Do Multiple Segments Require Different Positionings?

When we meet and work with brand teams all over the world, we are asked this question more frequently than any other.  “We have different customers, should we create a product position for each of these groups?”  As with many products, different customer segments may have different reasons for selecting your product.  Depending on how these customer segments are defined each group may find a specific attribute or benefit of your product most appealing to their specific circumstance.  For each of these groups your product offers some unique value and resolves an apparent customer need.  The temptation to position your product for each of these circumstances is attractive.  The customer need is relatively easy to identify, and the reason for selecting your product to resolve that need is generally clear.  So why not tailor a positioning for each of these segments?

The answer is found by answering a different, but related question.  How do I want my brand to be perceived in the market and in comparison to my competitors?  Think about your brand as you would an individual; they have a personality and a general demeanor that is consistently recognizable (their positioning).  In different situations certain traits may be emphasized or de-emphasized (their messages); at work they may be more focused, at a ball game they may be more relaxed and lighthearted, at the gym they may be more intense.  The overriding personality is recognizable to all, but they communicate specific aspects more intensely depending on the circumstance.

Brand positioning reflects these same characteristics.  All of your potential customers should gather the same perception of the brand that the positioning intends to define.  However, your messages will emphasize specific traits or attributes that are particularly important to the segment you are attempting to communicate with. At its core, having multiple positions is completely at odds with your primary goal for defining the positioning in the first place; to create a clear, differentiated perception that appeals to your target customer groups.

Take the example of BMW, from 20-somethings to middle-aged executives to families, they need to appeal to a wide range of segments who, on the surface, each have very different needs in choosing a vehicle.  As BMW successfully did, we push our clients to look beyond the surface needs of each group and look to what it is that unifies these various segments.  What BMW ultimately found was that each group – regardless of whether they wanted a 2-door coupe, a large 4-door sedan, or an SUV – wanted the pleasure of driving a responsive, sports-like automobile that made driving fun.  This understanding is reflected in the highly successful position “The Ultimate Driving Machine”.  This positioning transcends individual segments but appeals to each.  It allows BMW to tailor their brand message to the various segments and increase the likelihood of getting a prospect into one of their vehicles.  Coming back to the analogy above, BMW’s personality is consistent with all potential customers understanding that whichever vehicle they are in the market for they will get a unique driving experience that they cannot get in any competitive product.  Yet BMW does not present the 3-Series to younger less well-established customers in the same way they present the 7-Series to executives who can afford to spend $90,000+ on an automobile.

By looking past the obvious wants and needs of each segment, the BMW brand team was able to identify a positioning opportunity that united all of the segments, unified brand perceptions, and increased the overall potential of the brand.