Don’t Confuse the Three “Positionings”

I’ve always found it interesting how so much terminology exists in the world of marketing.  What’s worse is that many words are used interchangeably when in fact they mean something different.  A “concept” can be a product concept, a positioning concept, an advertising concept . . . and the list goes on.  I’ve also worked with clients who get positioning, positioning concepts, and positioning statements all confused.  So I thought I’d set the record straight for you.

A positioning is basically how your product or service sits within its competitive set.  It has a certain “position” relative to the other competitors or brands.  Think for example of a car manufacturer such as Honda.  The company makes many different styles and models under the Honda name.  Honda would be foolish to have them all compete against each other; instead each has its own position relative to the other cars the company offers.  Think about a perceptual map with one axis for price (low to high) and one axis for fuel efficiency (low to high).  The Honda Civic Hybrid would probably be considered on the higher price end, but it is also highly fuel efficient, getting 35+ miles per gallon.  In contrast, the Honda Pilot SUV is also sold at a higher price, but it doesn’t have the same fuel efficiency.  Compared to the Civic, the Pilot has more cargo space and is better in snow.  If these other benefits of the Pilot aren’t important to the buyer then he or she will probably buy the Civic Hybrid.  Compared to other vehicles the Honda Civic Hybrid is positioned similarly to Toyota Prius.

A positioning concept outlines the primary benefit and the reasons to believe that benefit.  My book, Marketing Concepts that Win!, is primarily about creating this type of concept.  The positioning concept is used to make sure you have unique and believable positioning for your product or service.  This is probably the most important thing that should be defined for an offering.  Without knowing exactly what you want to communicate, it’s very difficult to make sure all elements of the marketing mix support your primary selling proposition.  Most clients have a really difficult time creating a positioning concept that is single-minded and relevant.  Why?  Marketers have difficulty determining what is most important about their offerings and feel like everything needs to be included.  If we go back to our Honda Civic Hybrid example, the positioning concept might be something like this:

I really love the reliability of Hondas, and I need a car the gets great mileage due to my long commute.  But it still needs to fit the kids

Now, with the Honda Civic Hybrid, you get a roomy sedan with twice the fuel economy of most cars. 

That’s because Honda has integrated hybrid technology into the car, so when your car idles you don’t use fuel.   Rated at 35 miles per gallon city, the four-door car easily fits your family and gets you where you need to go with plenty of room to spare. 

And, finally, a positioning statement is the driver of all communications.  It combines four crucial areas:  1) the positioning concept as defined above, 2) the target audience, 3) the purpose of the communication, and 4) the brand character. As such, a positioning statement might be something like this:

All communications will seek to convince females 25-50 years of age that the Honda Civic Hybrid provides twice the mileage of most cars in a roomy sedan due to its 35 mph rating, and it seats people more comfortably than the Toyota Prius.  

Honda Brand Character: Japanese excellence, well engineered, reliable, durable.

Again, I am just guessing at some of this information, but for illustrative purposes hopefully this makes sense.

Now you’ve got it.  When working on marketing a product or service, it is important to clearly understand what “positioning” you’re talking about before the work starts.  This will definitely cut some of the confusion about how to describe your offering to your customers as well as yourselves.










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