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How to create a market positioning strategy

What is a market positioning strategy?

What sets your company apart from your competition? What products and services do you offer that your competitors cannot? How can you connect and engage with customers in unique and memorable ways?

Answers to these questions are at the heart of identifying, defining, and executing on an effective market positioning strategy.

A marketing positioning strategy is designed to carve out and amplify an identity different from your competitors. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, a strong market positioning strategy is key to promoting and differentiating your company and products in ways that build deep brand loyalty, attract and retain new customers, and, ultimately, drive strong revenue growth.

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Evidence of the value of successful market positioning is readily available in our daily lives. Brands that have gained iconic status have done so by effectively positioning themselves in engaging and inspiring ways—even if they’re selling products that are largely everyday commodities.

Starbucks is a prime example. Countless restaurants, stores, and yes, coffee shops, sell a wide array of java. Yet in a crowded market, Starbucks found the right blend of good coffee, a wide array of offerings, distinctive branding, and an inviting yet bustling atmosphere to position itself in ways that garners deep devotion among their customers—devotion so deep that those customers will pay more for a cup of coffee at Starbucks than they are willing to at less distinctive competitors.

Apple is another classic example. There are plenty of personal computers and electronic devices on the market, most of which are considerably less expensive than Apple products. Yet Apple has been able to maintain and grow the value of their iOS products by staking claim to market positioning anchored by clean and beautiful design, simplicity, cool, and engaging branding that customers love.

Perform your own product positioning. Get tips straight from market research experts.

Why do you need a positioning strategy?

You need a marketing position strategy because it drives home the value of your products or services in ways that resonate with current customers, attracts new ones, and sets you apart  and hopefully above your competitors.

Without a positioning strategy, Starbucks is a run-of-the-mill coffee store and Apple is a computer and phone manufacturer. In reality, that is what both those companies are, but the fact that hardly anyone thinks of them that way should tell you all you need to know about why a positioning strategy matters a lot.

Your goal in crafting a marketing position is to clarify who you serve, why you serve them, which competitors are vying for your business and how you are differentiated from those competitors. Armed with that insight, you can execute on marketing, branding and go-to-market strategies that reinforce and amplify your marketing position to differentiate your company and build stronger customer engagement, loyalty, and even advocacy.

Keep in mind that market positioning is more than just a slogan or tagline. Those are important for sure, but they are only as effective as the well-thought out positioning strategy and tactics supporting them. A slogan or tagline that rings hollow to customers is arguably worse than not having one at all. Consumers today are savvy, and they can readily detect when a company doesn’t live up to its own hype.

So clearly a market positioning strategy is an important component of a successful business. But how do you make it a reality? The key is to take a focused and well-planned approach to developing a marketing position that is authentic, defensible, and distinctive to your company.

What follows is a step-by-step approach to making it happen.

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How to create a market positioning strategy

Step 1: Dig into market research

Like many things in life, it’s essential to start by doing your homework. In this instance that means conducting market research to gain deeper insights about your target audience, their preferences, needs, attitudes and behaviors.  

You can use market research resources for audience targeting to understand who your ideal customers are and what problems you can solve for them. Surveys are a great way to quickly identify which people are most likely to buy your products. You can also get insights from both domestic and international audiences to expand your research.

Identifying your ideal audience is critical to your market research. Demographics, buyer behavior, and psychographic surveys will provide you with data-driven insights about your customers and target prospects. Surveys, observations, interviews and customer data will further clarify who your ideal customer is, allowing you to better position your company and its products in the market.

Your target audience data lays the groundwork to develop two to three buyer personas you can use for concept testing of your products, messaging, and pricing. Surveying your ideal audience before you go to market provides the high-quality audience data you need to evaluate your products and your competition.

Step 2: Figure out your competition

To beat your competition, you must first understand them. Surveys from your target audience are excellent tools to learn what your customers view as your competitors’’ strengths and weaknesses. To make relevant comparisons, you will need information about the market size, number of competitors, customer brand preferences, and competing products.

SurveyMonkey’s market research surveys help you understand what your target audience thinks about your competitors and their products. Typical survey questions are:

  • How often do you use this product category?
  • When you think of this category, what brand comes to mind?
  • Have you heard of our company?
  • Have you purchased anything from the competitor?
  • How satisfied were you with the competitor’s product?

Competitive analysis will help identify key differentiators of your competitors providing greater insight into what sets you apart from the competition and creates your unique value proposition. Market research survey templates make it easy to gather this information quickly, helping you avoid the risks of developing a positioning or products that don’t fully align with your customer’s needs.

Step 3: Craft your value proposition 

Once you’ve gained a greater understanding of your market, your customers, and your competitors, you can turn your attention to crafting your value proposition.

A value proposition is a succinct way of defining the unique value you offer to your target audience, and how it differs from competitors. Writing a value proposition that captures who you are, your unique offerings, and how your customers benefit from them, provides a powerful reference point to guide your company’s next steps.

A simple and effective approach to crafting your value proposition uses three questions developed by Harvard Business School Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness. Brainstorming answers with your team will help you develop a value proposition that is sure to include the needs of your target customer.

These three questions focus on your internal operations and the value you provide to your customers. 

  1. Which customers are you going to serve?
  2. Which needs are you going to meet?
  3. What price will provide value for your customers and be profitable for your company?

Thoughtful answers to these three questions creates the foundation for a value proposition that balances the needs of your customers, the realities of the market, and your company’s revenue goals.

A product positioning survey with your target audience will help you differentiate your products for a competitive advantage. Surveys are a quick way to get the pulse of your ideal customers and help position your products so they will stand out from your competitors. 

Step 4: Develop a memorable market positioning statement

Once you have defined or updated your company’s value proposition, you can pivot to developing a market positioning statement that aligns with that value proposition in ways that  will resonate with customers and clearly differentiate you from competitors.

A good market positioning statement details the benefits that customers will receive and how your business offers and delivers products, services that differ from your competitors. It should include your brand’s identity, purpose, and unique features and clearly defines:

  • Your target audience
  • What products and services you will offer them
  • How you deliver your products and services
  • Your company’s purpose
  • How your products and services differ from your competitors

Your marketing positioning statement should be authentic, succinct, customer-focused, and memorable so it can serve as an accessible resource for how everyone in your company talks about your brand.

Here are some tips to keep In mind as you are writing your statement so it is easy-to-digest and rings true with both internal and external audiences.

  1. Less is more: Keep it brief so people understand and remember it.
  2. Use powerful words: Your statement should be memorable and clearly state what you do and how you do it.
  3. Reflect who you are: State your core business values without using too much fluff or big words.
  4. Make a promise: Tell customers what you will do for them.
  5. Say why you’re different:  Make sure you stand out from your competition.
  6. Put a stake in the ground: Your positioning statement clarifies what you will do for the long term and future ideas will be compared against it.

Once you have completed a marketing positioning statement make sure to roll it out throughout your company so everyone is aligned in how they are talking about your brand. And keep in mind that the statement may not be forever set in stone. Change is a constant in business -- market conditions shift, new competitors arrive on the scene, and customers’ expectations evolve. You may need to update your statement  periodically to reflect these changes. Surveys, interviews, and customer comments are ways to keep you on top of changes in the market and upcoming trends.

Market positioning examples

What is positioning in marketing? We can look to innovative leaders who have distinctive brands and a loyal customer following.

Example #1: Trader Joe’s

Known for their unique products, great prices, and fun staff, Trader Joe’s has positioned themselves as the “national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.”  Their high quality food and unique shopping experience is on par with their competitor, Whole Foods. “Maintaining our everyday focus on value is vital, which is why we don’t have sales, loyalty programs, membership fees, or any other gimmicks.”

Example #2: Dollar Shave Club

What does the average guy want from a shave? Dollar Shave Club knows their target audience wants a great shave at an affordable price. It shouldn’t be hard to buy razors, or expensive and Dollar Shave Club made their mark with a simple approach to grooming. As they say on their website, “Everything you need in the bathroom—from razor blades to grooming products—is automatically delivered to your door. It doesn't get any simpler than that.”

Example #3: Southwest Airlines Employee Promise

Southwest Airlines offers a unique flight experience, particularly due to their employee promise. Employees promise to “demonstrate my Warrior Spirit by striving to be my best and never giving up. I will express my Fun-LUVing Attitude by not taking myself too seriously and embracing my Southwest Family.”

Strategic Positioning

Your research, and the work you do to develop and define your value proposition and marketing positioning statement, all contribute to establishing and executing on your overarching strategic positioning.

Your strategic positioning provides the blueprint for how you aim to fully leverage your unique niche in the marketplace to most effectively meet your customer’s needs, while also growing your business.

In essence, strategic positioning represents a blend of the playbook and action plan that will guide ongoing decisions and activities regarding marketing, product development, customer engagement and your overall public persona.

Strategic positioning should not be developed in a vacuum. In addition to the research and customer insights you have gathered and analyzed, it’s important to get perspectives from those inside your company, particularly leadership, sales, product development and marketing and communication. This allows you to gather new ideas as well as getting affirmation that the positioning resonates effectively among all of these groups.

Collaboration such as this not only helps develop the most optimal strategic positioning, but it also can enlist an engaged team of advocates from across your organization to assure greater alignment and buy-in from all employees, as well as greater consistency of message to external audiences.

Competitive Positioning

A focus on competitive positioning is a key consideration as you develop your overarching strategic positioning. Through the market research and customer insights on your competitors you should have a clear picture of how your competitors have positioned themselves in the market, what their unique strengths are, as well as their potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Against this backdrop you can more precisely stake your claim to where you fit within the competitive landscape; what your differentiating strengths are; and how to promote those strengths in ways that build deeper customer loyalty while attracting new customers who may be dissatisfied with your competitors’ offerings.

Ultimately, your company needs to be “known” for something in the market. Were you the first, the largest, the newest, the most innovative company in your industry? Have you won awards for technology, customer service, or best place to work? Do you focus on interacting with customers in fun or creative ways? These are all features that have the potential to distinguish you in your market.

Stating what value you bring to your industry will help you distinguish your company and become a memorable brand. According to the book, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, the authors, Trout and Ries, say the goal is to “look for the solution to your problem not inside the product, not even inside your own mind. You look for the solution to your problem inside the prospect’s mind.”

To make your company and brand memorable, it helps to be “first” or “unique.” The three ways that companies become leaders in their industry include:

Operational leadership: If you are an efficient company, you might produce your products at a lower cost, and offer a lower price.

Product leadership: You may have the first, best, or most innovative product in your industry that attracts customers.

Customer intimacy: You treat your customers like royalty and offer products, services, and solutions that solve their problems because you know their problems in depth.

Companies rarely excel in all three areas. Typically, it makes sense to focus on one leadership area and use that as the way to position your company and your brand in the market. Competitive positioning helps make a name for yourself in your customer’s mind, making you the go-to solution for their problems.

Repositioning Tips

Your market positioning strategy will change over time. You may need to consistently assess your brand to keep up with market trends and changing customer expectations. Here are tips on how you can reposition your brand as times change.

Tip #1:  Go back to the basics. It all starts with the customer. Performing market research surveys that compare your brand to your competitors will show you where there are gaps and opportunities in the market.

Tip #2:  Review your buyer personas. Have your buyer personas changed? Conducting surveys that help you create new buyer personas will help you solve their new challenges.

Tip #3:  Survey for new competitors. Are there new competitors in your industry? Market research survey templates will make it easy to quickly get a read on how those new competitors are performing. Your competitor's brand perceptions may have changed and you will need to know how their brands stand out to compete effectively.

Tip #4: Reposition your competitor. Reposition your brand by repositioning your competitor. ”

For instance, when Tylenol was first introduced, it needed to change the minds of consumers who depended on aspirin, their competitor, for pain relief. Tylenol focused not on their own features and benefits, but on aspirin’s tendency to irritate the stomach lining and cause bleeding. The brand became a market leader by pointing out problems with the competitor and showed how Tylenol solved customer’s problems, and quickly became the preferred pain reliever.

Tip #5: Ask where you are a leader.  You can lead with your cost, products, or customer relationships. Has your leadership position changed, affecting your brand? It may be time to evaluate your leadership position. Remember, being first, memorable, and unique are critical to your brand’s success. Your target audience will quickly tell you what they think with surveys, helping you to stay competitive.

Using surveys to help develop your positioning strategy

Surveys are a cost effective way to get quick responses and relevant data and insights from your target audience about your market position.

Panel study surveys track your target audience’s perceptions over time. By surveying your target audience at different points in time, also known as a longitudinal study, you will be the first to know about their changing perceptions.  Your brand identity, competitor brands, packaging, and pricing are just a few of the market trends you can track over time. When surveyed correctly, you can trust that the results you get are clear and actionable. 

Concept testing surveys will let you quickly test your new idea to see if you have a winning product that will sell. It’s been noted that nearly 95% of new product launches fail each year. Early insights save you time, money, and prevent damage to your brand’s identity.

Market research is critical to positioning your company and brand as a leader. You can use interviews, market research surveys, observations, customer comments, and other data that give you clear insights on how to succeed and stay in the minds of your customers.

The first step is knowing your customer, in detail, so you can understand and solve their problems. It starts by identifying your target audience, asking the right questions, and ensuring that you have high quality data you can rely upon.

No doubt, developing a strong market positioning strategy takes effort and focus. But the payoff can be huge. By clearly establishing a distinctive and recognizable position, you can leverage your strengths, address weaknesses, and build a brand that customers love.

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