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One of the criteria often used for judging a good positioning statement is that it is maneuverable. This ensures that the positioning doesn’t lock you in, especially in markets that change. Clearly this is difficult since you want to have a strong position and that requires standing for something unique and defensible and communicating that to the market.

One of the contexts where you can see positioning operate, and also see the hazards associated with strong positions, is the world of politics. Blessed (or cursed) with a political season upon us, let’s use this as an opportunity to examine the positioning decision.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (January 18, 2000, "Bush’s Embrace of Tax Cuts Could Haunt Him in Fall"), Bush is emphasizing tax cuts in his "come from behind" strategy in New Hampshire. The WSJ notes that six months ago he was emphasizing Social Security, Medicare and military spending in his speeches. This is a change in positioning and represents "tacking further to the right."

Also according to the article, Gore is positioning himself further to the left as he positions himself on issues important to gays, minorities, and feminists. This is an attempt to appeal to voters that are strongly considering Bradley.

Put this all in a positioning framework and ask yourself whether these strong positions will make it difficult to maneuver later on in the campaign? Remember, the candidates are essentially brands, and a brand is what you stand for, and that’s good (unless the market radically changes).

Why are they positioning themselves so strongly? They need to win the early voters, of course. Isn’t this like positioning yourself based on a non-randomly sampled focus group, or even designing a product for just a few companies? In these cases, you can make big mistakes by designing a product and positioning it in a way that doesn’t mirror the general market.

According to the WSJ, this may be happening. They say, "while tax cuts are popular among sold Republican voters, polls show they have limited appeal among the public at large" (to read, tax cuts are important to one segment, but not to the market). The same can be said for the campaign-finance issue.

Changes in positioning can be confusing to customers and can deplete a firm’s (or politician’s) image. This is not as difficult, however, it the benefits being repositioned "fit", or at least are not inconsistent. But do "tax cuts" and "preserving Social Security and Medicare "fit? That’s an important question to consider.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the founder of MarketingProfs. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the Director of Mindful USC.