This article is Part Two in a series. See the first article here. For most of us, this question is unanswerable: “What's your position in the marketplace?”
Why? Because it raises a much more important and more difficult question: “Which marketplace?”
You have a ton of them.
And I don't mean just your obvious marketplaces—like your end user and your OEM markets, or your residential and commercial markets. You have more marketplaces than you might think.
For instance, your employees form a strong marketplace—one where you need to market aggressively to find and retain high-quality people in order to grow and innovate. Your partners form another marketplace. Your investors yet another. And there are others still.
For every marketplace you have, you need a position that strengthens your presence in it. A single position—quality service, market leader, best on-time delivery record—is hardly going to serve all your markets.
In fact, any single position will touch only a small percentage of the overall markets you must reach. Is “market leader” the ideal position to take with your end users—and, to be more granular, with both low-income and affluent end users? Is “quality service” the ideal position for your investors? Probably not.
The Right Position for the Right Job
Positioning is no longer this one thing you do to get share of mind—owning “one word in the market's mind” is no longer enough.
There are so many different minds. So many different words—and most of the time you have to use a lot of them.
This isn't to suggest that the basic premise of positioning—finding and owning a perception point in the mind of the customer—is wrong. It isn't. But that position must accommodate all your customers and markets—segments within segments within segments.
What's needed is not a positioning statement—not even a strategic position. What's needed is an overall, all-encompassing positioning strategy. One that lets you launch multiple positions, across multiple marketplaces, targeting multiple “customers”—without violating the primary premise of picking a position and staying with it consistently.
Let's use manufacturers of air conditioning systems as our example. What a breadth of marketplaces they serve! Residential and Commercial. Distributors and Retailers. Contractors and OEMs. Installers and Servicers. Domestic and International. Employees and Investors.
Each of these broad marketplaces has different needs. Is the owner of a manufacturing facility interested in the same things a nationwide distributor is interested in? No. Would the same position be relevant and meaningful to both? Absolutely not.
The challenge these companies face is how to position themselves within each of their markets in a focused and meaningful way, to establish specific positions without clouding the way the market sees them to such an extent that they end up without a clear position in any marketplace.
Proliferating Your Position
How do you establish that flexible but consistent positioning strategy?
Start the way you always start (or should start). Assess your company's strengths, find core competencies that are relevant to the marketplace, and find those that have not been established as a position by a competitor. Then adjust and proliferate that position across your many markets.
Assume you're one of those air conditioner manufacturers. One of your core strengths is employee excellence. You have extremely high employee morale (maybe you're one of the top five companies to work for in America). So you decide to adopt “where people love to work” as your corporate position.
Good choice. Stronger employee buy-in to the company's success clearly implies more dedicated work effort, encouraged front-line suggestions, brighter innovation, “extra-mile” customer service and so forth.
From there, you extract market-specific positions (all the time focused away from you and at the various market needs—it must be relevant to the market). You do that by asking a series of questions, like these:
- Does employee excellence bring value to our residential customers?
- Does employee excellence bring value to our channel members?
- Does employee excellence bring value to our employees and recruiting candidates?
If the answer is yes, then you can begin to craft a variety of positions around that core:
- For the residential market: “Built by people just like you” (the Community position).
- For the channel market: “Supplied by people who want you to win” (the Partner position).
- For the employee market: “Work with people who love their work” (the Teamwork position).
Totally different positions and positioning statements, but all focused on the core positioning strategy of “where people love to work.” Tailored to appeal to the individual needs of specific markets, but not one of them at odds with the primary strategy. Each unique, each segment-specific, and all fully consistent with each other.
With this in place you can approach each market segment with a position that appeals to them.
Implied by all this is another, equally fundamental issue: When do you take a corporate position, when do you take a product position, and when—as we've done here for our air conditioning systems—do you take both?
It's a balancing act: kind of like the one performed by the heroine in the old western movie serials as she struggles to keep from falling off the cliff as the episode ends.
And, just as those serials did, we'll deal with that balance in Part Three in this series.
Author's note: Responding to my first article in this series, Jack Trout wrote to remind me that he had in fact updated his ideas about positioning in two books: The New Positioning and Differentiate or Die. Both are available at troutandpartners.com.