Most new products find themselves competing in markets that are becoming more crowded and competitive, increasing the importance of brand positioning strategy. In many instances, an easily recognizable competitive advantage does not exist for these new products. In fact, at first glance, many customers may see these products as offering very little advantage (if any at all) over products they are more familiar with. In product choice, familiarity drives complacency and creates barriers to new product adoption, particularly when the advantage of the new product is seen as incremental or insignificant to the customer.
In situations like this, brand teams will frequently move toward a broader, less descriptive positioning strategy in an attempt to widen the field of opportunity for product use, hoping that if they cast a wider net they have a greater chance of catching the number of fish they need. The brand team may feel more comfortable targeting a larger segment of the market because it is believed this will give them the greatest chance of achieving the product’s sales and growth goals. However, in these instances, a broader target definition is less clearly defined, less focused, and less able to differentiate the brand from its competitors. Most frequently, when positioning strategy is broadened, the intent is to appeal to a larger population of potential customers, but in fact, the result is that the brand communicates with more people but less effectively. The result is usually more people being less interested in the product.
In cases where markets are competitively crowded and when a product’s advantages are not so clear, the best strategy may seem rather counterintuitive. Instead of broadening your product’s target, narrow it. Look closely at your brand and determine what benefit it can deliver uniquely to the market and then identify those customers to whom this benefit is most important. Targeting a customer that can uniquely benefit from your product increases the relevance of your product to them, creates a competitive advantage, and provides a focused direction for all communication from the brand into the market. The customer who sees your product as one that satisfies a need they have better than currently available options is more engaged by the brand, sees the brand as more meaningful to them, and has a much higher likelihood to purchase the brand. This focus also increases the efficiency of communication, media purchasing, digital targeting, creative development, etc.
The most frightening thing to many brand teams when considering this strategic approach is the perception that they are limiting the product’s potential appeal and growth in the market. In many instances, they look at popular, broadly appealing brands and feel like they are making the safe bet by emulating a seemingly successful strategy. A closer look at popular brands with broad appeal would dispel this myth as many started out with a highly targeted customer group to whom they offered a very unique benefit, only broadening to larger market segments over time as their brand and market grew more familiar (i.e.; Under Armour®, Gatorade®, and Cialis®, to name just a few). Let’s briefly examine Under Armour® and the path the brand has taken to reach its current positioning and broad appeal. Under Armour® is a pioneer of performance apparel. Their clothing is designed to keep athletes cool and dry throughout a game, practice, or even a workout without adding significant weight or feeling restrictive. Founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, a former University of Maryland football player, Under Armour® products were positioned as performance enhancing equipment for professional and elite level athletes. Needless to say, targeting this customer base was a pretty narrow focus, but it served the purpose of establishing the benefit offered by the unique material used to make Under Armour® clothing. Once a perceptual link between the brand and its target customers had been established, Under Armour® set about broadening its customer base by appealing to all amateur athletes. This base was broadened further to anyone who had been an athlete and still participated in amateur sports or exercised regularly. Today, Under Armour® can be found virtually anywhere and is considered an essential part of the uniform for athletes, manual laborers, even fans just watching a game. The point here is that Under Armour® had a strategy and a plan for reaching the broader market but didn’t attempt to do it at its inception. Arguably, if they had tried to reach a broad market from the start they would likely have been a minor player or failed completely, despite the uniqueness of their product.
We recognize that it can be a bit scary to step away from a broader positioning and larger target segment and decide to focus on a more narrow opportunity, especially when looking at the hard numbers the organization may have set for the brand. Remember, it’s important to have a clearly defined starting point and a plan for growing your brand. Successfully building a brand frequently requires adjustments along the way to ensure you create use and satisfaction by customers and then expand out to new target groups. Positioning strategy is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it exercise; it is a roadmap to success that looks far down the road at how to build your brand. Like any type of plan, the conditions change and adjustments must be made, but the fundamental goals remain. Be bold when developing brand positioning, find the right target to give your brand the momentum it needs to reach the success you want. It is definitely not easy, but it can be done. If you’re struggling to develop a brand positioning strategy for a product without a major competitive advantage let us know, we can help you put your brand on the track to success.