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Positioning Your Product

David A. Aaker and J. Gary Shansby


David A. Aaker is a professor of marketing and J. Gary Shansby a professor of marketing strategy, both at the University of California at Berkeley. The authors thank John G. Myers for his helpful and stimulating comments.

Sophisticated analysis of all the positioning alternatives can, and should, be done.

How should a new brand be positioned? Can a problem brand be revived by a repositioning strategy? Most marketing managers have addressed these and other positioning questions; however, "positioning" means different things to different people. To some, it means the segmentation decision. To others it is an image question. To still others it means selecting which product features to emphasize. Few managers consider all of these alternatives. Further, the positioning decision is often made ad hoc, and is based upon flashes of insight, even though systematic, research-based approaches to the positioning decision are now available. An understanding of these approaches should lead to more sophisticated analysis in which positioning alternatives are more fully identified and evaluated.

A product or organization has many associations which combine to form a total impression. The positioning decision often means selecting those associations which are to be built upon and emphasized and those associations which are to be removed or de-emphasized. The term "position" differs from the older term "image" in

Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved

that it implies a frame of reference, the reference point usually being the competition. Thus, when the Bank of California positions itself as being small and friendly, it is explictly, or perhaps implicitly, positioning itself with respect to Bank of America.

The positioning decision is often the crucial strategic decision for a company or brand because the position can be central to customers' perception and choicedecisions. Further, since all elements of the marketing program can potentially affect the position, it is usually necessary to use a positioning strategy as a focus for the development of the marketing program. A clear positioning strategy can insure that the elements of the marketing program are consistent and supportive.

What alternative positioning strategies are available? How can positioning strategies be identified and selected? Each of these questions will be addressed in turn.

Positioning Strategies

A first step in understanding the scope of positioning alternatives is to consider some of the ways that a posi-

Business Horizons / May-June 1982

Positioning Your Product

tioning strategy can be conceived and implemented. In the following, six approaches to positioning strategy will be illustrated and discussed: positioning by (1) attribute, (2) price-quality, (3) use or applications, (4) product-user, (5) the product-class, and (6) the competitor.

Positioning by Attribute

Probably the most frequently used positioning strategy is associating a product with an attribute, a product feature, or customer benefit. Consider imported automobiles. Datsun and Toyota have emphasized economy and reliability. Volkswagen has used a "value for the money" association. Volvo has stressed durability, showing commercials of "crash tests" and citing statistics on the long average life of their cars. Fiat, in contrast, has made a distinct effort to position itself as a European car with "European craftsmanship." BMW has emphasized handling and engineering efficiency, using the tag line, "the ultimate driving machine" and showing BMWs demonstrating their performance capabilities at a race track.

A new product can upon occasion be positioned with respect to an attribute that competitors have ignored. Paper towels had emphasized absorbency until Viva stressed durability, using demonstrations supporting the claim that Viva "keeps on working."

Sometimes a product will attempt to position itself along two or more attributes simultaneously. In the toothpaste market, Crest became a dominant brand by positioning itself as a cavity fighter, a position supported by a medical group endorsement. However, Aim achieved a 10 percent market share by positioning along two attributes, good taste and cavity prevention. More recently, Aqua-fresh has been introduced by Beecham as a gel paste that offers both

cavity-fighting and breath-freshening benefits.

It is always tempting to try to position along several attributes. However, positioning strategies that involve too many attributes can be most difficult to implement. The result can often be a fuzzy, confused image.

Positioning by Price/Quality

The price/quality attribute dimension is so useful and pervasive that it is appropriate to consider it separately. In many product categories, some brands offer more in terms of service, features, or performance and a higher price serves to signal this higher quality to the customer. Conversely, other brands emphase price and value.

In general merchandise stores, for example, the department stores are at the top end of the price/ quality scale. Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale's, and Saks Fifth Avenue are near the top, followed by Macy's, Robinson's, Bullock's, Rich's, Filene's, Dayton's, Hudson's, and so on. Stores such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, and J .C. Penney are positioned below the department stores but above the discount stores like K-Mart. Sears efforts to create a more upbeat fashion image was thought to have hurt their "value" position and caused some share declines.' Sears' recent five-year plan details a firm return to a positioning as a family, middle-class store offering top value. Sears is just one company that has faced the very tricky positioning task of retaining the image of low price and upgrading their quality image. There is always the risk that the quality message will blunt the basic "low-price," "value" position.

Positioning with Respect to Use or Application

Another positioning strategy is as-

1. "Sears' New 5-year Plan: To Serve Middle America," Advertising Age, December 4, 1978.

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sociating the product with a use or application. Campbell's Soup for many years was positioned for use at lunch time and advertised extensively over noontime radio. The telephone company more recently has associated long distance calling with communicating with loved ones in their "reach out and touch someone" campaign. Industrial products often rely upon application associations.

Products can, of course" have multiple positioning strategies, although increasing the number involves obvious difficulties and risks. Often a positioning-by-use strategy represents a second or third position designed to expand the market. Thus, Gatorade, introduced as a summer beverage for athletes who need to replace body fluids, has attempted to develop a winter positioning strategy as the beverage to drink when the doctor recommends drinking plenty of fluids. Similarly, Quaker Oats has attempted to position a breakfast food product as a natural wholegrain ingredient for recipes. Arm & Hammer baking soda has successfully positioned their product as an odor-destroying agent in refrigerators.


Positioning by the Product User Another positioning approach is associating a product with a user or a class of users. Thus, many cosmetic compames have used a model or personality, such as Brut's Joe Namath, to pOSItIOn their product. Revlon's Charlie cosmetic line has been positioned by associating it with a specific lifestyle profile. Johnson & Johnson saw market share move from 3 percent to 14 percent when they repositioned their shampoo from a product used for babies to one used by people who wash their hair frequently and therefore need a mild shampoo.

In 1970, Miller High Life was the "champagne of bottled beers," was purchased by the upper class,

"The identification and selection of a positioning strategy

can draw upon a set of concepts and procedures that have been developed and refined over the last few years."


and had an image of being a woman's beer. Phillip Morris repositioning it as a beer for the heavy beer drinking, blue-collar working man. Miller's Lite beer, introduced in 1975, used convincing beer-drinking personalities to position itself as a beer for the heavy beer drinker who dislikes that filled-up feeling. In contrast, earlier efforts to introduce lowcalorie beers positioned with respect to the low-calorie attribute were dismal failures. One even claimed its beer had fewer calories than skim milk, and another featured a trim personality. Miller's positioning strategies are in part why its market share has grown from 3.4 percent in 1970 to 24.5 percent in 1979.2

Positioning with Respect to a Product Class

Some critical positioning decisions involve product-class associations. For example, Maxim freeze-dried coffee needed to position itselr with respect to regular and instant coffee. Some margarines position themselves with respect to butter. Dried milk makers came out with instant breakfast positioned as a breakfast substitute and a virtually identical product positioned as a dietary meal substitute. The hand soap "Caress" by Lever Brothers

2. "A-B, Miller Brews Continue to Barrel Ahead," Advertising Age, August 4, 1980: 4.

positioned itself as a bath oil product rather than a soap.

The soft drink 7-Up was for a long time positioned as a beverage with a "fresh clean taste" that was "thirst-quenching." However, research discovered that most people regarded 7-Up as a mix rather than a soft drink. The successful "uncola" campaign was then developed to position 7-Up as a soft drink, with a better taste than the "colas. "

Positioning with Respect to a Competitor

In most positioning strategies, an explicit or implicit frame of reference is the competition. There are two reasons for making the reference competitor(s) the dominant aspect of the positioning strategy. First, a well established competitor's image can be exploited to help communicate another image referenced to it. In giving directions to an address, for example, it's easier to say, it is next to the Bank of America building than it is to detail streets, distances, and turns. Second, sometimes it's not important how good customers think you are; it is just important that they believe you are better (or as good as) a given competitor.

Perhaps the most famous positioning strategy of this type was the Avis "We're number two, so we try harder" campaign. The strategy was to position Avis with Hertz as a

Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved

major car rental agency and away from National, which at the time was a close third to Avis.

Positioning explicitly with respect to a competitor can be an excellent way to create a position with respect to an attribute, especially the price/quality attribute pair. Thus, products difficult to evaluate, like liquor products, will often be compared with an established competitor to help the positioning task. For example, Sabroso, a coffee liqueur, positioned itself with the established brand, Kahlua, with respect to quality and also with respect to the type of liqueur.

Positioning with respect to a competitor can be aided by comparative advertising, advertising in which a competitor is explicitly named and compared on one or more attributes. Pontiac has used this approach to position some of their cars as being comparable in gas mileage and price to leading import cars. By comparing Pontiac to a competitor that has a welldefined economy image, like a Volkswagen Rabbit, and using factual information such as EPA gas ratings, the communication task becomes easier.

On Determining the Positioning Strategy

What should be our positioning strategy? The identification and selec-

Positioning Your Product

tion of a positioning strategy can draw upon a set of concepts and procedures that have been developed and refined over the last few years. The process of developing a positioning strategy Involves six steps:

1. Identify the competitors.

2. Determine how the competitors are perceived and evaluated.

3. Determine the competitors'


4. Analyze the customers.

5. Select the position.

6. Monitor the position.

In each of these steps one can employ marketing research techniques to provide needed information. Sometimes the marketing research approach provides a conceptualization that can be helpful even if the research is not conducted. Each of these steps will be discu ssed in turn.

Identify the C1mpetitors

This first step is not as simple as it might seem. Tab might define its competitors in a number of ways, including:

a. other diet cola drinks

b. all cola drinks

c. all soft drinks

d. nonalcoholic beverages

e. all beverages

A Triumph convertible might define its market in several ways:

a. two-passenger, low-priced, imported, sports car convertibles b. two-passenger, low-priced, im ported sports cars

c. two-passenger, low- or medium-priced, imported sports cars

d. low- or medium-priced sports cars

e. low- or medium-priced imported cars

In most cases, there will be a' primary group of competitors and one or more secondary competitors. Thus, Tab will compete primarily with other diet colas, but other colas and all soft drinks could be important as secondary competitors.

A knowledge of vanous ways

to identify such groupings will be of conceptual as well as practical value. One approach is to determine from product buyers which brands they considered. For example, a sample of Triumph convertible buyers could be asked what other cars they considered and perhaps what other showrooms they actually visited. A Tab buyer could be asked what brand would have purchased had Tab been out of stock. The resulting analysis will identify the primary and secondary groups of competitive products. Instead of customers, retailers or others knowledgeable about customers could provide the information.

Another approach is the development of associations of products with use situations." Twenty or so respondents might be asked to recall the use contexts for Tab. For each use context, such as an afternoon snack, respondents are then asked to identify all appropriate beverages. For each beverage so identified respondents are then asked to identify appropriate use contexts. This process would continue until a large list of use contexts and beverages resulted. Another respondent group would then be asked to make judgments as to how appropriate each beverage would be for each use situation. Groups of beverages could then be clustered based upon their similarity of appropriate use situations. If Tab was regarded as appropriate with snacks, then it would compete primarily with other beverages regarded as appropriate for snack occasions. The same approach would work with an industrial product such as computers, which might be used in several rather distinct applications.

The concepts of alternatives from which customers choose and appropriateness to a use context can provide a basis for identifyin~

Determine the Competitors'


competitors even when market research is not employed. A management team or a group of experts, such as retailers, could employ one or both of these conceptual bases to identify competitive groupings.

Determine How the Competitors are Perceived and Evaluated

The challenge is to identify those product aSSOCIatIOns used by buyers as they perceive and evaluate competitors. The product associations will include product attributes, product user groups, and use contexts. Even simple objects such as beer can evoke a host of physical atrributes like container, aftertaste, and price, and relevant associations like "appropriate for use while dining at a good restaurant" or "used by working men." The task is to identify a list of product aSSOCIatIOns, to remove redunduncies from the list, and then to select those that are most useful and relevant in describing brand



One research-based approach to product association list generation is to ask respondents to identify the two most similar brands from a

set of three competing brands and to describe why those two brands are similar and different from the

third. As a variant, respondents could be asked which of two brands is preferred and why. The result will be a rather long list of product associations, perhaps over a hundred. The next step is to remove redundancy from the list using logic and judgment or factor analysis. The final step is to identify the most relevant product associations by determining which is correlated highest with overall brand attitudes or by asking respondents to indicate which are the most important to them.


3. George S. Day, Alan D. Shocker, and Rajendra K. Srivasta, "Customer-Oriented Approaches to Identify Product Markets," Journal of Marketing, Fall 1979: 8-19.

The next step is to determine how competitors (including our own

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entry) are positioned with respect to the relevant product associations and with respect to each other. Although such judgments can be made subjectively, research-based approaches are available. Such research is termed multidimensional scaling because its goal is to scale objects on several dimensions (or product associations). Multidimensional scaling can be based upon either product associations data or similarities data.

Product-association-based multidimensional scaling. The most direct approach is simply to ask a sample of the target segment to scale the various objects on the product association dimensions. For example, the respondent could be asked to express his or her agreement or disagreement on a seven-point scale with statements regarding the Chevette:

"With respect to its class I

would consider the Chevette to be: sporty



good handling."

Alternatively, perceptions of a brand's users or use contexts could be obtained:

"I would expect the typical

Chevette owner to be: older

wealthy independent intelligent. "

"The Chevette IS most appro-

priate for:

short neighborhood trips commuting

cross country sightseeing."

In generating such measures there are several potential problems and considerations (in addition to generating a relevant product association list) of which one should be aware:

1. The validity of the task. Can a respondent actually position cars on a "sporty" dimension? There could be several problems. One, a possible unfamiliarity with one or more of the brands, can be handled

by asking the respondent to evaluate only familiar brands. Another is the respondent's ability to understand operationally what "sporty" means or how to evaluate a brand on this dimension.

2. Differences among respondents. Subgroups within the population could hold very different perceptions with respect to one or more of the objects. Such diffused images can have important strategic implications. The task of sharpening a diffused image is much different from the task of changing a very tight, established one.

3. Are the differences between objects significant and meaningful? If the differences are not statistically significant, then the sample size may be too small to make any managerial judgments. At the same time, a small difference of no practical consequence may be statistically significant if the sample size is large enough.

4. Which product associations are not only important but also serve to distinguish objects? Thus, airline safety may be an important attribute, but all airlines may be perceived to be equally safe.

Similarities-based multidimensional scaling. Product-association approaches have several conceptual disadvantages. A complete, valid, and relevant product association list is not easy to generate. Further, an object may be perceived or evaluated as a whole that is not really decomposable in terms of product associations. These disadvantages lead us to the use of non-attribute data-namely, similarity data.

Similarity measures simply reflect the perceived similarity of two objects. For example, respondents may be asked to rate the degree of similarity of assorted object pairs without a product association list which implicitly suggests criteria to be included or excluded. The result, when averaged over all respondents, is a similarity rating for each object

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pair. A multidimensional scaling program then attempts to locate objects in a two-, three- (or more if necessary) dimensional space termed a perceptual map. The program attempts to construct the perceptual map such that the two objects with the highest similarity are separated by the shortest distance, the object pair with the second highest similarity are separated by the second shortest distance, and so on. A disadvantage of the similarity-based approach is that the interpretation of the dimensions does not have the product associations as a guide.

Analyzing the Customers

A basic understanding of the customer and how the market is segmented will help in selecting a positioning strategy. How is the market segmented? What role does the product class play in the customer's lifestyle? What really motivates the customer? What habits and behavior patterns are relevant?

The segmentation question is, of course, critical. One of the most useful segmentation approaches is benefit segmentation which focuses upon the benefits or, more generally, the product associations that a segment believes to be important. The identity of important product associations can be done directly by asking customers to rate product associations as to their importance or by asking them to make trade-off judgments between product associations" or by asking them to conceptualize and profile "ideal brands." An ideal brand would be a combination of all the customer's preferred product aSSOCIatIOns. Customers are then grouped into segments defined by product associations considered important by customers. Thus, for toothpaste there could be a decay preventative seg-

4. Paul E. Green and Y oram Wind, "New Ways to Measure Consumers' Judgments," Harvard Business Review, July-August 1975: 107-115.

Positioning Your Product

"Positioning usually means

that an overt decision is being made

to concentrate only on certain segments. Such

an approach requires commitment and discipline because it's not easy to turn your back on potential buyers."

ment, a fresh breath segment, a price segment, and so on. The segment's relative size and commitment to the product association will be of interest.

It is often useful to go beyond product association lists to get a deeper understanding of consumer perceptions. A good illustration is the development of positioning objectives for Betty Crocker by the Needham, Harper & Steers advertising agency.5 They conducted research involving more than 3,000 women, and found that Betty Crocker was viewed as a company that is:

honest and dependable

friendly and concerned about consumers

a specialist in baked goods but

out of date, old, and traditional a manufacturer of "old standby" products

not particularly contemporary or innovative.

The conclusion was that the Betty Crocker Image needed to be strengthened and to become more modern and innovative and less old and stodgy.

To improve the Betty Crocker image, it was felt that an understanding was needed of the needs and lifestyle of today's women and how these relate to desserts. Thus, the research study was directed to

5. Keth Reinhard, "How We Make Advertising" (presented to the Federal Trade Commission, May 11, 1979): 22-25.

basic questions about desserts. Why are they served? Who serves them? The answers were illuminating. Dessert users tend to be busy, active mothers who are devoted to their families. The primary reasons for serving dessert tend to be psychological and revolve around the family.

Dessert is a way to show others you care.

Dessert preparation is viewed as an important duty of a good wife and mother.

Desserts are associated with and help to create happy family moments.

Clearly, family bonds, love, and good times are associated with desserts. As a result, the Betty Crocker positioning objective was to associate Betty Crocker uniquely with the positive aspects of today's families and their feelings about dessert. Contemporary, emotionally involving advertising was used to associate Betty Crocker with desserts that contribute to happy family moments.

Making the Positioning Decision The four steps or exercises just described should be conducted prior to making the actual positioning decision. The exercises can be done subjectively by the involved managers if necessary, although marketing research, if feasible and justifiable, will be more definitive. However, even with that

Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved


background, it is still not possible to generate a cookbook solution to the positioning questions. However, some guidelines or checkpoints can be offered.

1. Positioning usually implies a segmentation commitment. Positioning usually means that an overt decision is being made to concentrate only on certain segments. Such an approach requires commitment and discipline because it's not easy to turn your back on potential buyers. Yet, the effect of generating a distinct, meaningful position is to focus on the target segments and not be constrained by the reaction of other segments.

Sometimes the creation of a "diffuse image," an image that will mean different things to different people, is a way to attract a variety of diverse segments. Such an approach is risky and difficult to implement and usually would be used only by a large brand. The implementation could involve projecting a range of advantages while avoiding being identified with anyone. Alternatively, there could be a conscious effort to avoid associations which create positions. Pictures of bottles of Coca-Cola with the words "It's the real thing" superimposed on them, or Budweiser's claim that "Bud is the king of beers," illustrate such a strategy.

2 _ An economic analysis should guide the decision. The success of any positioning strategy basically


depends upon two factors: the potential market size x the penetration probability. Unless both of these factors are favorable, success will be unlikely. One implication of this simple structure is that a positioning strategy should attract a sizeable segment. If customers are to be attracted from other brands, those brands should have a worthwhile market share to begin with. If new buyers are to be attracted to the product class, a reasonable assessment should be made of the potential size of that growth area. The penetration probability indicates that there needs to be a competitive weakness to attack or a competitive advantage to exploit to generate a reasonable market penetration probability. Further, the highest payoff will often come from retaining existing customers, so this alternative should also be considered.

3. If the advertising is working, stick with it. An advertiser will often get tired of a positioning strategy and the advertising used to implement it and will consider making a change. However, the personality or image of a brand, like that of a person, evolves over many years, and the value of consistency through time cannot be overestimated. Some of the very successful, big-budget campaigns have run for ten, twenty, or even thirty years.

4. Don't try to be something you are not. It is temptmg but naive-and usually fatal-to decide

on a positioning strategy that ex- measurable. To evaluate the POSIploits a market need or oppor- tioning and to generate diagnostic tunity but assumes that your information about future posiproduct is something it is not. tioning strategies, it is necessary to Before positioning a product, it is monitor the position over time. A important to conduct blind taste variety of techniques can be emtests or in-home or in-office use ployed to make this measurement. tests to make sure that the product Hamburger Helper used a "percan deliver what it promises and sonality test," for example. How~hat is compatible with a proposed ever, usually one of the more Image. structured techniques of multi-

Consider Hamburger Helper, dimensional scaling is applied. successfully introduced in 1970 as an add-to-meat product that would generate a good-tasting, economical, skillet dinner." In the mid-1970s, sales suffered when homemakers switched to more exotic, expensive foods. An effort to react by repositioning Hamburger Helper as a base for casseroles failed because the product, at least in the consumers' mind, could not deliver. Consumers perceived it as an economical, reliable, convenience food and further felt that they did not need help in making casseroles. In a personality test, where women were asked to describe the product as if it were a person, the most prevalent characteristic ascribed to the product was "helpful." The result was a revised campaign to position the product as being "helpful."

Monitoring the Position

A positioning objective, like any marketing objective, should be

6. Reinhard: 29.

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A variety of positioning strategies is available to the advertiser. An object can be positioned:

1. by attributes-eg., Crest is a cavity fighter.

2. by price/quality-eg., Sears is a "value" store.

3. by competitor-eg., Avis positions itself with Hertz.

4. by application-eg., Gatorade is for flu attacks.

5. by product user-eg., Miller is for the blue-collar, heavy beer drinker.

6. by product class-eg., Carnation Instant Breakfast is a breakfast food.

The selection of a positioning strategy involves identifying competitors, relevant attributes, competitor positions, and market segments. Research based approaches can help in each of these steps by providing conceptualization even if the subjective judgments of managers are used to provide the actual input information to the positioning decision. 0

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