In my last article I talked about “the process of positioning.” At the end of that article I promised to do a case analysis of a current initiative of McDonald's.
But something came up in the form of an email from a marketer in Hungary that has sidetracked me. And with your indulgence I'll follow that trail instead.
He wrote that he thought the concept I presented was applicable...
“…if you need to position something for which there's been a market for years. But what about avant-garde products and services? How do you position them when the market doesn't even know what these are, thus cannot give feedback?”
As an example he cited:
“A client of mine is launching a wedding organizer service—one of the first ones in the country. How does she position herself, when the biggest competition is self-organized weddings that everybody does? The best question on a focus group interview would start with ‘if you were to commission a wedding organizer...,' and we know how useless hypothetical questions are in market research.”
The question springs from the same well as the comment that I often hear, that someone introducing an innovative product “has no competition.” At its heart, that comment is fundamentally flawed—you can read what Allen Weiss has to say about that here.
No Existing Positions Means No Marketplace
A product or service solves a problem. If a problem exists, you can get feedback from the market segments that have that problem—in this case, we would ask: “What do you do to plan a wedding today?”
(The question itself is worth picking apart a little. As a marketer, your goal is not to ask people what they want, but to ask them what they do and then analyze and determine what they want based on their answers. If successful strategic marketing—product concept, positioning, branding, whatever—were as simple as asking people what they want, I'd be out of business and perhaps looking to becoming a wedding planner myself.)
Once we ask that question of any serviceable segment within any marketplace, we're going to find that they have in fact defined a very clear set of positions to be taken.
In the case of the wedding planner, we imagine that one segment's answer would be something like this.
“Well first of all I don't know what I do because I've never planned a wedding before—my grandmother is going to help us and she's planned a few but she has really old-fashioned ideas and we're not sure we want to do what she wants us to do. Also, I have a friend who's done it a few times so she's going to help but Grandma doesn't like her very much so there's going to be friction. But I know I'm going to have to find someone to cater it and I guess I'll ask around. I have no idea how much things cost, or how to get the best deal—I suppose I'll just learn by trial and error. I know I'm going to have it in such-and-such a church, but the reception is another issue. My best friend had his wedding reception at such-and-such a hall and it was great so I might go there, but it was a little too big for us so I'm not sure about that either. And I guess I'll sort of organize the whole thing so I'll probably read up on the best way to do it. I plan for this to be the only wedding I ever have and I want it to be the best.”
And so on.
There Are Positions Aplenty
Now, after we go through that process—and we're going to assume that we've asked enough people so that this is a representative answer—we'll see that there are some pretty solid issues (and therefore some strong potential positions) established in this segment (which we'll call the “Inexperienced” segment).
1. Lack of knowledge
2. Wrong/outdated advice
3. Potential conflicts
4. Poor negotiating skills
5. Untried organizational skills
6. Anxiety about quality
And so on.
Lo and behold, from this list, for this segment, we've created our initial, long list of potential positions: expertise, modernity, conflict avoidance, business acumen, management and quality.
There will, of course, be other segments as well—some of which we'll go after and some of which we'll leave alone.
1. Naturally talented wedding planners (leave alone)
2. Single-parent male planners (go after)
3. People focused entirely on price (leave alone)
4. People who want only the very best (go after)
And we'll go through the process we've shown here for each of those segments we decide to go after (some of which we'll learn about while we go through this process).
In the end, what do we discover? That although we are introducing a wholly new service to the marketplace, that marketplace in fact exists, is naturally segmented, and has already defined positions that need to be taken.
We can now take our wedding planning service and determine what our own strong points are, match those strengths to the available positions in the marketplace, and begin the process of crafting our positioning strategy and strategic position for that segment.
Does this mean that the Hungarian market will adopt wedding planning services? I don't know—that's for a different research and analysis effort. But if it does, we'll know how to position it.
And about McDonald's. I think I'm just going to forget about them, since I had occasion to look through the Segway web site recently. If that site is a good indication of their positioning strategy, they've got a lot of grief ahead of them (check it out and see if you agree). It just might be fun and informative to explore why—which we'll do next time.