What is Positioning in Marketing Strategy?

What's the big idea of POSITIONING?

Be clear where you play and how you play! A positioning statement is NOT a brand tagline or a Mantra!

Where you play?

Where you Play means the category where your products and services will be sold. While category is something originally designed for managing the relationship between retailer and supplier, the main idea is that you should define the environment where your products/services will be sold (discrete groups of similar products and services).

How you play?

Positioning could be to make the brand virtually synonymous with the product category, so that it is the brand that comes to mind when consumers think of the product. Examples include Xerox, Kleenex and Scotch tape. Often the brand that stands for the category is the sales and profit leader in that category. In many cases, such a position is gained by being the first brand to aggressively advertise and promote within the product category.

Category is also referred as frame of reference in the HBR article[4]. 

Brand positioning starts with establishing a frame of reference, which signals to consumers the goal they can expect to achieve by using a brand. In some cases, the frame of reference is other brands in the same category.

A good positioning statement makes it clear who the customer is and what business problem they need to solve. If you do a good job of defining the customer problem, you don’t need to describe your product. The customer will want to learn more in the next conversation. Harvard

Effective positioning should be simple, meaningful and unique. Simple concepts such as "thickest ketchup" (Heinz), "easy to use" (Macintosh computers) and "tough off-road" (Jeep) are easier than more complex formulations for consumers to process and associate with the brand name.

Positioning must also be meaningful to the target audience. Positioning such as "comfortable jeans for women" (Lee jeans) and "inexpensive air travel" (Southwest Airlines) work well to the extent that these concepts strike a responsive chord with target customers.

A good positioning statement makes it clear who the customer is and what business problem they need to solve (HBR[3]). If you do a good job of defining the customer problem, you don’t need to describe your product. The customer will want to learn more in the next conversation

Finally, an effective positioning should be unique within the product category. The positioning "reliable," for example, can be used in a number of product categories such as watches (Timex), appliances (Maytag) and automobiles (Honda). But within any single category, it is difficult for two brands to own the same concept in consumers' minds.

Rules of the Game

  1. It is simple, memorable, and tailored to the target market.
  2. It starts from the customer problem and not from the product.
  3. It has a clear frame of reference.
  4. It has clear points of parity with other brands from the same frame of reference.
  5. It provides an unmistakable and easily understood picture of your brand that differentiates it from your competitors (points of difference).
  6. It is credible, and your brand can deliver on its promise.
  7. Your brand can be the sole occupier of this particular position in the market. You can “own” it.
  8. It helps you evaluate whether or not marketing decisions are consistent with and supportive of your brand.
  9. It leaves room for growth.


For [insert Target Market], the [insert Brand] is the [insert Point of Differentiation] among all [insert Frame of Reference] because [insert Reason to Believe].

For [your target] who wants / needs [reason to buy your product/service], the [your product or service] is a [category] that provides [your key benefit]. Unlike [your main competitor], the [your product/service] [your key differentiator]

Questions you could ask


ZipCar: To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers [target], when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car [competitive frame], you save money while reducing your carbon footprint [points of difference].

Gazelle: At Gazelle, we pay you for the cell phones, iPads, Macs,and other Apple devices you no longer need—helping you upgrade faster or just putting a little extra cash in your pocket.

Amazon (2001): For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.

Pitfalls as described in HBR[4]

1. Companies sometimes try to build brand awareness before establishing a clear brand position. You have to know who you are before you can convince anyone of it. Many dot-coms know this pitfall well. A number of them spent heavily on expensive television advertising without first being clear about what they were selling.

2. Companies often promote attributes that consumers don’t care about. The classic example: For years, companies that sold analgesics claimed their brands were longer lasting than others. Eventually, they noticed that consumers wanted faster relief more than sustained relief.

3. Companies sometimes invest too heavily in points of difference that can easily be copied. Positioning needs to keep competitors out, not draw them in. A brand that claims to be the cheapest or the hippest is likely to be leapfrogged.

4. Certain companies become so intent on responding to competition that they walk away from their established positions. General Mills used the insight that consumers viewed honey as more nutritious than sugar to successfully introduce the Honey Nut Cheerios product-line extension. A key competitor, Post, decided to respond by repositioning its Sugar Crisp brand, changing the name to Golden Crisp and dropping the Sugar Bear character as spokesman. But the repositioned brand didn’t attract enough new customers, and its market share was severely diminished.

5. Companies may think they can reposition a brand, but this is nearly always difficult and sometimes impossible. Although Pepsi-Cola’s fresh, youthful appeal has been a key branding difference in its battle against Coca-Cola, the brand has strayed from this focus several times in the past two decades, perhaps contributing to some of its market share woes. Every attempt to reposition the brand has been followed by a retreat to the former successful positioning. Brand positioning is a tough task. Once you’ve found one that works, you may need to find a modern way to convey the position, but think hard before you alter it.

More on this...

  1. http://blog.ecornell.com/how-to-write-market-positioning-statements/
  2. https://blog.udemy.com/positioning-statement-example/
  3. https://www.extension.harvard.edu/professional-development/blog/creating-positioning-statement-position-problem-not-product
  4. https://hbr.org/2002/09/three-questions-you-need-to-ask-about-your-brand