The positioning ladder is as ubiquitous to marketing as the 4 Ps. (Remember those?) It’s a conceptual way to evaluate your messaging — and thus your relative competitive advantage.
Every new product or service starts at the bottom. When you’re first to market, you enjoy an automatic competitive advantage — there’s no one to compete against. But as your space becomes more crowded with “me toos,” you must keep pushing your messaging up the ladder to maintain that competitive edge.
Think of the best-known brands in the world. Apple. IBM. UPS. Nike. Nike wasn’t the first to offer cushioned athletic shoes, but to stand out among 50 other shoe-makers, they had to push their messaging up the ladder beyond features and benefits (Impact-resistant mid soles! Breathable side panels!) and to an emotional level that they (and only they) could own.
People buy Nikes because Nikes are designed for people who take their sport seriously. Because “Just do it” empowers them. That’s emotionally compelling. No competitor can touch it.
That’s not to say that the emotional rung of the ladder is right for your offering right now. What matters is where you are relative to the competitors in your space. If everyone else is talking about features, you need to talk about how your features offer customers a tangible benefit. If the competition is promoting the value their offering brings customers, you need to connect yours with an emotional appeal.
Regardless of where you stand on the ladder, you should be constantly evaluating your position to ensure it’s not only strong, but truly differentiated. If you can answer “no” or, “I’m not sure…” to any of these four tests, it might be time to re-evaluate.
1. Is it believable?
Can you deliver on the promise you’re making? There’s a lesson to be had in authenticity here. You can run the slickest ad campaign in the world, but if your customer receives a faulty product and can’t get a call back from customer service, your credibility is shot.
2. Is it relevant?
Do your customers care? If you’re good at something but it doesn’t matter to your customers, it’s irrelevant. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about your customers.
3. Is it unique?
Even if competitors can offer the same benefit, if you’re the only one talking about it, it’s unique. Especially if you can translate that benefit into emotional value. FedEx is one of many companies that ships packages. But their “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” position was the first to offer reassurance (and lead you to doubt your other shipping vendor).
4. Is it defendable?
The more narrow your position, the less vulnerable it is to competitive attack. But you must defend your position with sufficient marketing resources. If the guy down the street says the same thing, only louder and more often, your territory is in jeopardy.
If you answered these four questions with a resounding “Yes!” your competitive stake is in the ground. To keep it there, your communications must consistently support and reinforce your position. Staying ahead of the competition requires an investment — in planning, time and resources.
How do you fend off competitive threats in your business? Tell us in the comments below.