In an earlier post, I say that Microsoft doesn't need classic positioning because it's a virtual monopoly. To clarify this statement, let's define 'classic positioning' as the old domain of the ad agency. The JargonUniverse calls it Brand Positioning, or: "The distinctive position that a brand adopts in its competitive environment to ensure that individuals in its target market can tell the brand apart from others. Positioning involves the careful manipulation of every element of the marketing mix."
The goal here is, let's look at everyone else's advertising in the category and "stake out a position" in our advertising that promises something unique and different. We'll create a new tag line and develop some cool ads and "reposition the brand" in the customers' minds. That's classic positioning. If I can borrow a phrase from Tom Asacker, this is the part of positioning that's dated and dying. Advertising and a tag line alone cannot reposition a company in the customers' minds. In Microsoft's case, they can run just about any advertising they want; everyone knows them and everyone has a mental perception of them... good or bad, regardless of the advertising message.
Conversely, 'holistic positioning' is something Microsoft (and every company) should be doing. And that is gaining a much better understanding of customer perceptions of the company and (if necessary) changing the fundamental structure of the organization to better deliver on customers' wants and needs, both now and in the future.
JargonUniverse's definition of Brand Position (as opposed to Positioning) is: "The entire collection of thoughts a client has in his or her mind about a professional services firm, service or product learned through contact, experience and communication."
Now we're getting into the macro view of the brand position. It's holistic because there's an implicit recognition that customers, employees, channel partners, location, management and the actual product/service itself all interact to create the collection of thoughts -- or 'experience perception' -- in the customers' minds. There was a question in an earlier post on whether one can consciously manage the brand position. Absolutely. It's important to not only understand your position in customers' minds, but where you want to evolve that position (especially if it's undifferentiated or negative). It's just like personal branding; if I learn that you have a negative perception of me, I must change my behavior to shift your perception to a positive one. I can't tell you I'm different ("Hey, trust me!") I must prove it. And that's what 'managing your brand position' is all about. Operations. Customer service. Product development. Every customer touchpoint proving to the customer that he or she is valued, that the company can be trusted, that the customer can not only feel good about using the product but recommending it to others.
Positioning is hard work. It is not the domain of an ad agency or a marketing department. It is aligning the corporate mission and structure to one that best supports customers, connects with them, and creates customer evangelists.