Simplicity Keeps Your Firm Fresh in Consumers' Minds

One of the most powerful, yet most frequently misunderstood, concepts in marketing today is the idea of establishing a position for your business. "I want to be the leading high-end kitchen firm known for my great design and service that attracts only the most sophisticated clientele… but not so high-end that I can't get some mid-priced jobs, too. And, of course, we'll do baths and closets." That's not a position – it's wishful (and wishy-washy) thinking.

In their marketing classic, Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout explain that, whereas positioning may start with a product or service, positioning is not what you do to that product or service. It's all about how you affect the perceptions of your consumer prospects. You "secure a worthwhile position in the prospect's mind."

Why is positioning becoming increasingly important? In our over-communicated world, consumer prospects are bombarded with information. "The objective of positioning is to… break through the increasing clutter, and stand out in the prospect's mind," the authors explain.

There are numerous advantages to staking out a position in your market. When you are "top of mind" among consumer prospects thinking about a kitchen or bath, you have what the authors call a "going-in preference."

A strong position works hand-in-glove with word of mouth. "… Reputation… creates word of mouth… but proper positioning can enhance the word of mouth and contribute to the process. In essence, the positioning supplies the material to talk about," Trout and Ries explain.

Well-positioned companies attract the best employees. A strong position sets the direction for all activities in an organization and can positively affect the attitudes of employees, as well.

While much of the authors' work focuses on major consumer products (cars, pharmaceuticals) that have a high awareness among consumers, there are still important points in the book that are relevant to smaller companies.

The authors point out that consumers generally can only remember two or three brands in a low-impact category such as ours (as opposed to approximately seven brands for a high-impact category). This is good news, because there's less competition for your position in a consumer's mind.

Establishing Your Position

So how do you go about positioning? The first step is to try to understand your consumers'/prospects' perceptions of your business. Try to be objective as you listen to what consumers tell you, even if they aren't "right." For example, if your prospects consider you to be the "most expensive" kitchen place in the market, yet you know the guy down the street is always 10% higher, that "expensive" perception still needs to be considered as you develop your positioning. It's "reality" in the mind of the prospect, and it can't be ignored.

You must also try to understand how your prospects view the competition. You might think you don't compete with, say, Expo, because you never lose a job to it. But if it is the place your prospects think of first, then you do compete with them for share of mind.

What you may find is that consumer prospects in your market have no perceptions of, or very low awareness of, any kitchen or bath firms. In that case, you have a golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to claim the position of being first in their minds. The number-one position is wide open and you should go for it, immediately. It will cost you money to establish your position, but it's worth it.

Why? "History shows that the first brand into the brain, on the average, gets twice the long-term market share of the No. 2 brand," the authors point out. "In a mental battle the odds favor the first person, the first product… to get into the mind of the prospect. It's the most powerful place to be."

When you're first, you almost become synonymous with the category. Think of Corian, Jacuzzi, Pergo.

There are other viable positions. You find them by looking for what Trout and Ries call the "hole" or "window" in the consumer's mind.

It's best to select a position you can "own," the authors advise. By that they mean a position no one else has.

You can always reposition a competitor, say Trout and Ries. If the competitor is a big chain, then you could position yourself as the friendly intimate "anti-chain." If the competitor is a newcomer, you might position yourself as the established "old-timer" in the neighborhood. If you are new in a market, you could position yourself against the "staid old-timer." Each position works because it ties into a perception the consumer already has, and then takes it one step farther.

Positioning means carving out a specific niche, at least when it comes to telling your story. You can't be the "high priced, but not too high priced, kitchen and bath and sometime libraries and closets company."

The essence of positioning is giving up something, assert the authors. You can't be all things to all people and still have a powerful position.

Communicating Your Message

Then you must communicate that position, and only that position.

"… Your job is really not a communication project… it's a selection project. You have to select the material that has the best chance of getting through," the authors explain.

Thus, when you are creating an ad, a brochure or a Web site, you have to move away from the mentality that says, "I'm spending all this money so I can't afford to leave anything out. I've got to tell them everything I do."

In fact, it's just the opposite. You'll waste your money if you try to communicate too much at once. You'll confuse people. Tell the rest of the story later, after the consumer prospect/client is already working with you.

Keep the message simple and don't get creative for creativity's sake. "Creative people often resist positioning because they believe it restricts their creativity. And it does. Creativity by itself is worthless. Only when it is subordinated to the positioning objective can creativity make a contribution," Trout and Ries write.

"Some business managers believe the role of an advertising agency is to wave a magic wand [that] causes prospects to immediately rush out and buy the product… Objectivity is the key ingredient supplied by the agency [not creativity]," the authors add.

Finally, stick to your position. "A successful positioning program requires a major long-term commitment by the people in charge. Your problem is not just one of developing a good strategy. Equally important is the courage you will need to keep hammering at the same theme, year after year," they conclude.