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The Positioning of the Playstation 2

In a recent article in PC Magazine, John Devorak points out that Sony is in the process of turning the Playstation 2 into a home computer. His point is that this may not be successful because Sony has had little success penetrating the market for computers. He appears skeptical of the marketing department's ability to market an already successful product.

Clearly, this is an interesting question, especially if we think of this as a positioning question. Then the issue is: Can Sony position the Playstation 2 as a computer, with game characteristics, rather than position it in a traditional way as a game? By thinking about this question, we can explore more closely the issue of positioning. Specifically, we need to understand how consumers categorize products.

In marketing, we know that the knowledge consumer's possess is structured in their minds. In particular, knowledge (say, about products) is structured into categories (actually, there is a fancy name known as "taxonomic categories"). What does this mean? Well, things like products are in the same category if they share similar features, and the features they share are different from the features in other categories. Using the Sony example, a category member (Playstation) has maximal similarities with members of its own category (other game machines) and minimal similarity with members of other categories (say, computers).

Obviously there is a continuum of similarity because the Playstation and computers are not maximally different. In fact, they can be considered as members of an even higher category - say consumer electronics. Nonetheless, consumers may have separate categories for computers and games. In fact, the Playstation may have attained the status as a "prototype" (i.e., the best example) for the game category. Other examples of prototypical brands and categories include Kodak (Film), Starkist (Tuna Fish), Jell-O (Gelatin), and Kleenex (Tissue).

So the problem from a consumer's perspective might be this. If consumers categorize the Sony Playstation as a game, it may be very difficult for it to be repositioned as a computer. It appears the marketing team at Sony is attempting to help consumers make the categorization change by making it DVD and cable modem ready (two typical computer features). But even with the these feature changes, its prior categorization as a prototypical game may be too strong, and this could be the real source of problems for marketing this product.

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