Developing a positioning is an analytic problem-solving activity. The objective is to solve for two simultaneous, desired outcomes. These two outcomes are association and differentiation. In practice, according to brand thought leader, Jean Noel Kapferer¹, the marketer has two distinct tasks:
- Association: Indicate to which category the brand should be associated and compared
- Differentiation: Indicate what the brand’s essential difference and raison d’être are in comparison to the other products and brands of that category
Particularly in a well-established category where multiple product offerings are aimed at each well-recognized consumer segment, the process of choice often depends on both the perceived uniqueness of a brand’s associations, and on the strength of those unique associations to the brand. Branding expert, Kevin Lane Keller² describes these two tasks as establishing the correct point-of-difference and point-of-parity associations:
“Points-of-difference are those associations that are unique to the brand that are also strongly held and favorably evaluated by consumers. … it is similar to the notion of ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP), a concept pioneered by Rosser reeves and the Ted Bates advertising agency in the 1950s.”
“Points-of-parity, on the other hand, are those associations that are not necessarily unique to the brand but may in fact be shared with other brands.”
Keller points out that these common category associations can play one of two roles. Some attributes must be associated with a brand simply to be considered a legitimate and credible offering. One can think of these attributes as necessary, but not sufficient conditions to drive selection of the brand. The second role for a point-of-parity attribute is defensive—to negate a competitor’s attempt at creating a point of difference. A competitor may introduce a new attribute. The new attributed may either be real through product development initiatives, or perceptual through communication activities. The brand may make countermoves in order to blunt the new advantage claimed by the competitor, thus returning to the “status quo ante,” i.e., the basis for choice most uniquely and strongly associated with the brand.
Determining the brand/product positioning which best establishes both an important point-of-difference balanced with appropriate points-of-parity, consists of three steps:
- Do the homework: Conduct in-depth consumer and competitive analyses to identify segments, and to target the appropriate ones
- Generate alternative positionings
- Evaluate and choose the “best” alternative
Evaluating Alternative Positionings
Kapferer¹ offers the 10 criteria below as a framework for evaluating alternative positionings. Although no single positioning can be expected to meet all these criteria perfectly, the ‘best’ alternative should emerge through careful consideration using this framework as a starting point:
- Compatibility: Are the product’s current looks and ingredients compatible with this positioning?
- Motivation: How strong is the assumed consumer motivation behind this positioning?
- Opportunity: What size of market (segment) is targeted by this positioning?
- Credibility: Is this positioning credible?
- Competitive advantage: Does it capitalize on a competitor’s actual or latent weakness?
- Financials: What financial means are required by such a positioning?
- Distinctive: Is this positioning specific and distinctive?
- Protected: Is this a sustainable positioning which cannot be imitated by competitors?
- Recovery: Does this positioning leave any possibility for an alternative solution in case of failure?
- Pricing: Does this positioning justify a price premium?
¹Kapferer, J.-N. Strategic Brand Management: Creating and Sustaining Brand Equity Long
Term, 2nd ed. Kogan Page, London, 1997.
²Keller, K. L. Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity.
Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1998.