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October 19, 2004

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Mark DiMassimo

Positioning is one of the most useful concepts in marketing, but it tends to take on a religious, dogmatic tone that obsures it's limitations.

The game begins with looking backward, stripping the past of its complexity, and then explaining the results in tautologies. For example, "Nothing in marketing works better than dominating a market." Thanks, we'll try that.

"Red Bull was the first energy drink. Starbucks, the first high-end coffee shop. BlackBerry, the first wireless email." If they mean first in the marketplace, then these statements are false. Of course, they don't mean that. They mean first in "the mind of the consumer." But, which consumer? Again, I find the concept very helpful, but it has it's limitations. Most top marketers, including all of those listed above, did not dominate their category starting from a position of category dominance. Nor did they have unlimited funding. Nor a lack of competition. I would argue that none of these brands were first into the minds of most consumers with their new category concept, but rather earned their dominant position by out-executing their competitors -- yes, their competitors for a position in the mind, as well as for a footprint in the marketplace. I know how many companies were out there trying to own the positioning "energy drink" for example. Positioning isn't sufficient to explain how Red Bull, Starbucks or Blackberry out-marketed all those rivals and came to own their position as leader of their respective categories.

The world of brand marketing is not nearly so neat as the Positionistas paint it. On the other hand it could be a lot neater than the mess too many marketers make of it.

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