Positioning Validation

A lot has been said about the best way to develop brand positioning.  The process is certainly a creative one influenced by customer needs, competitors, and brand attributes to name just a few.  While other Positioning Tips have dealt with the best practices for developing brand positioning, this tip will focus on the importance of market research in assessing brand positioning and validating new positioning opportunities.

As alluded to above, the development of brand positioning is part art and part science.  It seems that for years now, the art, or creative component, of brand positioning has been the primary focus.  While a strong strategic assessment of the market, customers, competitors, and product are the basis for developing creative, relevant, and motivating brand positioning, what is done to assess the impact of these opportunities is equally important.

When discussing past positioning practices with many of our clients we have uncovered numerous ways in which brand positioning was developed and selected.  The most common method was to bring together varied disciplines from the brand team and outside partners.  One team member would moderate a multi-hour brainstorming session which resulted in a list of potential positioning options.  Debate ensued and maybe the list was honed down to the 10-15 ideas the team agreed upon.  Each member of the team would be given a number, usually three, colored dot labels or a colored marker and asked to place a mark next to their top choices for the brand’s positioning.  The moderator quickly tallies the number of votes, declaring one option the highest vote getter, the team applauds and shuffles out of the room feeling good they’ve checked off one more item on the brand’s to-do list.

In this scenario, the odds that the best, strongest, and most differentiating positioning opportunity was selected is extremely low.  Without some validation the selection of a positioning described above is, at best, an educated guess.  While the creative development of positioning, as with many creative endeavors, is most productive and expansive when people with different backgrounds and perspectives brainstorm together, substituting the guesswork of the team for a true measure of impact on the marketplace does not hold the same result.

Of course one, more viable, option is to determine which of the positioning opportunities best fulfills the strategic goals of the brand and conduct qualitative market research on how customers react to each positioning idea.  How does each effect their view of competitive brands?  How does each opportunity impact the purchase decision?  In what way does each option satisfy needs in the market?  By asking these questions we can begin to gauge the relative impact each positioning opportunity may have on the market in general and our brand specifically.

To increase the level of confidence in making a final positioning decision, the best option would be to add a quantitative arm to the validation process.  With a strong methodology, positioning opportunities can be assessed based on the driving goal we have as brand managers; increasing the sales of our product.  Through a quantitative evaluation it is possible to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each positioning option and the circumstances that effect product choice.  Doesn’t every brand team want to understand the levers that make customers more likely to choose their product instead of a competitor?  To understand how positioning selection effects the situational variables that influence choice?  The relative influence each positioning option has in product selection?  Of course they do.  Our experience in talking with hundreds of brand managers is that they didn’t realize it could be done.

But it can be done for brands that are in-market and those that are coming to market.  We have quantitatively evaluated positioning opportunities for hundreds of products and found that relatively simple stimuli used to define these opportunities have resulted in statistically significant behavioral changes in product selection.  By understanding attitudinal and behavioral drivers and modeling product choice based on positioning options, every brand team can evaluate the strategic needs of the brand and organization and select the best brand position to achieve these goals.

So the next time you begin to evaluate the impact of a brand’s current positioning or the positioning opportunities available to a new product, be sure to think about how you will assess these situations.  The choice you make will have a dramatic impact on the brand’s success.  As competition increases so do the strategic risks.  The days are past when ill selected strategies and poor positioning could be revamped and brands relaunched.  Today, the resulting loss in market share and brand potential are nearly impossible to regain.


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Dennis Crowley