It’s unrealistic to plan your positioning strategy in a vacuum. Remember, you’re positioning against competitors who also have positioned their offerings – with the help of their customers and prospects.
The idea is to find an unfilled position that is relevant and compelling to your target market. Those people actually position you – but you can only help them through consistent messaging and performance.
So to find the positioning of competitors “owning” the attribute customers find important should be the first step in a positioning program, and that really involves two steps: 1) identifying attributes customers crave, and 2) determining how your competitors (and you) are positioned against those attributes.
Identifying attributes customers crave
My handy desktop dictionary defines attribute as, “an inherent characteristic”. And since we’re talking about a brand, not just the product/service itself, we want to explore all characteristics associated with a brand. This includes impressions and feelings, heritage and reputation, associations and experiences as well as the things marketers control: package design, pricing, distribution channels, customer service, environmental impact and social responsibility. All those and others can be thought of as attributes of the brand, and can be influential in the purchase decision and brand loyalty level.
So first, identify those attributes your marketplace perceives to be most important. Focus groups can help in this effort. But I like to do Internet surveys. I get quick response to structured, sequential questionnaires. There are several providers: Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and KwikSurveys come to mind.
I structure the questionnaire by defining the product category and then ask an open-ended question: What factors are most important or desirable when selecting a _________?
Then I provide them with screens of certain attributes, one attribute at a time but rotated so each is presented first, second, etc. For each attribute I ask them to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how desirable, how important and how beneficial the displayed attribute is for them.
After displaying no more than five attributes in this way, I provide a screen of all those attributes and ask that the respondent rank them in order of importance, desirability and benefit. I also allow them to enter a couple of “fill-in” attributes I hadn’t provided. If there are more than five attributes to measure, I rotate them through so that each attribute is presented an equal and significant number of times.
After analysis of the results – usually three-hundred respondents for each attribute – I am ready for phase two.
Determining competitive positions
This is a second questionnaire and research project, but I’ll use the same list as for attribute identification and ranking. Here I’ll first ask who provides the product/service in the category I’ve defined to get a top-of-mind measure of brand awareness. Then I’ll present the top five most important attributes from round one, one at a time. I’ll ask who provides that attribute. And for each competitor (and our brand, too, if I already have a presence in the category) they list, I’ll ask them to rate them against each attribute on a one-to-five scale. Finally, I’ll list their competitive choices along with other major category participants and ask respondents to rank them for each attribute.
From analysis of this data, I’m usually able to rank and position the players as shown in the star chart below.
This particular study was performed in a small market concerning sit-down restaurants, but any market, brand category or territory can be analyzed in this way.
Who “owns” what attribute?
As Reis and Trout expound in the pioneering book, Positioning: the Battlefield for Your Mind, a brand that “owns” a particular attribute – particularly if that attribute can be stated as a single word or phrase – will almost always be the market leader. This research can determine if such leadership exists in a particular market/category. If a brand already occupies a particular position in the minds of consumers, i.e. Volvo equals safety or Wal-Mart equals lowest cost, then you are advised to base your brand upon another attribute, even if that attribute is not as powerful as the leader’s ownership.
This is more than theory. We’ve seen how successful Target has been since they stopped competing on price with Wal-Mart and made “design” their position.
And it can happen in the smallest of markets. In my restaurant example, a gap was discovered that led my entrepreneurial client to open a family-style all-you-can-eat establishment instead of the linen-tableclothed, high cuisine restaurant he had first envisioned.
Research really is cheap when it can help you position your brand advantageously.