Many companies think calling themselves a leader is tantamount to positioning. But being a leader does not necessarily connote value.
Marketing strategy involves branding - where everyone knows you - and positioning - where everyone wants you. Too often these two facets are lumped together.
Brand creation is an expensive, time consuming task, meant to generate an emotional response from the intended audience.
Commodity-type products with minimal difference compared to the competition are generally best served via branding.
Positioning could be argued to be brand's counterpart, requiring the demonstration of real value. It can be done in a much shorter timeframe (months, not years).
Positioning is that desirable place in the customer's mind where he not only recognizes the product but can also recite its attributes. For many industries and companies, it is the best strategy for improving sales and market share.
Some companies have achieved brand in a short time but have failed to stake out a defensible position.
Yahoo Inc. can argue it has all things Internet. But what is the value statement?
From what I can tell, Google has not concerned itself with "brand-ing." Its position is not necessarily to be an online store-front or auction or portal. Google is focusing on doing one thing and doing it well: be a top search engine.
Yahoo hosts auctions, but Ebay Inc. has top-of-mind consumer awareness in that category. Yahoo also has an online storefront, but Amazon is probably the first choice there, too.
And what about America Online? AOL is a portal and an Internet service provider. Many people who sign up for Internet service for the first time tend to check out AOL.
Yahoo claimed as its positioning mantra: "We want to be all things Internet." The Internet is evolving and when you are trying to do everything, it is difficult to do anything well.
For many high-technology companies, the customer is an engineer, a network administrator or at least someone proficient in computers and technology. Brand is irrelevant; value, articulated through positioning, is paramount.
We have a client that makes "semiconductors for metropolitan optical network equipment vendors." People know what the company makes (semiconductors, not software, not systems). They know who this company makes the semiconductors for (equipment vendors, not carriers, not end-users or even other semiconductor companies) in a particular segment of the overall Internet network (the metro area network, not the local area network).
While this probably does not mean anything to the average person, the average person is not a potential customer or partner. By describing itself in this way, the semiconductor company lets everyone know who its competition is.
Successful positioning, by definition, will identify who the target audiences are. This includes customers, of course, but also strategic partners and the financial community.
The best measure of successful positioning is sales, of course. But it is also the quality of inquiries by customers and partners.
Are the people calling you the people you want to do business with? Can the customer recite your product attributes and identify your competition? Are people talking about your company, accurately, even when you are not in the room?
Today's leader is tomorrow's follower. Useful positioning statements should describe who the company is and who it wants to be. This is true in good economic times and bad.