Are You Positioned for Success?

Nearly forty years ago, in articles published in Advertising Age, marketing gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries introduced the concept of “positioning” as a key factor in effective marketing. Positioning is, essentially, creating a positive image that consumers will keep in mind (and, ideally, act on and share with others). It stands to reason, then, that when the consumer is ready to buy, the well-positioned company — or even a professional solopreneur — will be among the short list of preferred providers.

But is positioning still as critical today? If so, how can you strategically position your company in the minds of consumers? And finally, can positioning be managed and maintained against brand reputation threats?

Understand this: It begins with the consumer. Simply put, to properly position your company in the mind of the consumer, you must first identify and understand that consumer. While large brands might have different divisions dedicated to connecting with diverse demographic segments, the smaller business is usually better served by a more singular focus. This requires brand differentiation (more on that later) and it requires identifying those common characteristics that amalgamate into an ideal (i.e., targetable) customer.

While some companies spend millions on demographic and psychographic research, the smaller enterprise leader can often reach actionable conclusions by simple observation and thoughtful decision making. For example, if your business serves consumers who must visit your Central Indiana location, don’t waste valuable time and ad dollars using media that equally targets Eskimos. Doing so just adds to the marketing noise, delivers unqualified prospects, and diverts your focus and attention. To combat this, be observant, know your community. Watch. Listen. Think. And yes, you can do some internet research or, better yet, ask your local librarian to assist you in understanding the demographic makeup and buying habits of consumers in your service area.

Okay, so you’ve identified your ideal consumer. Now what?

Differentiate and find your niche. Armed with information about your targeted consumers, you can make informed choices for branding and positioning. This demands differentiation from your competitors, and THAT, of course, demands knowing how (and to whom) your competitors market. Again, simple observation and competitive awareness are essential. The logical next step, then, is to take what you know about your ideal consumer and market to his or her particular wants and needs in a way that is different from your competitors. This might not be as tough as it sounds. In this era of niche marketing, companies that try to sell to everyone often end up selling to virtually no one. Successful companies, however, know this and tighten their focus. In doing so, they typically leave lucrative markets open to the competition. Niches create opportunity. Differentiation bridges the gap between that opportunity and success.

Want an example of competitive differentiation: Think Verizon vs. AT&T. Think “maps” vs. apps. Think service reliability vs. “techno cool”. You get the picture. And while these two duke it out for the lion’s portion of mindshare and brand loyalty, opportunities arise for smaller competitors to succeed in the niches. I use just such a niche provider now, by the way. Suits me fine; serves my needs better.

Deliver messages that matter. Another important consideration for positioning is the factor of trust. People like to do business with people they like, and people they trust. This is why personal referrals are, and will remain, the best form of advertising. Word of mouth presents the greatest opportunity for success, but also the biggest threat. People talk. That’s a good thing. People talk. That’s a bad thing, too. It depends on your level of service and how much confidence you have that, at the end of the day, consumers will say nice things about you and your business. If you don’t have that confidence, perhaps marketing shouldn’t be your most immediate concern.

But if your customer service feedback indicates a thumbs-up consensus, and you still need more sales volume than word-of-mouth can deliver, it’s time to craft messages to showcase your expertise, to position yourself as a trustworthy authority who can address the unique needs of your targets. The best way to position yourself as a go-to expert is to share your expertise, in small doses of content, so consumers can make informed choices. Do that and they will, even if subconsciously, credit your guidance as a contributing factor to their own growing actionable intelligence. Of course, there will likely come a point in the giver/receiver relationship when the receivers will no longer be capable of acting on their own and they will truly need an expert. Where, do you suppose, they will turn? To whom will they refer their friends? Who will earn their Facebook- and Twitter-posted accolades?

Understand this: It ends with the consumer, too. Like I said, people will talk. They will say nice things and make great referrals if you earn that distinction. But they will also talk and say not-so-nice things if you disappoint them. That possibility puts your brand at risk, and so, despite your best efforts at positioning via taglines and core messages, the consumer can hijack your marketing. With social media, this is easy; thus, it’s a threat. These days, it’s not enough to merely launch branding/marketing/positioning campaigns; you should also monitor, manage and react to how those initiatives are received. Again, if the perception is that your service doesn’t match your promises, the dissatisfied consumer may speak loudly AND carry a big stick. Dell Computers faced an angry social media mob mentality in 2005 when media blogger Jeff Jarvis ranted about his Dell experience. Others piled on and Dell was forced into damage control mode. How did they react? Among their social media consumer engagement initiatives were directives to understand that conversations can quickly go global, and to address dissatisfaction head-on. According to Paul Chaney, writing in The Digital Handshake, they also promised “teamwork, transparency, and frequent, consistent communication.” Have they succeeded? In many situations, probably; in others, maybe not. But the corporate stance is valid, the battle worth the effort (if not always winnable).

Bottom Line:

To succeed, you must first understand your consumers and position your business to satisfy their wants and needs. To make sure they see you as a trusted authority and go-to expert, frequently share how you differ from your competitors. Provide free information that can empower people to make informed decisions. And when you’ve earned the right to serve the consumers you target, serve them in a manner that is consistent with your positioning. If, despite your best efforts, the consumer is dissatisfied, act quickly — before their rants gain widespread attention — to protect your brand (and to correct any internal deficiencies that led to poor service). Do these things, and you will be well-positioned for success.

Want to learn more about how your business can be better positioned for success? Contact me. Let’s start a dialog.

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~ by Bob Chenoweth on 04/22/2010.

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