It's A Positioning Problem ... I Think

What happens in the first 6-months after a product launch is critical; what happens in the first year can be the difference between brand life and death.

After 20 years of working with hundreds of brands around the world to develop positioning strategy, I’m still trying to wrap my head around a problem many teams experience. It’s clearly a stubborn one and one I believe is born of the confusion that exists around positioning. There are textbook definitions of positioning, but most aren’t useful when it comes to practical application, so many marketers still struggle to fully understand the concept; what it really is, how it’s defined, how to develop it, and its strategic role.

The problem occurs when reconciling two components that exist in the world of positioning; 1) defining some long-term aspirational goal for the brand and 2) making tactical decisions today. Both are important but trying to satisfy them without a clear sense of how they’re connected creates a conflict that can send the brand down a bad strategic road.

The first part of the problem is defining how the brand will be perceived by its customers over time … in most cases over the course of years. The second part is the goal of trying to establish an initial perception of the brand to customers at a fixed point in time (the 6 months following launch let’s say) who will be early adopters that give the brand launch momentum. The conflict comes when marketers bounce back and forth between these two elements as they prepare for launch. The customer group they’ve identified in their aspirational positioning becomes the target of their short-term launch strategy. The problem is this audience hasn’t been created, it hasn’t been nurtured by the brand yet, so these customers aren’t paying any attention, in most cases they don’t recognize the brand is even talking to them.

The desired customer group (the one identified in the positioning strategy) is built over time, the result of market shaping and perceptual cultivation designed to get more and more people to identify with what the brand delivers.

When looked at from this perspective, it seems that an inconsistent working knowledge of positioning strategy frequently leaves marketers addressing an undeveloped target audience with tactics designed for short-term action. The result, extremely slow launch adoption and/or anemic sales growth.

What has your experience been? What do you think?

Dennis CrowleyComment