When we left you, in part two of this series, our marketer was teetering--like Pauline in the old serials--perilously on the positioning precipice between corporate and product positions.

Time to push her.

In this installment, I'd like to touch on two things.

1. How do you tell when you should adopt a corporate or a product position for any given market or market segment. 2. And how do you know when it's time to shift a position from one to the other?

Product or Corporate?

To identify whether to define a corporate or product position for each segment, define the point of the relationship that segment has with you.

For some companies the relationship is entirely with the product. A good example is S C Johnson. Since they are privately owned, the relationship is solely with Ziploc, Pledge and Windex. Product positions all the way (except perhaps with their employees).

For other companies, the relationship is entirely with the company. Traditional examples include companies like Archer Daniels Midland and BASF, whose business function is as a holding company. Here, it's all corporate.

But for most companies, both relationships come into play.

In some markets and market segments, you have a corporate relationship and in others a product one. And, as we mentioned in Part Two, you have many marketplaces, and many segments within that marketplace.

Think Microsoft. They base their positions on a corporate foundation of “leader” but they use powerful product marketing methods in many of their markets—supported by huge branding efforts.

Once the core positioning strategy is in place, you can then begin to develop a matrix of markets, relationships and positions to take within each market segment. If you'll allow me to be purely speculative, I would reverse-engineer Microsoft's positioning deployment like this:


Each different, yet each based on the core position strategy of “leader.” (And I should mention that Microsoft's real list would be many times the size of this one.)

Positions Can Shift

A positioning strategy might shift from corporate to product or product to corporate—and then be applied to the segments accordingly. Perhaps the marketplace as a whole insists on it; you may need to repair or distract from a market perception; or your existing strategy may have been severely damaged by events within or outside your control.

General Electric is a good example of the first instance. For years beyond memory, their position was based on product (“We bring good things to life”).

That is now gone. In its place: “Imagination at work,” which focuses not on products but on GE's history as an innovator across multiple lines of business. What caused the shift, I can't say—but I think it safe to assume that research told them that this was the right approach to take. You can see it applied to their products here.

United Air Lines supplies us with an instance of distraction. They are bringing in a corporate positioning strategy to begin to rebuild its passenger base after its Chapter 11 filing.

In new advertising campaigns, they are running ads with the phrase “Chapter 11” very prominently placed, but with one of the numerals slashed out so it reads “Chapter 1”—a way of saying they're starting anew as a company. You can see this on their home page.

And the best current example of overt damage control is Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Previously, of course, Ms. Stewart herself was the strategic positioning lynchpin.

But now, with the visibility of the trading scandal, its core position is clearly product based: their newly launched “Everyday Food” mentions her only in a small tagline.

Should she come out of the investigations cleanly, the product position should give way to a new, and stronger, corporate position—with her once again at the center: vindication can only strengthen her image as a tough businesswoman. A look through their site shows her presence is minimal.

The Luxury of Theory

There's no one like a marketing strategist to come up with ideas certain to pull every spare nickel out of your budget. And, left unmanaged, this one promises to be the Everest of all expensive marketing programs.

A unique position for each segment means unique collateral and sales presentations and web site areas and on and on. A tactical agency's dream date—a company's nightmare. Which, of course, can spell the end of any such program ever getting off the ground.

But there are very clear ways of turning this into an affordable and manageable process. Of putting it in place without painfully increasing the budget you spend to proliferate a single position to everyone.

It's called Good Positioning Processes. It's practical, tactical and mathematical. And it forms Part 4 of this series.

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image of Michael Fischler

Michael Fischler is founder and principal coach and consultant of Markitek (markitek.com), which for over a decade has provided marketing consulting and coaching services to companies around the world, from startups and SMEs to giants like Kodak and Pirelli. You can contact him by clicking here.