The idea that a brand needs to stand for something has been reflected over the years in such concepts as "unique selling proposition" and "brand image." Positioning as a distinct term, however, was given wide currency by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their 1981 book "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind."
Positioning can be accomplished in one of two ways. The first is to make the brand virtually synonymous with the product category, so that it is the brand that comes to mind when consumers think of the product. Examples include Xerox, Kleenex and Scotch tape. Often the brand that stands for the category is the sales and profit leader in that category. In many cases, such a position is gained by being the first brand to aggressively advertise and promote within the product category.
Once a particular brand becomes synonymous with the category itself, other brands need to compete differently. Hence, the second approach to positioning: Make the brand stand for a simple but meaningful concept. In automobiles, Volvo virtually owns the concept of "safety." In toothpaste, Close-Up stands for "sex appeal." Such positionings are established through years of consistent and single-minded advertising.
Effective positionings should be simple, meaningful and unique. Simple concepts such as "thickest ketchup" (Heinz), "easy to use" (Macintosh computers) and "tough off-road" (Jeep) are easier than more complex formulations for consumers to process and associate with the brand name.
Positioning must also be meaningful to the target audience. Positionings such as "comfortable jeans for women" (Lee jeans) and "inexpensive air travel" (Southwest Airlines) work well to the extent that these concepts strike a responsive chord with target customers.
Finally, an effective positioning should be unique within the product category. The positioning "reliable," for example, can be used in a number of product categories such as watches (Timex), appliances (Maytag) and automobiles (Honda). But within any single category, it is difficult for two brands to own the same concept in consumers' minds.
Advertising is the primary way in which a brand's positioning is established. A powerful and focused campaign can reposition a brand and bring it new life through a new image. Repositioning replaces one set of consumer expectations and associations with another. Pepsi-Cola was first positioned for its value starting in 1934: "Twice as much for a nickel." In the 1950s, it became a light and sociable drink. Since 1964, "the Pepsi Generation" has marked it as the beverage of youth.
While advertising is the primary tool for communicating a brand's positioning, other elements of the marketing strategy can reinforce the positioning decision. Promotion is an excellent opportunity for communicating brand positioning. For example, Virginia Slims strengthened its position as a woman's cigarette through its sponsorship of women's professional tennis and other sports.
Product design can also reinforce a brand's positioning. BMW automobiles' position as the epitome of "European driving performance" is reflected in the tagline, "The ultimate driving machine." The design of BMW automobiles embodies this positioning: near-perfect weight balance, rear-wheel drive, award-winning engines, available manual transmissions and the specially identified high-performance "M series."