Is Your Positioning ABLE?

March 13, 2015


Many brands position is by chance. Or at best arrived at looking through their own filters rather than their customer's. The principle at work here is that success is most predicated on choosing the right position. All other strategic issues pale in importance. Choose the right position and it is hard to mess up execution enough to not have a measure of financial success. Choose the wrong position and even exceptionally superior effort may not yield much of a benefit.

There is no universally right position for everyone or every business. Just as certain physical builds lead one to be better at certain sports (such as tallness and basketball), individual business characteristics will help dictate which position is right for your particular situation. But the one common element is every good positioning statement is written from your customer's point of view. It is the only point of view that matters. To help find out whether a position is right for you, I suggest asking yourself the following eight questions.

1) Is the position DESIREABLE to our primary audience?

At the end of the day, a successful position needs customers who desire someone holding that position. In short, do people want what you are trying to sell? Sure, people desire cars, but if you pick a position like Yugo (cars so cheap that they are unreliable and unsafe) you have chosen an undesirable position within the automobile industry. Make sure there is a market for what you want to stand for (sounds obvious, but this rule is broken quite frequently).

2) Is the position SIZEABLE?

To make a profit, you need enough sales to cover all your costs plus a little bit more. You may have found a position that several people find very desirable, but if there are not enough of them, you will fail. Going back to the sports analogy, the profits come from ticket sales and TV revenues. If not enough people desire your sport, you will not get enough ticket sales or TV revenues to make a profit. Therefore, make sure you have chosen a position that is desired by enough people (big enough size) to make the business model work

3) Is the position OWNABLE?

Often times, positions which are highly desirable by large numbers of people are already taken. For example, being known for “selling everyday essentials for the lowest prices” is a great position. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart already owns the position. I doubt you would be able to take that position away from them. You will lose and they will win.

Position ownership takes place in the mind of the consumers. Once they conclude that a position is strongly owned by someone else, it is nearly impossible to get them to change their minds. It is a losing battle.
The better approach is to create a position (desirable, sizable) which is not already taken. Then,
you have the potential to own that position. Don’t follow the leader and copy their position. Then you will just be inferior at what the leader does. Instead, find a desirable point of differentiation. A place you can call your own.

4) Is the position PREFERABLE?

The most frequent question I ask when critiquing positions is this: Why should a customer prefer your position versus what the competition is offering? People may like your position, but if they like the competitor’s position more, you’ve lost. For at least some sizable segment of the population, your position needs to be their favorite position.
Decisions are not made in a vacuum. Your position is being compared by consumers to other options. People make trade-offs and chose the position that most closely matches their preferred trade-off. Choose your position in light of the alternatives.

5) Is the position ACHIEVABLE?

Just because a position looks great on paper (desirable, sizable, ownable, preferable) does not mean that you will be able to pull it off in reality. For example, I may want to have the position of selling an automobile which is not only the best quality sports car in the world, but the lowest priced automobile in the world. Since it is probably impossible to achieve such a position, it is not very useful.

It’s okay to aim high with your positioning goals, but don’t aim for the impossible.

6) Is the position BELIEVABLE?

Even if you could make the best quality sports car and sell it as the lowest priced automobile, customers might have trouble believing your claims. Any car priced that low could not possibly have that much quality, they would say, so they would not buy it. This is similar to the problem Wal-Mart faces whenever they try to get a piece of the higher-end quality/fashion apparel business. People do not believe that Wal-Mart’s apparel will have a high fashion image, no matter what they do.

7) Is the position UNDERSTANDABLE?

The key here is simplicity. If you cannot explain your position in just a few words, then the customer will give up on trying understanding it. I knew someone who worked on one of the final positioning attempts for the now-defunct Montgomery Ward department store. It took several paragraphs of gobbledy-gook to try to explain how it fit into the marketplace. No consumer would ever be able to figure out that position. It didn’t stand a chance. All successful positioning shares the idea of simplicity

8) Is the position PROFITABLE?

In the end, this is capitalism. We want to get a financial return on investment. Pick a position where winning will bring in lots of cash. How much are people willing to pay to get what you are trying to offer? During the dotcom boom, a lot of positions seemed to neglect this question.


Achieving a winning position takes more than just working hard. One has to work hard on the right choice of position. That right position must be one which is, IN THE EYES OF YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMER: desirable, sizable, ownable, preferable, achievable, believable, understandable, and profitable 

Robert H. Lane

A seasoned business executive, Bob brings many years of C level management with world-class companies such as GE, NORTEL, Commodore Computers and Acklands. After a successful career, Bob has elected... »


Derek A. Lackey

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Robert H. Lane

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