Staking a New Position

2010 will be a year of repositioning for many companies.

While a lot of attention has been paid to the "transformation" of public relations, particularly in light of the rapid evolution of digital communication, the view from the trenches is more basic.  The PR and marketing operations at most companies have been coping with smaller budgets and staffs for the past year and a half.  Meanwhile, demand created by the recession -- to communicate layoffs and compensation changes, financial restructuring, plant closures, the abandonment of markets and the sale or discontinuation of product lines -- has added to the workload. 

What's been sacrificed?  For most companies, it's been those things that are new or not deemed essential.  That includes not just basic tools but also the messaging at their foundation -- companies have delayed everything from redesigning Web sites to updating marketing campaigns.  Meanwhile, customers, their needs and the things they value have changed. 

As leaders prepare to invest in growth again, many are realizing that the positioning platforms that served them at the beginning of 2008 have lost power since then.  Hence 2010: the year of repositioning.

If you're thinking of rebranding, refreshing your value proposition or revising your tagline, your essential goal -- no matter how you do it -- should be to identify a position that is both highly relevant and highly credible.  It should be built on a description that leverages the strengths the marketplace believes you have and that are critical to the decision-making process you want to affect. (That marketplace, by the way, could be customers, employees, investors or another critical group.)

Create a graph with "relevance" as the vertical axis and "credibility" as the horizontal axis, each going from low to high -- the northeastern corner being high relevance and high credibility.  The highest-relevance items are essentially the answers customers give when asked, "What are the characteristics that most influence your choice of this type of product/service?"  The highest-credibility items are the characteristics that customers believe you have more of than your competitors.

Plot both sets of characteristics -- those that drive customer decisions and those that represent your competitive assets -- on that graph.  If you're very lucky, you may find a silver bullet -- one characteristic that sits firmly in the upper-right-hand corner where credibility and relevance are both high.  That's the factor you should build your positioning on.  For example, if price is the single greatest decision-making factor and your customers believe your greatest asset is that you're the cheapest alternative, your positioning efforts should leverage that asset.  That's where Walmart lives.  

For most companies, the challenge is more a matter of creatively marrying recognized strengths and relevant characteristics.  In other words, how can you help reinterpret or extend a credible asset so that it becomes more relevant?  Target does it by adding a design flair to low cost -- two influential characteristics which, when combined, it can lead. combines price and convenience -- it's easy to use and offers everything at fair value.  An even better example comes from the automotive world.  BMW marries vaunted German engineering and its focus on the driving experience -- and the reputation for engineering helps validate the differentiated driving experience.

As a final test on whether you've found the right positioning, ask your employees and customers.  If they believe it and are excited by it, you've probably hit the mark.

If you'd like to learn more about this subject, please contact Scott Chaikin at 216-241-4615 or

Scott's Blog: Communication Matters

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