Positioning has become a lost art in recent years. Brought to the forefront back in 2001, this approach to differentiation is in desperate need of a comeback.
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There was a great book published back in 2001 called Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It emphasized the importance and impact of companies taking a unique position in the market, albeit through now outdated examples. The principles of this idea have gotten lost over the years, and the time is ripe to bring the concept back.
Positioning isn’t lost at a product level, where product management teams are perpetually seeking new ways to differentiate their offering with new features, but positioning at a company-level is much less prevalent. Take, for example, financial institutions. There may be a small group of organizations that have a unique position in the market, but most banks and credit unions share the same set of core messages. We’re trustworthy. We’re community-focused. We’re people-focused. And oh yeah, we have great rates.
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Positioning is the process of how to best communicate your organization’s unique attributes to your target customers based on their needs and to counter competitive pressures. It’s carefully crafted key messages and actions that build a distinct and differentiated brand. In short, effective positioning ensures that marketing messages help you clearly stand out, resonate with target consumers and compel them to take action. If you’re not standing out, you’re not positioning.
It’s not an easy task. These days, many organizations lack the insight, drive and capability to effectively position their company. In the spirit of making safe decisions, many organizations follow what they deem as “successful competitors,” copying their key messages and offerings. Alternatively, some organizations get mired in their own internal perceptions and set their sights on emphasizing broad and generic differentiators, such as “customer-focused.”
The problem is, this isn’t positioning. Let’s take the “customer-focused” example. How are you different from your competitors in this regard? Do you believe and reinforce that you are just better than them? What does this really mean? On the other side of the coin, what competitors are stating they aren’t focused on the customer? At the end of the day, this message is simply a belief and leaves any positioning proof-points on the table.
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If the organization is truly all about customers, what actions and strategies are you taking which illustrate this mindset? Which of those actions are distinctly different? If you greet your customers by name when they come through your door, this might be nice, but sending a personal note and a grocery store gift certificate when your customer has a major life change (i.e., death in the family, moving, job loss, etc.) is what carries weight. How you translate your words to action is where positioning becomes truly impactful.
It’s time for companies to reexamine their brands and reassess how they are creating a unique market position. This not only helps provide direction to your organization’s culture and strategy but also increases the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. By having a clear positioning strategy, marketing messaging gains more impact through relevance, resonance, and most importantly, recognition. If we want to cut through the noise and grow our organizations in a way that fosters deeper customer connections, it all begins with having the confidence to take a position.