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How to research and develop positioning in marketing

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Regardless of the industry you’re in, it’s likely that you’re facing stiff competition. To succeed, you need to stand apart from your competitors. Learn how to measure the effectiveness of your message—quickly. 

How do you differentiate yourself from others offering similar products and services? It all boils down to positioning for marketing. Read on to find out how to establish your brand in a crowded, competitive market.

What is market positioning?

Market positioning is the process of establishing a brand image that stands out from the competition. The objective of market positioning is to influence the perception of a brand in the minds of a specific segment of consumers. Market positioning also increases brand awareness, communicates value, and justifies pricing.

Similarly, your company’s brand positioning strategy is affected not only by consumer perceptions but also by your competitors’ actions. Here’s how a positioning strategy can affect your marketing campaigns:

For example:

  • A cell phone company that positions itself as the most innovative and user-friendly launches a futuristic ad campaign with a focus on AI
  • A handbag designer positions itself as a symbol of luxury and creates marketing that features models wearing high-fashion clothing while holding their bags
  • A clothing designer that’s positioned itself as a symbol of what’s trending in fashion features marketing with celebrities and influencers wearing their clothes
  • An automobile manufacturer that positions itself as the safest brand for families features diverse, inclusive advertising with families that reflect our modern culture

Nailing the marketing entails market research, content generation that supports your message, branding that is designed to appeal to your target market, and creating messages that resonate with them. 

So, what is marketing positioning? It’s the best strategy for standing out in an established market. Using research for marketing helps you appeal to your target market by conveying the benefits of your product or service over the competition. 

Advantages of strong positioning

There are several advantages to strong positioning in marketing, all of which ultimately lead to higher profits for your business. 

  • Competitive positioning: Today’s consumers are flooded with marketing and advertising messages. Proper positioning with a strong, positive brand image will help your company attain a prominent place in a long line of competitors.
  • Improved sales: With strong marketing positioning, your products and services are viewed as more relevant to a specific niche in your target market. This turns into new customers and improved sales.
  • Clearer target markets: When you position yourself as an expert in your specific field, product, service, or feature, your value to a specific segment of prospective customers increases. You become the go-to expert in your niche.
  • Effective decision making: Once you’ve determined the core message of your positioning strategies, you can make increasingly effective decisions that drive communication and relationships with your customers and prospective customers.
  • Connect to consumer needs: Positioning is your opportunity to communicate the critical benefits of your product or service. This connects and resonates with the specific consumer who needs it.
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How to research positioning

The first step to effective positioning is to do your research. An in-depth look at your competitors and your target buyers is critical in shaping your positioning strategy.

Competitive intelligence research

Competitive intelligence (CI) research is the act of gathering, analyzing, and utilizing business information about your competitors. It’s used to improve your marketing strategies and advise business decisions that will differentiate your brand and give you an advantage. This research includes:

  • Determining who your competitors are
  • Finding your competitors’ weaknesses and where they are failing 
  • Identifying what the competition is doing well
  • Discovering ways to make your brand stand out

CI research can help you assess price point perceptions to optimize your pricing, track your competitors' market share, and assess your competitors’ marketing messaging to direct your own.

Understand your target buyer and their challenges

Consumer segmentation research

Obtain valuable data about your target buyers with consumer segmentation. A segmentation study helps you formulate your market positioning strategy by finding out exactly who your target consumer segments are, what they want, and what message will resonate with them. You can use this information to create buyer personas, measure product demand in your chosen segment, and guide your campaign targeting efforts.

Usage & attitudes research

Understand your top consumer segments’ habits and motivations with usage & attitudes research. This information will help you create hyper-relevant marketing campaigns, identify new opportunities within the segment, and find potential for new growth.

SurveyMonkey has several usage & attitudes features to help you take a deep dive into what your target segments care about, how they shop, and the best way to grab their attention. These features include:

  • Key driver analysis to find out what drives purchase decisions
  • Guided methodology to help you create the perfect study design
  • Global panel to reach consumers across the globe
  • AI-powered insights with built-in analysis tools

How to develop positioning

Once you’ve completed your research into your competition and target consumer segment, it’s time to develop your positioning strategy. There are several strategies that you can employ, depending on your market research results.

Types of positioning strategies

Attributes and benefits-based

Taking your brand and associating it with specific desirable characteristics and valuable advantages is a popular positioning strategy. The goal is to highlight qualities and benefits that make your brand, product, or service better than the competition. 

Example:

Colgate positions its brand as an expert on oral care. It promises whiter teeth and better overall dental health.

Price-based

With price-based market positioning, a brand is highlighting its position as the least expensive or most affordable, bringing the best value to consumers.

Example:

McDonald’s is positioned as a family-friendly, cheap, and convenient alternative to other family restaurants. They started out with marketing that featured a “Dollar Menu,” which has evolved into a “$1 $2 $3 Menu.” This strategy draws attention to their least expensive menu items.

Quality-based

“You get what you pay for,” is a saying that many consumers live by. They believe that price and quality are directly aligned. Brands using this approach to positioning rarely mention pricing. Instead, their focus is on luxury, quality, and prestige.

Example:

Mercedes Benz is more expensive than many car brands, but its marketing position focuses on it being a luxury brand. It fosters the perception that people who drive these luxury cars are more prestigious and impressive.

Use and application-based

In this positioning strategy, a product or brand is associated with a specific use to fill a need or solve a problem. 

Example:

Hefty brand uses a use and application-based positioning strategy by highlighting the durability and strength of its garbage bags.

Differentiation-based

This type of positioning is focused on using your competition as a reference to highlight a key differentiating feature of your product. 

Example:

Tesla differentiates itself by offering an attractive, fully-electric vehicle. This brand is particularly attractive to consumers who value innovation. 

Convenience-based

As you may have guessed, a convenience-based positioning strategy highlights a brand’s superior convenience in comparison to the competition. Convenience can be defined by ease-of-use, accessibility, support, design, or other key factors in the experience of using your product or service. This is a great strategy if your target market segment is busy people. Often, convenience-based products can justify higher prices.

Example:

Swiffer promotes its WetJet product’s convenience over traditional methods of floor cleaning. In its positioning strategy, they stress how easy it is to use Swiffer mop to quickly clean floors instead of using a mop and bucket.

Ways to segment your market positioning

Segmentation in market positioning allows brands to split up their target market into smaller, more specific groups to personalize marketing for the best experience. There are 3 ways to segment your market positioning. Your overall positioning strategy will be partially based on the segmentation method your choose.

Segment-based

Segment-based market positioning is based on:

  • Demographics such as age, gender, income, marital status, occupation, education, ethnicity, type of residence, number of children, and basically who your buyer is
  • Psychographics include attitudes, personality, risk aversion, beliefs, values, and anything that explains why your buyer buys
  • Lifestyle factors like hobbies, entertainment choices, vacations, and other non-work interests
  • Behaviors such as brand loyalty and other shopping habits

Persona-based

In this segment, your marketing is targeted to the specific characteristics of the buyer persona you’ve created for your product, service, or brand. This persona represents your ideal customer and is based on market research data from your current and potential customers.

Reflect on these people when examining your buyer persona:

  • People your brand is currently popular with
  • People your brand would be popular with if you could reach them
  • People you would consider as your dream customers
  • People who are influencers in your type of business

Surveys can be very helpful when developing a persona-based positioning plan.

Vertical-based

Healthcare, hospitality, and retail are all examples of industries. Verticals delve deeper into specific niches of industry categories. For example, grocery stores are a type of industry. A vertical within that industry is organic grocery stores. Vertical-based positioning is commonly used in a B2B setting. 

As you employ vertical-based positioning, examine your current customer list:

  • What types of companies purchase your products or services?
  • Compare their industries, revenues, and company sizes
  • Which ones are easiest to sell to?
  • What customers are easiest in terms of customer service?

For new companies, you won’t have a current customer base to examine. You’ll need to perform some market research to determine answers to the following questions:

  • What verticals should you focus on?
  • What topics are they interested in?
  • What type of marketing message will appeal to them?
  • What social channels do they use regularly?
  • What kind of content are they most likely to engage with?

Steps to developing positioning in marketing

Step 1: Identify current market position

How are you currently marketing your brand? Are you representing your brand as something distinctive or is your marketing similar to others? Your current market position offers you insight into what direction you should take your marketing to next.

Consider what your brand stands for, who your target customers are, your vision for your brand, what makes your brand distinctive, and what problems your brand solves for customers. 

Step 2: Perform a competitor positioning analysis

Conduct market research to find out what approaches your competitors are using. Explore their strengths and weaknesses, current marketing strategies, and their position in the marketplace. This information will help you make strategic decisions about your positioning plan.

Step 3: Create a positioning statement

A positioning statement communicates your brand’s value proposition to its target market segment. Before you begin crafting your positioning statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is our target customer?
  • What category does our product or service fall into?
  • What are the greatest benefits and differentiators of our product?
  • What proof can we offer of those benefits?

With that information in mind, put together a one or two-sentence statement that conveys your brand’s unique value to your customers.

For example, Amazon has a very compelling positioning statement. "Our vision is to be the earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."

Once you’ve crafted your strong positioning statement, you can create a tagline or slogan to use in your marketing plan. Amazon’s official slogan is, “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.” Other common phrases in Amazon’s marketing include, “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and “From A to Z.” All of these statements relate back to their positioning statement.

Step 4: Test your positioning

Once you’ve developed your market positioning plan, gather feedback from your targeted market segments and use our ultimate guide to concept testing to find out if your positioning strategy performs as you’ve predicted. Use the collected data to continue adjusting your plan as necessary.

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Examples of effective market positioning

Nike is nearly synonymous with exceptional athletic performance. Nike’s athletic shoes and clothing are marketed with the empowering tagline, “Just Do It,” and even the name, Nike, is a reference to the Greek goddess of victory. Nike appeals to both serious and weekend athletes with its market positioning.

Coca-Cola recently debuted its first new global brand position in 5 years. The “Real Magic” market positioning strategy is focused on a very specific market segment—video gamers. Manolo Arroyo, Chief Marketing Officer, says, “The Real Magic philosophy is rooted in the belief that dichotomies can make the world a more interesting place—a world of extraordinary people, unexpected opportunities, and wonderful moments. At the same time, it captures the essence of Coca-Cola itself: a real taste that is indescribable, unique, a touch of real magic.” The campaign launched with a video of famous gamers coming together over a Coke in a virtual world.

Salesforce presents a simple tagline, “We bring companies and customers together,” for its intricate software solution. In December 2021, the company was named the #1 CRM (Customer Relationship Management) provider by the International Data Corporation (IDC) for the 8th  consecutive year. Their marketing places them as the expert in a sea of CRM solutions, and they have the awards to prove it.

Apple creates innovative, sleek computers that are completely unique in a market filled with PCs. Apple leaves pricing out of the marketing equation and focuses on the quality of its product. Their brand message implies that if you are an Apple user, you’re as innovative and imaginative as the brand—forging a connection between the two.

Trader Joe’s has differentiated itself from other U.S. grocery store chains by positioning itself as a “national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.” Rather than the big brand experience, they have maintained the corner store, fun shopping feeling throughout their marketing.

Rothy’s makes shoes and bags out of thread created with single-use plastic water bottles. They have differentiated themselves by creating a message of “making the right choices” by consciously keeping water bottles out of landfills and oceans. Their eco-friendly, stylish shoes and bags “put the planet and its people first” with their message—and practice—of sustainability.

Market repositioning

Repositioning is used when a product loses its status in the market. It may be caused by shifts in the market or simply poor product performance. Many companies choose to launch something new because repositioning can be costly in terms of time and money.

Example:

Old Spice was once considered the brand of choice for men aged 65+. Another brand, Axe, took over the market for fragrance, deodorant, and body wash for young men. After using market research, Old Spice repositioned itself, appealing to a younger generation with ads featuring NFL player Isaiah Mustafa during the “Smell like a man, man” campaign. The humorous commercials and social videos helped the repositioned Old Spice body wash sales to increase by 27%.

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