Positioning in the Modern World

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on January 14, 2013

In their book “Positioning:  the battle for your mind”, Al Ries and Jack Trout explain that positioning, as the title says, is only in the mind and not in the product. They corroborate it with a few examples about how certain products (like beer) or services (like taxi services) were repositioned using the words, ideas and thoughts, but never by altering the product or service. Apart from re-positioning, there was another concept in the book called de-positioning, which involves changing the identity of the competitor’s product in the customer’s mind. The book was published in 1981 with reference to the events in the 60s and 70s. Clearly, some of the major, drastic and significant changes weren’t taken into account in this period.


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When the word “lite” / “light” were used with the name of the beer brands, they seemed to signify that the alcohol content in the beer was lesser and soon became a preferred brand / drink. In the case of the taxi service, however hard they tried, Avis (Taxi / car rental service) were unable to overtake Hertz, their competitor. Once they acknowledged the fact that they were no.2 and positioned themselves as someone who tried harder, simply because they were number 2, their revenue actually went up. Both of these were a case of positioning the product in the mind and not physically changing / altering the product. They worked because people thought of the product in a new way or a way more.

This model was formed and largely credited to the two of them, with good acceptance from the marketing world as well. But how relevant is it today, in a world where we are bombarded with advertisements much more than ever before? Does the human mind work the same way? Does it perceive the messages in the same way as it did a few years ago? More or less, it does. And the general population would probably be ready to accept “positioning” the same way as it did a few years ago.

We can take a look at the factors affecting the perception in today’s world.

First is the clutter in the advertisement world. This problem was addressed in the book and also was cited as a major reason for having to “position” a product in the minds of the customer. But the amount of clutter present today would probably have been unimagined / unexpected at the time of writing the book or the concept. In today’s world, it is not only the number and variety of products that have increased, but also the number and varieties of services has increased tremendously. It is a big battle to even advertise them and make people aware of them, let alone position them properly.

Second is the awareness level of the customer. Previously, the advertiser could get away with words like “fastest”, “cheapest” etc. But the modern customer is well aware (relatively speaking) of marketing gimmicks about the same and does not hesitate to drop the “best” product in favour of a better product. It also does not take much time to actually compare a product over the internet if it is indeed the cheapest / fastest one that is available.

The third and probably the most important of them all, as just mentioned, is the access to information in the current world. In the 80s, when the internet was not so powerful and people still did not have access to much information beyond what was fed to them through televisions and radio channels, Let us take the example of the airline industry. Regardless of what an airline positions itself as – premium, world-class, low-cost, a customer in today’s world is simply going to use the internet to find a ticket on that airline.

So where does all this lead us to. Positioning probably isn’t as important to sell a product right now as it was a few years ago. A lot of industries (film industry, food industry for example) now simply believe in only creating awareness to the customer by means of repeated advertising and not taking the effort to position them. And the importance of positioning itself has been undermined due to the fact that there is just so much clutter and so less attention to a particular brand communication

Should brands now focus on various techniques like promotional schemes and contests on facebook? Have a presence on twitter and make people follow you? Should brands simply advertise more and more and more? Or should they at all spend any time in thinking of a way to position themselves in our minds?

This article has been authored by Srinivasan C from NMIMS.

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