The core thought behind brand positioning is the idea that each brand (if at all noticed) occupies a particular point or space in the individual consumer’s mind, a point that is determined by that consumer’s perception of the brand in question and in its relation to other brands. The spatial distance between the points in that consumer’s mind reflects the subject’s perception of similarity or dissimilarity between products and brands.
Four Important Characteristics of Brand Positioning
The four salient characteristics of brand positioning are:.
1. Look to the Core Identity
The core identity by definition represents the central, timeless essence of the brand. Thus the most unique and valuable aspects of the brand are often represented in the core identity. Further, there should be a cluster of brand elements surrounding each core identity component that (in addition to giving it richness and texture) opens up multiple execution alternatives. Finally, the brand position often should include the core identity just so communication elements do not stray from the brand’s essence.
Identify Points of Leverage
A brand position can be based on a point of leverage that is not necessarily in the core identity. The Ronald McDonald character can, for example, provide a point of leverage for McDonald’s. He is central to the focus on fun and kids, and he is also the basis for Ronald McDonald House, which provides an interesting message that engenders respect and visibility. Thus a possible brand position for McDonald’s might well emphasize Ronald McDonald as “The restaurant that Ronald McDonald, with his presence and programs, makes a fun place for kids and families. (Target-kids and their parents)”
Sometimes a sub-brand, feature, or service can provide a point of leverage. For example, the visible air cushion in the early Nike Air line served to represent the advanced-technology aspect of the Nike identity. Sub brands-features, and services that play this role are termed silver bullets
The Value Proposition
A customer benefit that is part of the value proposition and a basis of a brand-customer relationship can be another prime candidate for a brand position. Nike, for example, provides a functional benefit of improved performance and a self-expressive benefit based on using a shoe endorsed by a celebrity athlete. An endorser such as Michael Jordan can provide the basis for a brand position as follows “The shoe that Michael Jordan uses to provide the extra edge of performance.”
2. The Target Audience
The brand position should also target a specific audience, which may be a subset of the brand’s target segment. For example, a mountain bike company might define a target audience of serious, highly sophisticated, West Coast bikers, whereas the target segment might be a much larger group
There can also be a primary and secondary target audience. Male drivers of sports sedans might be the primary target audience for Toyota Camry, but women may be an important secondary target audience. The position strategy should thus consider the secondary audience and, in particular, not antagonize it in any way.
3. Active Communication
To say that the brand position is to be actively communicated implies that there will be specific communication objectives focused on changing or strengthening the brand image or brand-customer relationship. These objectives, if feasible, should be accompanied by measurement. For example, if the goal is to create or improve the “friend” relationship, an agree-disagree scale could be developed using items such as “Gateway is your friend” and “Gateway will be there for you.” Such scales could be used both in testing communication programs and in tracking their impact.
Brand image reflects current perceptions of a brand. Like brand identity, brand position is more inspirational, reflecting perceptions that the strategists want to have associated with the brand. In creating a brand position, a useful step is to compare the brand identity with the brand image on different image dimensions.
|Dimension||Brand Identity (Goal)||Brand Image (Current Reality)|
|Product:||Premium beer||Premium beer|
|User||Young (in spirit or body)||Middle-aged.|
|Personality||Fun, humorous||Fun, humorous|
|Emotional benefit||Social group acceptance||(none)|
|Functional benefit||Superior flavor||Superior flavor|
Comparison of the identity with the image will usually result in one of three very different communication tasks being reflected in a brand position statement. Any brand image can be
- Augmented (if a dimension needs to be added or strengthened) e.g., add social group acceptance
- Reinforced and exploited (if the image associations are consistent with the identity and are strong) e.g., reinforce fun and humorous personality
- Diffused, softened or deleted (if the image is inconsistent with the brand identity) e.g., soften middle-aged-user imagery
Augmenting an Image
A brand image might be too restrictive-that is, it may be geared to one age group or application, while the identity points the way to adding other segments or applications. A firm might want to market to the home as well as the office, or to those requiring style as well as durability. The brand position might therefore attempt
- To add associations to the brand image
- To soften restrictive perceptions.
Clinique, for example, has a strong image of being fresh, clean, and pure, with a white-coat clinical approach to skin care and cosmetics. The typical user is perceived to be a young woman with oily skin. The challenge for Clinique is to maintain its current image strengths but to soften the youthful image (to make the brand accessible to mature women) and to reach out beyond the specialized focus on oily, problem skin to a broader audience. For instance, Clinique would like to inject elements of elegance into the line, not to compete with the “elegant” position of competitors but to expand beyond their strong clinical position.
Reinforcing an Image
The brand image should not dictate the position (or identity), but neither should it be ignored. Often, an effective brand position will reinforce and exploit an image strength. In fact, a decision to create a new position that does not build on a brand’s strengths is usually difficult and risky.
Subaru’s greatest asset has been its association with all-wheel drive (supported by the image of Subaru transporting skiers to the slopes) and the performance and safety that all-wheel drive affords. At one point, an attempt was made to re-position the brand to appeal to a more general market, where it would compete more directly with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The (perhaps predictable) result was that there was no longer a point of difference between Subaru and its competitors, and the effort failed. Subaru, somewhat damaged, then returned to a brand position based on its accepted image of superiority in making all-wheel-drive cars.
Diffusing an Image
Sometimes specifying what a brand is not is as important to the integrity of the communication program as specifying what it is. In the comparison shown above, the beer’s brand image was of a typically middle-aged user, while the brand identity included younger drinkers. Specifying that the brand is not exclusively for middle-aged users suggests visual imagery to avoid as well as imagery to include.
Positioning opportunities for a product include:
- Finding an unmet consumer need — or at least one that’s not being adequately met now by competition
- Identifying a product strength that is both unique & important
- Determining how to correct a product weakness and thereby enhance a product’s appeal. (e.g., legitimate “new & improved”)
- Changing consumer usage patterns to include different or additional uses for the product
- Identifying market segments, which represent the best targets for a product
4. Create Advantage – Points of Superiority and Points of Parity
The criteria of superiority exists for those brands which have already secured the maximum awareness and preference among the target audience. These brands try to gain competitive advantage to achieve the competitive edge in the market.
Point of parity applies for relatively weakened brands. Before achieving competitive edge, the biggest task for these brands is to secure with the competing brands. Through their brand offerings and intensive promotion, these brands endeavor to reach the level of competitors. Once they achieve parity, they further move ahead to achieve superiority.