When Al Ries and Jack Trout first introduced positioning in their 1981 breakthrough book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (I own a first edition), they espoused the idea that market participants were responsible for positioning products. In other words, customers perceived products differently one from another. As marketers, we could measure those perceptions and perhaps change our messages to either reinforce or attempt to change those perceptions. But the perceptions were the â€œpeoplesâ€.
Somehow over time, marketers, in their conceit and backed by megadollars, attempted to position their offerings as favorably as possible through claiming a certain attribute, or a package of attributes as their own. They thought of it as a process they were in control of, and that if their messages seemed to express the attribute (aka a differentiator) in a compelling and memorable way, they could preempt that position in the collective thinking of their target market participants.
Sometimes they could. They were certainly leaving impressions.
Now several writers have proclaimed that â€œpositioning is deadâ€.
Nick Wreden in Fusion Branding How to Forge Your Brand for the Future states: â€œâ€¦â€positioningâ€ is based on the premise that the consumer can be made to believeâ€¦what offerings mean to them.â€ If, indeed that is the premise most branders labored under, it wasnâ€™t a very valid premise.
B.J. Bueno, author of Cult Branding, in an article entitled: The Death of Positioning, makes this statement: Positioning is not something you do, but rather, is the result of your customerâ€™s perception. Positioning is not something you create â€“ the act of positioning belongs to the customers.â€
So weâ€™re back full circle. And customers continued to experience brands, draw conclusions and position products, services and companies based on their own criteria just as they always have and always will.
So positioning isnâ€™t dead. We just have to remember it takes place in the customerâ€™s head, not in the agency conference room.