Marketing Boo-boos: Six Common Brand Positioning Mistakes

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It’s no secret that nailing your brand positioning is one of the most crucial steps in building a successful marketing plan. Yet, many businesses falter at this point, with their products and services ending up far from the consumer’s mind and in the consumer graveyard.

Here are some of the most common brand positioning mistakes that many familiar brands have made — and how you can avoid them.

A poorly-defined business problem

A quote by Charles Kettering goes, “a problem well-stated is half solved”. Indeed, defining the problem accurately will set you on the right track towards solving it. Many brands marketers and business owners fail from the get-go because they cannot accurately define the problem they’re attempting to address.

A broad statement like “we want to grow market share” does nothing to guide you towards effective brand positioning. Instead, consider what your business objective is and how you’re trying to deliver value to your target audience.

To start, explore the current situation and paint the picture in words. Consider the impact of the current problem and its consequences if unresolved. Articulate the needs, desired outcome, who stands to benefit and why. Then, describe the problem in the simplest terms possible.

Keep asking “why is that a problem” — until you find the deepest issue at the core that you have to resolve.

If you go down this path, you may eventually be able to identify the “source problem”.

In 1957, automobile company Ford launched the Edsel. Positioned as the car of the future, Edsel was a full-sized, gas-guzzling car that Ford thought would be every suburban American’s dream car. They couldn’t be more wrong. Consumer preference had shifted towards compact cars, meaning that Ford had gotten the root “problem to solve” wrong from the get-go. Ford had actually done polling on car shoppers to develop the car, but the data was unfortunately disregarded in the development process. Eventually, the Edsel launch was seen as over-priced, over-hyped and oblivious to the target market’s real needs.

Under-positioning your brand

Under positioning happens when a business is seen as lackluster compared to the competition. Consumers perceive that the brand does not bring anything new to the table, and cannot offer value to them.

To address this, consider injecting new life into the brand through refreshed product lines, co-branding or enlisting the help of a brand ambassador. It’s also worthwhile to take a good, hard look at the business to determine if it’s an issue with the brand offerings or simply a need for perception uplift.

For decades, Italian sportswear brand Fila faded into the background as it struggled to define its identity. In recent years, the brand has staged an impressive revival to modern consumer consciousness. Riding on the nineties nostalgia trend and demand for iconic designs, Fila’s brand strategy pivoted with great success.

Instead of accommodating rapidly shifting trends, Fila decided to focus on its century-long heritage. It released modern twists on its classic designs, catering to contemporary consumers while retaining its iconic status. From 2016 to 2018 alone, Fila’s sales increased 205% from U.S. $821 million to U.S. $2.51 billion.

Over-positioning your brand

Brand over positioning is also a common mistake. This happens when brand owners perceive the value of the brand to be higher than it really is to consumers. This has a direct impact on pricing strategy, which in turn deters consumers who are not convinced of the brand’s value.

When Google released the Google Glass, its hefty US$1,500 price tag and fancy features did nothing to convince consumers to part with their dollar. To start with, the Glass had no clear function, other than capturing images and reading from a feed of information off the internet.

Add to that issues around privacy (the Glass could be recording or taking a photo of other people at any time) and concerns that the product emitted harmful radiation right next to the head. The perceived value of the product was clearly overestimated by its creators.

To combat over-positioning, management must approach it rationally and do sufficient market research to justify their position. What does the brand offer that competitors do not, and how does this justify the brand’s positioning? It may also help to do a thorough SWOT analysis or positioning mapping.

Adopting a “price war” mentality

If your brand positioning strategy is to offer the lowest prices in the market, that’s not much of a strategy. Adopting a cheap strategy is not sustainable in the long run. In fact, it could be a fast track to failure. Cheap products are often perceived as low-value items to consumers, with a low return on investment. 

Dig deeper to find a strong competitive advantage that will place you a cut above the competition. If you’re offering products at lower prices, is the inherent value of the product worth way more?

Reducing production cost for customer benefit, for instance, can be a compelling selling point. Furniture giant IKEA for instance, shows its buyers that assembling their own tables directly translates into cost savings. They can then enjoy quality furniture at a low price.

Failing to consider the competition

When positioning your brand, it’s critical to compare your position with that of your competitors. As a Chinese saying goes, one mountain cannot contain two tigers. Failing to understand the competition would mean critical blindspots are left unseen.

Having a clear idea of how your closest competitors are positioned gives you a better view of whether there are market gaps that have not been addressed. It also allows you to consider what adjustments need to be done if you want to crowd out a competitor or play on their level.

BlackBerry, a line of smartphones and tablets, was a huge success in the late 1990s. Just a few years on however, they became overshadowed by the mobile industry’s shift towards touchscreen displays. Their failure to adapt to the rapidly evolving competition and market demands led to their eventual downfall. 

To avoid a similar misstep, always keep pace with the competition. Aside from the usual SWOT analysis, plotting a positioning map can help you visualise the competition relative to your current position. Based on your insights, you can start working on a differentiation strategy that will set you apart.

Confusing or unclear positioning

If a brand does not put effort into articulating its own positioning, customers can often be left confused about what exactly the brand offers. Confusion can come from indistinct positioning, unclear value propositions or a lack of publicity.

Written by Miranda Yeo

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