up their intuitional belief system;[20] the receiver requires both motivation and competency to process the information centrally. “If the listener is distracted or has trouble understanding the message, he or she will lack the ability to do the central processing.”.[20] There are two elementary renditions of CRM: Chaiken, and Heuristic and Systemic Processing Theory.

Peripheral Response Model (PRM)[edit]

Communicating the brand’s messages/ideas to the receptors involves a complex methodology of persuasion. A Peripheral route to persuasion is when a receptor’s attitude is adjusted and/or aligned by other cues (such as emotionally appealing music) rather than the message itself.[24] The Peripheral Response Model (PRM), is formed when recipients elect an assumption with lesser active processing than the CRM.[25]

Criticisms for ELM[edit]

Some criticisms for ELM exist for brand positioning and has adapted since 1968, in that traditional methods of communication revolve around the theory that consumers require deliberate intervention with the brand.[26] It assumes that to communicate and persuade a receptor, is to communicate through the two designated routes. It fails to take into account that communication isn’t something that is done to the receptor, rather, the receptor co-created within reality – abstract to customer centrality perceived by salespeople.[18]

Positioning concepts[edit]

More generally, there are three types of positioning concepts:

  1. Functional positions
    • Problems
    • Provide benefits to customers
    • Get favorable perception by investors (stock profile) and lenders
  2. Symbolic positions
    • Self-image enhancement
    • Ego identification
    • Belongingness and social meaningfulness
    • Affective fulfillment
  3. Experiential positions
    • Provide sensory stimulation
    • Provide cognitive stimulation

Understanding Groups of Persuasive Powers[edit]

Delivery of the aforementioned routes of persuasion is catered to the rendering and unique qualities which make up groups of persuasive powers. There are 5 main groups: Primary, Secondary, Aspirational, Dissociative, and Formal. The strongest primary band to shape the attitude of individuals is the family, but other groups can doctrine a belief system too.[25] This group is most responsible for developing societal conform, shaping attitudes, and at its most elemental – forms the systemic institution in which an individual’s perception of the world exists.[27] A secondary class of individuals or group are those whose influences aren’t as severely impacting to the individual’s narrative, and mostly align with their predisposed ideas - such as sports groups, political parties, charities, education facilities, etc.[18] The third group is known as the aspirational group, where the individual aspires/desires to join this group, so shapes their perceptions to increase the likelihood on being accepted as a member. This can be observed closer in the behaviours of adolescent youths, in that they shape their opinions in favour of becoming a member of a peer group, and is lead on the ambition of becoming more endowed; financial and power.[18] The fourth group – the Dissociative class – are the groups in which the individuals do not partake, or wish to involve themselves with. This can take many forms, but a common example is a stereotype; a person will go to great lengths to avoid being grouped with others under this segregated opinion. Previous studies have confirmed, that in the case of minority groups, members may avoid behaviours or clothing which reinforce the image of their perceived stereotype, which in turn may lead to reverse stereotype confirmation.[28]

Repositioning a company[edit]

Main article: Turnaround management

In volatile markets, it can be necessary - even urgent - to reposition an entire company, rather than just a product line or brand. When Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley suddenly shifted from investment to commercial banks, for example, the expectations of investors, employees, clients and regulators all needed to shift, and each company needed to influence how these perceptions changed. Doing so involves repositioning the entire firm.

This is especially true of small and medium-sized firms, many of which often lack strong brands for individual product lines. In a prolonged recession, business approaches that were effective during healthy economies often become ineffective and it becomes necessary to change a firm's positioning. Upscale restaurants, for example, which previously flourished on expense account dinners and corporate events, may for the first time need to stress value as a sale tool.

Repositioning a company involves more than a marketing challenge. It involves making hard decisions about how a market is shifting and how a firm's competitors will react. Often these decisions must be made without the benefit of sufficient information, simply because the definition of "volatility" is that change becomes difficult or impossible to predict.

Positioning is however difficult to measure, in the sense that customer perception of a product may not have been tested on quantitative measures.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Andrei, P; Ecaterina, B, R; Ionut, T. C (2010). "DOES POSITIONING HAVE A PLACE IN THE MINDS OF OUR STUDENTS?". Annals of the University of Oradea, Economic Science Series. 
  2. ^ Enis, B. M; Cox, K. K (1969). Marketing classics: a selection of influential articles. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Maggard, John P. (1976-01-01). "Positioning Revisited". Journal of Marketing. 40 (1): 63–66. doi:10.2307/1250678. 
  4. ^ Lamb, Charles (2012). Essentials of Marketing (7e ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning. pp. 279–82. ISBN 978-0-538-47834-2. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Ostasevičiūtė, R; Šliburytė, L (February 2008). "Theoretical Aspects of Product Positioning in the Market". Engineering Economics. 
  6. ^ a b "Introduction to Marketing - University of Pennsylvania". Wharton - University of Pennsylvania. 
  7. ^ a b c Weinstein, A (2004). Handbook of market segmentation: Strategic targeting for business and technology firms. Haworth Press. pp. 3–20. 
  8. ^ a b Venter, Peet; Wright, Alex; Dibb, Sally (2015-01-02). "Performing market segmentation: a performative perspective". Journal of Marketing Management. 31 (1-2): 62–83. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2014.980437. ISSN 0267-257X. 
  9. ^ Smith, Wendell R. (1956-01-01). "Product Differentiation and Market Segmentation as Alternative Marketing Strategies". Journal of Marketing. 21 (1): 3–8. doi:10.2307/1247695. 
  10. ^ Maimon, O; Rokach, L (2005). Data mining and knowledge discovery handbook. New York: Springer. 
  11. ^ a b c Sanfelice, Gaetano (2014-04-01). "Hit with One Shot: Assessing the Drivers of Target Marketing Effectiveness". Knowledge and Process Management. 21 (2): 143–148. doi:10.1002/kpm.1441. ISSN 1099-1441. 
  12. ^ a b c Sally Dibb; Lyndon Simkin (1991-03-01). "Targeting, segments and positioning". International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. 19 (3). doi:10.1108/09590559110143800. ISSN 0959-0552. 
  13. ^ Dennis J. Cahill (1997-02-01). "Target marketing and segmentation: valid and useful tools for marketing". Management Decision. 35 (1): 10–13. doi:10.1108/00251749710160133. ISSN 0025-1747. 
  14. ^ a b c Groucutt, J; Leadley, P; Forsyth, P (2004). Marketing: essential principles, new realities. London, Sterling: Kogan Page. 
  15. ^ Sair, S. A (2014). "Consumer Psyche and Positioning Strategies". Pakistan Journal of Commerce & Social Sciences. 
  16. ^ a b Ray, Michael L. (1973-01-01). "A Decision Sequence Analysis of Developments in Marketing Communication". Journal of Marketing. 37 (1): 29–38. doi:10.2307/1250772. 
  17. ^ Larson, C. U. (2009). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Cengage Learning.
  18. ^ a b c d Blythe, Jim (2009). Key Concepts in Marketing. London: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1-84787-498-6. 
  19. ^ Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1984). "The effects of involvement on responses to argument quantity and quality: Central and peripheral routes to persuasion". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 46, 69–81. 
  20. ^ a b c Bencit, William. "Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM); Two "Routes" to Persuasion". CIOS Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  21. ^ Shavitt, Swan, Lowrey, & Wanke (1994). "The interaction of endorser attractiveness and involvement in persuasion depends on the goal that guides message processing.". Journal of Consumer Psychology: 3, 137–162. 
  22. ^ Zhu, Min (2012). Business, Economics, Financial Sciences, and Management - Springer. Springer Science & Business Media. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-27966-9. 
  23. ^ Perloff & Brock (1980). 'And thinking makes it so': Cognitive responses to persuasion. Persuasion: New directions in theory and research. Sage Publications. pp. 67–99. 
  24. ^ Bencit, W. L. (1987). "Southern Speech Communication Journal". Arguement and credibility appeals in persuasion: 181–197. 
  25. ^ a b Pfau, Michael; Price, James; Dillard (2002). The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice. Wisconsin-Madison: Sage Publications. 
  26. ^ Raffia, Muhammed; Ahmed, Peter (1992). The Marketing Mix Reconsidered. Salford: Marketing Education Group. pp. 430–451. 
  27. ^ Baize, Dr. Robert D. (2011). Religious Addiction: Doctrine or Denial. Raleigh: Lulu Enterprises. pp. 39, 42–47, 51. 
  28. ^ Elliot, Andrew J (2013). Group, Taylor & Francis, ed. Handbook of Approach and Avoidance Motivation. New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-8058-6019-1. 


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