How to Create an Effective Market Positioning Strategy

Image of white balloons with one red balloon flying away
Image of white balloons with one red balloon flying away

Your market positioning strategy is a key element of brand development. It helps guide content marketing plans, influencer marketing tactics, pricing and distribution models, and even has an influence on decisions made outside of the marketing department too. But the concept of positioning can be a little ambiguous, as can the strategies used to cement it. So in this post, we’ll delve into all you need to know about product positioning; let’s begin by clearing up what we mean by this term.

What is market positioning?

Branding and digital marketing expert, Phil Kotler (also known as the "father of modern marketing”), defines market positioning as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”. In general, strategic positioning is used to influence the perception of an organisation or product in relation to others in the market. The idea is to create an image and identity that audiences recognise as being a certain way.

Perception is complicated. You see, they vary from person to person and like reputation, it’s fragile - it can take years to craft and seconds to shatter. But if it’s so temperamental, why are professionals investing millions into strategic positioning? Well, there are a number of very attractive advantages to benefit from, including (but not limited to):

  • Heightened awareness
  • Differentiation
  • Charging premium pricing
  • Increased recall
  • Improved market and customer-centricity
  • Helping companies to bounce back from crisis
  • Increased brand equity

With advantages like the above, it’s pretty understandable why so many teams strive to have a clear-cut brand positioning strategy. If you’re wondering how you can too, you’ve come to the right place. During this article, we’ll walk you through all you need to know about strategic positioning so you can reap the above awards also!

How to kick start your market positioning strategy

Conduct a competitive analysis

In order to create a unique positioning in marketing, you first need to understand how you compare to other companies in your space. This can be achieved through strategic competitive intelligence and assists you with understanding aspects like:

  • Who are your main competitors?
  • How much influence does each of your competitors have on each other?
  • What key themes are associated with each competitor?
  • Are certain competitors thought of more favourably?
  • What does the consumer like and dislike about them?
  • Where they’re performing and where they’re falling flat?
  • How is the industry performing?
  • Where do the opportunities and threats lie?
  • How does your organisation compare and contrast amongst others in your category?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, your competitive positioning will become clearer. We don’t want to sound like a broken record and repeat past competitive analysis tips we’ve already shared, so instead, you find useful resources on this topic below:

media intelligence dashboard

Plot a market map

Next, using the insights gathered from your competitive analysis, create a perceptual map that shows your competitive positioning. A perceptual map, sometimes referred to as a position map or market map, is a visual representation of how competitors are positioned in relation to your organisation. Through market mapping, you can better understand the thoughts and behaviours of consumers, spot industry trends and see gaps in your category, helping you create a unique and differentiated identity.

Maps takes the form of a matrix which is usually represented by two or more attributes that you rate on a scale, for example, from high to low. While famous scholars such as Keller tend to focus on ‘price’ and ‘quality’, you might find plotting other attributes on the axis more helpful, such as:

  • Quality vs Price
  • Functionality vs Price
  • Healthiness vs Tastiness
  • Price vs Performance
  • Price vs Safety & Reliability
Example of perception map
Example of perception map

 Not created this type of map before? We’d recommend checking out GroupMap’s free tool and reviewing this article which offers tips on plotting and reading such maps. We’d also advise reading this HBR article, A Better Way to Map Brand Strategy, which introduces a more advanced type of map known as a centrality-distinctiveness (C-D) map. Traditionally, companies have analysed brand positioning and business performance separately, the difference with C-D maps is that they allow companies to directly connect a brand’s position on a perceptual map alongside business outcomes such as sales.

Write a positioning statement

By now you should have a good idea of how you want to be perceived, the next step is to formalise thoughts and develop a statement.

As Hubspot explains, a positioning statement is a brief description of a product or service and target market, and how the product or service fills a particular need of the target market. It's meant to be used as an internal tool to focus and align efforts with the brand and value proposition. Unlike value proposition statements which describe through an overview of the benefits a product or service/ what sets your product or service apart from competitors, positioning statements are created after you've developed your business' value proposition and identifies only the primary customer benefits and points of differentiation.

Here are a few positioning statement examples to spark inspo.

G2 Crowd positioning statement example: G2 provides a B2B review site for business professionals who are looking to quickly discover, buy, and manage the best technology for their needs. Unlike other B2B review sites, G2 offers 700K+ unbiased and verified user reviews in over 1400 categories.

HubSpot positioning statement example: Since 2006, HubSpot has been on a mission to make the world more inbound. Today, over 68,800 total customers in more than 100 countries use HubSpot’s award-winning software, services, and support to transform the way they attract, engage, and delight customers. Comprised of Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub, and a powerful free CRM, HubSpot gives companies the tools they need to Grow Better.

Tips to follow when writing a positioning statement:

  1. Keep your statement short and sweet
  2. Make it unique
  3. Keep your statement aligned with your core values
  4. Don’t forget to include your promise
  5. Explain why your company is different
  6. Follow the below positioning statement example formula as a rule of thumb:

For [your customer], [your company] is the [your market] that best delivers on [your promise] because [your company] is [your evidence].

Consider the strategic positioning signals you’ll use

Now you that you understand your positioning and have summarised this in a statement, it’s time to think about what marketing positioning strategies you’ll use. Let’s take Louis Vuitton as an example. This is a company that’s known for being high-end and highly valued – but that didn’t just happen by chance. A team of marketing experts carefully crafted that perception through a number of signals (or strategic positioning strategies). Let’s explore some of those signals in more depth.

Pricing

More often than not, price is a key factor in the customer journey decision-making process and what customers come to expect from a business is usually determined by this signal. While the old saying "you get what you pay for" is cliché, audiences truly believe in this mantra. Because of this, marketing teams use their pricing strategy, be it low or premium, to occupy a distinct image and dictate how prospects perceive the value offered.

Positioning solely on price is dangerous territory though. As John Michael Morgan explains in his book 'Brand Against the Machine', “one of the problems with trying to be the cheapest price is that it's far too easy for someone to come along and price their product or service lower. Low price positioning means your business might as well be standing on quicksand. There is no loyalty for businesses positioned on the low end of price as the customer will go to who is offering the lowest." With this in mind, marketing professionals rarely use pricing as a key differentiator.

Luxury store showcasing handbags

Perceived quality

Price and perceived quality usually go hand in hand, which is why they’re often the go-to attributes for perception maps amongst scholars. Consultant and Professor, David Aaker, states that perceived quality has three prongs:

1. Objective quality, which is based on the performance of the brand
2. Manufacturing quality, which is based on how defect-free the brand is
3. Product-based quality, which is associated with features/ parts/ ingredients/ services

Say you have two TVs, one is a 4K plasma smart TV with after sales care and the other is a bog standard entry-level model. You may think that the entry-level TV will naturally be perceived as being lower quality as it has fewer features, but truth is, positioning in marketing requires you to have an understanding of what quality means to different customer segments. If certain audiences prefer to look at the manufacturing spec/ materials used and the entry-level TV comes out top, consumers will deem that to be of better quality regardless of the product attributes of the plasma TV. Moreover, the plasma TV may be produced by a company that has a history with product recalls, in which case, consumers are likely to think that entry-level TV is still better quality. 

So to summarise, it's important to achieve perceived quality on a dimension that consumers consider important. Want to learn more about better understanding your target audience and their decision making process? Check out our Audience and Consumer Insights tool!

Corporate endorsements

Another positioning signal often leveraged by marketing and branding pros is corporate endorsements. While McDonald's is known as being a fast-food company, they tried to dispel their unhealthy image through their London 2012 Olympic sponsorship. Despite the sponsorship confusing people at first, it gave McDonald's the publicity and platform they wanted to raise awareness around obesity. In line with their sponsorship, they unveiled a large-scale promotional push which took place throughout the duration of The Games and included activity toys with Happy Meals and vouchers for sport sessions. As a top-tier International Olympic Committee sponsor, McDonald's was also the only branded food in the Olympic Park and the Athlete's Village. The messaging strategy? If a Big Mac is good enough for the world’s top athlete’s it's good enough for you (in moderation… of course)!

McDonald's chips

Influencer marketing

Following on from the above, influencer marketing can also significantly help positioning efforts. Since consumers often find influencers more credible as the message doesn’t directly come from a company, it’s a great strategy to use for those wanting to influence how their organisation is perceived amongst those they're targeting. With that being said, choosing the right influencers to endorse your brand is critical. Make the wrong decision and your business can end up being positioned in a totally different direction than what you set out to achieve. Thankfully we don’t have to rely solely on our gut feel when choosing influencers as there are tools out there that can do the job for us. Meltwater’s Social Influencer Management solution is one example.

Thought leadership

Think Marketing defines thought leadership as a “communication strategy that positions your brand as a leading authority on a specific industry/category/subject”. Lots of companies choose to include thought leadership in their content marketing strategy and frame their executives as experts on certain topics knowing this has a positive effect on product positioning too. Thought leadership is useful for all organisations, but it’s especially helpful for those wanting to break into a new category as it can make employees seem more credible and trustworthy.

There are thousands of examples of thought leadership online, but as an animal lover, one of my favourites has to be Lush cosmetics. To strengthen their cruelty-free product positioning and brand promise, Lush often gets involved in lobbying for animal rights. They even have their own award, The Lush Prize, which is the largest prize fund in the non-animal testing sector, awarding £250,000 to support initiatives that end or replace animal testing.

lush store

Distribution

Your distribution strategy can say a lot about you and your positioning. For example, choosing to sell your goods in convenience stores doesn’t scream luxury. Moreover, products sold in convenience stores also tend to be lower in price as they need to match the consumers browsing mindset. It’s unlikely that customers will pop out to get a pint of milk or loaf of bread and come home with a £1,000 TV – but if it’s lower-priced, you might just trigger that impulse buy!

When selling goods through retailers, businesses also have less control over promotional efforts. This is why it’s rare to see extremely exclusive brands in department stores – yes, even the fancy ones! Such companies prefer owning their owns stores, and in most cases, rarely offer promotions – a strategic tactic that helps strengthen their exclusive market positioning too!

Measure if you’ve successfully influenced positioning in marketing with these 3 methods

Now there’s no use in putting all this effort into strategic positioning if you’re not going to measure whether or not your decision has successfully moved the needle. As mentioned earlier, perception is complicated – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be analysed. Below you’ll find 3 marketing analysis strategies to lean on when trying to understand if you’ve influenced how your target audience perceives you.

Media Monitoring

Use media monitoring and measurement to see if the thought leadership angles you're targeting and tactics used are resonating. You can do this by measuring how many times your organisation is mentioned alongside conversations related to the thought leadership angles you set out to drive. You can even measure how prominent your company is within the conversation, for example, are you mentioned in the title of the article or alongside a bunch of competitors?

Audience analysis

Use an audience analysis tool to understand if there’s a difference in the types of tribes following you on social media. This can be achieved by looking at dimensions such as audience affinity, how your target audience describes themselves in their bios, other types of companies they follow, and so on. This is especially useful if you want to measure whether you’ve successfully changed the type of target audience you’re marketing to.  

a graph showing audience inights

Hold a focus group

Brand salience is the degree by which your company is thought of or noticed by consumers when they make a purchase decision. Focus groups are a great way of qualitatively measuring brand salience. For example, you can ask the consumer what company comes to mind when they think of marketing analytics. If they recall yours, it’s a good indication that you have strong positioning.

Hopefully, by now you have a better understanding of what is meant by positioning in marketing, understanding your competitive positioning, how to write a market positioning statement, as well as the types of strategies and tactics you can use to change how your business is perceived. To wrap things up, I wanted to share one example of a brand that did this well...

Back in 2012, Kodak was on the brink of extinction - but only 8 years later, it's a force to be reckoned with. When Danielle Atkins, Chief Brand & Marketing Officer, joined the company in 2014, she helped Kodak reignite its relevance and gave it the breath of fresh air needed within the youth demographic. By harnessing the latest trends, collaborating with influencers and captivating audiences, Kodak now has a new lease on life! Ever the curious ones, Meltwater partnered with Atkins on a webinar so we could better understand the steps she took to achieve this! Curious too? Listen to the on-demand recording and hear Danielle explain how you too can re-energise your brand, in both the B2B and B2C spaces, with a carefully put together marketing strategy.