Is the Positioning theory working today?


First the perspective

It was in 1969 that Jack Trout introduced the term Positioning, and strangely in context of industrial marketing. It was only in 1981 that the term was popularized in the bath breaking book, “Positioning, A Battle for Your Mind” with Al Reis. Jack Trout then wrote the book “New Positioning” in late 90s that never caught reader’s imagination.

The concept of positioning is based on a simple principle of identifying a ‘differentiator” and then owning that differentiator in consumers’ mind. The ownership of the differentiator creates a lasting impression and becomes the driver of business in a wider sense of term.

The concept of positioning was created in a world where communication was just about taking off. It was necessary to differentiate one communication message from another. It was necessary to make it distinctive and build on salience. Things have changed since. We now live in over manufactured world. Today the production cycles have come down to minimum. You don’t even need to own a factory, there are factories that would gladly produce it for you and stamp your name on it. If you are in service business, you don’t even need a factory, just an idea! In an over produced world, is it still relevant to own a fixed position in consumers’ mind. Is it possible to own one, and make the distinction when the consumer is bombarded with overflowing shelves and choices?

The world of branding is witnessing something really strange. A search engine on web is world leader in digital maps. A telecom operator in India is among the largest seller of digital music. A cellphone brand is world’s largest brand of cameras. Even iconic Apple is no longer just a brand of cutting edge computers that takes on PC in an irreverent way.

The whole concept of positioning is built on a simple premise.  It starts with the product. Every product has functions, every product appeals to emotions. Every product delivers functional benefits and also delivers emotional benefits. The synthesis of this functional and emotional benefits leads to brands’ position. The brands job is to keep building on this factor.

Today, life has dramatically changed. Every brand has a context to operate in, and the contexts are rapidly changing. Is the consumer really seeking one benefit out of brand? In this over produced world is that not a recipe for disaster? After all there is always someone waiting to deliver the same benefit as your brand in better, cheaper, faster or cooler way. Even the delivery models of brands are changing. The linear old world model is not applicable to all brands any longer. So would the 70s theory work any longer?

If the old theories are not working, what is the way of making brands iconic? If we look at some of the greatest brands of our times, the answer is obvious

I believe great brands have to be about Good Karma. Good Karma not in religious sense, but in sense of action. Brands need to ensure that their actions today, impact overall wellbeing of its wider franchise. This simply means brands have to be focused on inherent beliefs and have a wider philosophy. This wider belief and philosophy of brand should be translated into a coherent action plan that propels the brand forward. This means brands need to have belief in what they are doing, and have a strong point of view on how they want to impact consumers’ lives.

There is one thing in common since the concept was propounded in early seventies; consumers need brands as much as brands need consumers. This relationship in the twenty first century needs a new charter.

It needs Good Karma

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