Cheaper, Better, Different

Last year I did an in-depth marketing analysis for a brand that was part of a portfolio of product lines.  As I got into the data dig, it was clear that the usual culprits: pricing, distribution and promotion were not at fault.  Instead, it was a combination of product and positioning that were causing this brand to fail.

To illustrate the point to company management, I decided that a typical quadrant graphic of purchase drivers, product benefits or the traditional Boston Consulting Group portfolio analysis of “stars” and “cash cows”  wasn’t the right visual.  Instead, I developed a triangle of positioning platforms to show the basic choices a consumer is making today when comparing products.  The three points of the triangle represented: Cheaper, Better, Different.

1. Cheaper  This is the Walmart positioning that has made the company the largest retailer in the world.  By providing mostly commodity items at rock-bottom prices, the company makes loyalists of consumers who are always looking for the best deal, and know that they can find it consistently at a Walmart location.  To maintain this position, a company has to continue to squeeze costs out of their products or operations–sometimes cheapening the offering or making enemies of their now-battered suppliers.

2. Better    Usually the first mover in a category is the innovator and stays the category leader because they’ve had a head start and now have the time to keep reinventing their products or turn their attention to marketing their brand more widely, continuing to capture a larger share of customers or a larger share of customer requirements in the category.  Harken back to the days of car rental wars when Avis was the #2 brand, and their tagline was “We Try Harder.” The second, third and fourth brands in a category continue to chase the leader and try and provide a better product or service than the gold standard in the consumer’s mind.

3. Different   This is the hardest positioning to achieve, yet the strongest.  Think of Apple products.  Their emphasis isn’t on a better ipod–they’re innovating with every major launch with new and different products that most of us don’t even know we need until they appear.  Whole Foods is a middleman in supplying the market with organic and natural products.  We shop there because we know they’ve vetted every product and stock only the best 1-2 brands in a category, with a price option of their 365 private label offerings to round out the choices. 

4. None of the Above  What if a brand isn’t the cheapest, isn’t the best or isn’t different?  Then it falls into the central part of the triangle:  the “Bermuda Triangle,” together with the generic brands and private label products.  They are the “back-up” purchase in case the first or second choices are out-of-stock.

Which part of the triangle do you want your products or services to occupy?  Are your marketing efforts in alignment with this positioning?

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