Positioning, a concept that relates to product differentiation, was introduced by Jack Trout in 1969 and subsequently, in 1981, popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their bestseller Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. According to the duo, “positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect”. Whereas differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others to make it more attractive to a particular target market, positioning is the act of crafting a distinct and valued image of the brand in the minds of consumers. In a well-devised strategy, the brand’s position drives all elements of the marketing mix.
For example, in the 1970s, the slogan “the real thing”, which captured the essence of Coca-Cola’s position, resonated strongly with consumers. It was reinforced through memorable campaigns that strengthened the brand’s iconic status, and distinguished it from “imitators”. (Years later “New Coke” must have come across to Coca-Cola lovers as antithesis of “the real thing”).
In the same era that Coca-Cola was reinforcing its positioning as “the real thing”, 7 Up distinguished itself from the big cola brands with its “Uncola” position. The campaign “became part of a counter cultural that symbolized being true to yourself and challenging the status quo” (www.7up.com).
Among the most celebrated examples in positioning is the Volkswagen Beetle’s “Think Small” campaign (Exhibit 1.3). In the 1960s when cars were generally big, beautiful and expensive, the Beetle was introduced as a small, awkward looking, inexpensive car. Clearly differentiated and distinctly positioned, the Beetle over the years outsold every car that has ever been made.
Other noteworthy examples of positioning in the automotive sector include BMW’s “The ultimate driving machine” and Volvo’s “Safety first”. To quote from a Volvo advertisement — “Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is and must remain — Safety”.
Dove, a brand that stands for beauty without artifice, has articulated that position via memorable advertising campaigns such as Real Beauty, Evolution, Onslaught and Girls Under Pressure. Positioning the brand as a theme or a social mission (as opposed to a product — moisturizing soap) gave Dove the license to transcend categories. The change in positioning coincided with the brand’s extension from soaps and cleansers to beauty products in general, including hair-care, deodorants, and skin-care products.
Positioned as a social mission (Exhibit 1.4), the origin of Singapore’s FairPrice supermarkets dates back to the 1973 oil crisis, when the country was experiencing hyperinflation fuelled by shortages and hoarding of goods. The National Trades Union Congress set up a supermarket cooperative, NTUC Welcome, to contain prices of essential food products, and the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officially opened the first outlet. The chain later was renamed FairPrice, and it retains its original social mission to help moderate cost of living for low income households.
Another notable Singaporean example is the Singapore Girl which positions Singapore Airlines as a purveyor of grace and Asian Hospitality. In a crowded market, the Singapore Girl emphatically distinguishes the airline from low-cost carriers as well as other premium airlines.