Think of positioning
as the perception your target audience has of your product. You have
total control over this element of your marketing efforts, and it is
critical to how you develop the rest of your plan. Planning your
product's positioning must involve taking into consideration such
issues as the competition and how its products are perceived, the needs
and desires of your target audience, and the element of mystique or
drama that your product or service naturally has about it.
In crowded markets, it is very important to position your
product appropriately. Think about the advertising messages your
audience is bombarded with every day. In order to stand out, your
product has to have a clear position in your audience's mind. But how
do you come up with the positioning for your product?
First, you have to determine a broad positioning. This
means determining if your product should fall into a niche, be a
low-cost leader, or a product differentiator. These are each very
different strategy highways, and will take you in different directions
when fine-tuning your message. Think of the qualities of your product,
its strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities you've uncovered, the
pricing you've considered, and your target market to determine which
broad position you will take.
Next, you will have to determine specific positioning.
This could be based on a certain quality or benefit of your product,
such as ease of use, durability, reliability, safety, convenience, etc.
In some cases, you may even be able to position your product based on
two qualities. For example, think of Volvo. Safety and durability are Volvo's primary and secondary positions.
Begin narrowing down your positioning by answering questions such as:
- What opinions does your audience already have, and how can you tie your product into them?
- What are your target audience's needs and desires?
- Is there a hole your product can fill by targeted positioning?
- Are there certain company attributes you can build on, such as experience, or being the first in the business?
- What are the greatest benefits of the product and how can you capitalize on them?
- Is there a specific use or application that your product fits particularly well?
- Is your target audience identified independently enough to create a position based on their uniqueness?
- Can you springboard a positioning idea from your competitor's positioning?
- Can you base the position on quality or pricing strategies?
- Can you position the product based on opportunities you've discovered in your research?
It may help to chart these issues out to compare and narrow your
options for positioning. By doing this, you can also incorporate
importance levels to some of the issues you bring up. For example, if
you list the needs and desires of your target market, it might be
helpful to rank those according to importance to your target audience.
If you list the strengths and weaknesses of your product, it may also
be helpful to put those in order from greatest to smallest.
Once you have determined your product's positioning, go through these questions to further refine it:
- How can you simplify the message so it gets through? - Remember, more is often less.)
- Does the name of your product fit with its positioning? - Your
product's name is an important part of your positioning strategy. If it
doesn't fit, you're going to have a much harder battle.
- Is the position believable?
- Is the position one that your target audience will care about and notice?
- Is the position too broad or too narrow?
- Is the position clear and understandable?
Your product's position, along with your pricing and distribution channels, will also determine its value position.
The value position is basically the product's perceived ranking of
either high-quality/high-cost, average-quality/average-cost,
low-quality/low-cost, or even average-quality/low-cost or
higher-quality/lower-cost. What you are trying to get across to your
target audience is the value/cost relationship of your product as it
relates to the user.
See our Positioning Worksheet and other marketing worksheets on the
Marketing Tools page. Now, let's move into the four Ps we mentioned
Marketing Mix Strategy
mentioned earlier, your marketing mix is the combination of elements
that make up the entire marketing process. It requires the right
combination, however, so be careful when putting it together. Let's go
over the Ps you need to address in your strategy section.
The first P is product.
You may be thinking, "Haven't we talked about the product enough
already? Geez!" Yes, we have talked about the product and its strengths
and weaknesses, but as part of your strategy you also need to think
about elements of the product that can be strategic to its success,
such as its packaging and warranty. These elements help create the
value the customer sees in the product. So, let's talk about packaging
and its importance as far as your strategy goes.
The main thing to
remember about your packaging is that it communicates to the person
buying it right up until they make the decision to plunk down their
money and take it home. If it's sitting on a shelf with eight similar
products, it can't just look nice, it has to scream its message out in
order to get noticed. Your packaging should be noticeable within three
seconds in a store-shelf situation. But can packaging really make a
difference in your strategy? Of course it can. Think about the
convenience factor as well. Remember Pringles? Think about the products
you buy that are well-protected by their packaging and are convenient
to use because of the packaging. You just might buy them again because
you like their convenience. Also, don't forget to consider your
competitor's packaging. How can you make yours better?
The same goes for
warranties. Particularly if yours is a new product, make sure you give
buyers some level of comfort that if the product doesn't do what they
thought, they can easily get their money back. The key here is easily. Make sure they know just how easy it will be if they are unhappy with the product. Think about Land's End
clothing company's policy: You can wash and wear, wash and wear, wash
and wear, and then decide you don't like the shirt or something about
it isn't quite right and send it back for a quick and complete refund.
The return authorization slip is right there in the box. It doesn't get
much easier than that.
So in this section of your marketing plan, describe the
strategic use of your product's packaging, warranties, and whatever
else you come up with. Explain the benefit you expect to see from it
and how it relates to the overall success of the marketing program.
The next P is price.
How do you know
how to price your product or service? Your product's price often
communicates as much to the consumer as its advertising. People
perceive a product's value based on its price in many situations -- it
depends on what your product is and who your market is.
Here is an example: An established restaurant that had just
started getting fresh seafood daily from the coast (which was about a
four-hour drive away) and was charging eight dollars for a typical
seafood dinner entree. They couldn't sell it at all. Rather than lower
the price or drop it from their menu, they decided to raise the price
to $12.95. The fish sold like crazy. The moral of the story is that
people are leery of cheap seafood.
The moral for you is: Be wary of super low pricing. Your
customers are looking for value, not the cheapest product they can
find. Price your product strategically by looking at:
- The competition (or lack of it) your product faces - If your
product is one of a kind, particularly if it's in the technology field,
then higher initial prices may be more palatable to consumers (and even
- The sensitivity (or insensitivity) of your customers to pricing for your type of product (as in the case of airlines)
- The price elasticity (the lower the price the more you sell
and vice versa) - Keep in mind what you have to sell in order to make a
profit, and then chart out the variations in prices and quantities to
sell in order to pinpoint the right one.
- The value of the product as it relates to the value of the
price - People may pay more for a similar product if they think they
will get more out of it.
- The positioning you've established for your product
Write the pricing strategy section of your marketing plan and back
up your pricing decisions with current data about competitors' prices,
price surveys, etc.
The third P stands for place,
although it's really referring to distribution. I guess you can think
of it as the "place" of purchase. The strategy behind how you sell and
distribute your product is a very important element of your marketing
mix. Do you want your product to be available everywhere? If you do the
math, that could be a very lucrative strategy. Or, do you want to
create demand for it because it's exclusive and hard to find, requiring
the right connections or even traveling to large cities? (The latter
would also allow for higher pricing, by the way.)
Just like with pricing, the places where your product is
available say a lot about both the quality and "status" of the product.
Your channels of distribution must match the image goals of your
product. In other words, if you're selling hand-made exotic wood
picture frames with luxurious cloth matting, you probably don't want to
go to Wal-Mart to sell them. You would use the high-quality,
luxury-item image and sell them in an exclusive boutique or other shop.
On the other hand, if your product is a mid-line car-care product, then
Wal-Mart would be perfect.
Here are some things to remember when planning your distribution strategy:
- Match your product's "image" with that of the distribution channel and with your customers' perception of your product.
- Stay on top of changes in the market that should also make you change your distribution strategy.
- Make sure your product can get the attention it needs in your
chosen channel -- both from the sales staff (are they knowledgeable?)
and from a shelf-space standpoint (how many competing products does the
distributor also carry?).
The fourth and final P is promotion.
This is the communications strategy of your plan. Here you'll plan not
only the message you want to use, but also the tools you'll use to
spread it to the world. Your promotion section should actually have six
- public relations and publicity
- direct marketing
- promotions and events
- product/company marketing materials
- premium items
- sales force
Basically, it should cover every communication mode that would
appeal to your target market and help drive them to not only be aware
of, but also to act on your offer. This would also include other things
like client/customer newsletters, a company Web site, etc. It is in
this section of your plan that you should make certain you are
following an Integrated Marketing Communications
plan. This means that each of these tools must follow the same rules
and spread the same message. Having separate PR groups and promotions
groups and sales groups makes the job very difficult unless you make
sure they are all in agreement about what you are saying and how you
are saying it.
Your task now is to
translate all of your objectives into a specific advertising message to
meet your goals. Your advertising strategy (aka creative strategy) will
need to address not only the awareness-building requirements of your
plan, but also attitudes and actions you want to provoke in your
audience. Set your advertising strategies to portray exactly what you
are going to communicate in your message. This should be based on the
positioning you've established and should be tested and refined until
it says exactly what you need it to say. It has to portray your product
in the right light and bring to mind the right image.
For this section of your marketing plan, clearly describe the creative strategy. Include the following:
- Advertising promise - The promise you are making to your audience in your advertising
- Support for the promise - Bulleted statements that support your claims
- Advertising tone - The emotional images conjured by your message that are appropriate for both the product and your audience
- Rationale - Statements referring back to your product/market research that back up your creative strategies
The actual finished creative effort typically comes after (or else
during) this exercise and should be detailed in your product's
You will also need to identify which types of media you will be
using to carry your message. This is referred to as your Media Plan
(another separate document) and can include magazines, newspapers,
billboards, Web banners, radio spots, TV spots, sponsored TV and radio
programs, product packaging and inserts, movie trailers, posters and
flyers, directory listings, and in-store displays.
When writing this advertising section of your marketing plan,
keep your strategies clear and focused on what you are trying to
achieve. For example, if you know you are introducing a new product in
nine months, then one strategy could be to announce the product with a
series of ads in a trade publication. Tie in your display advertising
strategies with your other media strategies to form a cohesive chain of
communication to your target audience.
We'll go over reach and frequency, impression rates, and how to
select specific media vehicles within each category on the next page of
Public Relations and Publicity
relations can be a very powerful tool in your marketing belt. Often,
however, it is an afterthought, while it should actually be one the
first things you tackle as you develop and bring to market a new
product or service. Begin planting your PR seeds early in the game.
The mantra of your public relations staff should be the Integrated Marketing Communications
idea. Their most important function is to ensure that everything the
press sees or hears is controlled and is consistent with the image
plan. It is therefore recommended that only your PR people actually
communicate with the press. This includes all areas of PR, such as
corporate announcements, defensive PR, and marketing PR.
PR won't just happen. You have to work at it, plan it, and
execute the plan. There is a whole set of tools for public relations
and publicity, just as there is for advertising. These include:
- news releases
- feature stories and interviews
- opinion pieces
- speeches or appearances at seminars, conventions, etc.
- local, regional or national talk shows and other programs
- online chats and forums
- community involvement
- lobbying activities
- social responsibility activities
There are two elements to a PR plan:
- What you want to communicate
- A hook to make it newsworthy and interesting
Use this section of your marketing plan to determine those two
pieces of information. Here are some strategy ideas for types of
information to communicate to the press:
- Prior to your product release, submit sneak previews to the press.
- Find a good spokesperson to help promote your product.
- Find the right angle for your press release.
- Include both trade press and consumer press.
- Build the excitement (hype-up) in your story by finding a new twist on the information.
- Offer co-sponsorships for media to events you are planning.
- Create your own scheduled media blitz.
- Schedule press releases so that various media sources publish
information that builds on itself and progressively includes new
tidbits of information.
- Build your newsworthy info on one of the product's benefits used in its positioning.
- Develop an interesting and fun idea centered around your product's release or upgrade.
Write out your PR strategies for your marketing plan and include
specifics. Remember, this section will act as the guide for scheduling,
which we'll cover next.
marketing, or database marketing, is growing exponentially with the
emphasis on very tightly targeted efforts. The growth in e-mail and
Internet use, along with the general upward trend in all media
subscriptions, is making it an easier and more profitable way to market
your product than it was in the past days of mass mailings.
With a database (either a purchased one or your own customer
database) of names and very specific demographic information, you can
select specific subsets of groups very easily and send very targeted
messages about your product or service. By more finely targeting your
marketing efforts, you'll also improve your response rates simply
because you can come closer to reaching the exact profile of your best
You'll also need to think about the purposes of your direct marketing efforts. Here are some examples uses of direct marketing:
- Generating inquiries
- Opening doors
- Building traffic (for your store, Web site, trade show, etc.)
- Generating awareness (for new product introductions, etc.)
- Fund raising
- Selling products (mail order)
Make sure you've determined the purpose of your direct mail prior to
selecting the specific tool, because some tools are inherently better
for certain purposes.
Your direct marketing options include:
- USPS direct mail
- Mailing packages that include a letter, brochure, and response card
- Post cards (used as inexpensive reminders)
- Mailed premium items and other types of gifts
- Opt-in e-mail campaigns (aka permission marketing) - Make sure your clients are requesting your e-mails, otherwise it's spam.
- Fax campaigns - Remember, you can only fax to existing customers. Faxing to non-customers is actually illegal.
Here are some tips to improve your direct marketing efforts:
- Test your lists. Try a test mailing of 500 or less to determine the
quality of the list prior to sending out your larger scheduled mailing.
- Test your mailer design. Divide your mailing into groups that
each get a slightly different design, and track the results. You may be
surprised at how much better some designs and color combinations do
than others. This is particularly valuable if your marketing schedule
includes a lot of direct mail projects.
- Supplement your large, expensive catalog mailing with more
frequent and inexpensive post card mailings. This will reinforce your
message so you get more mileage out of the catalog and better ROI
(return on investment).
- Include an easy-to-understand and prominent response card.
- Include a deadline for action so your recipient will be encouraged to respond quickly rather than wait and think about it.
- Include an incentive for action. This could include an early
bird discount, a free copy of some publication, or a free trial offer
Detail your direct marketing strategies as they relate to your
overall marketing mix. For example, you may be planning a PR blitz that
is to be followed by an ad in a prominent publication that is then to
be followed by a direct mail piece that requests some action, such as a
request for a sales representative to call, or even the option to
purchase the product.
Promotions and Events
your advertising efforts primarily affect the opinions of your target
audience and don't always create an immediate action (at least not
initially), you also need to plan special promotions that will
encourage quick action. A promotion, as opposed to advertising, is
based on incentives to act, such as a two-for-one sale, a price
discount, or a free gift with purchase. Promotions are useful for
encouraging potential customers to try your product and hopefully
increase your base of loyal customers.
Here are some examples of promotion types used by marketers today:
- Price discounts/sales
- On-pack or in-pack discounts - or even near-pack discounts (from point-of-purchase displays)
- Premium items - either in the package or sent by mail
It is important to watch the promotions your competition offers, but
be careful about always reacting with a similar promotion. It is easy
to lose market share if you overuse promotions. Customers begin to buy
only when your product is on sale. A better strategy is to
competitively price your product in the first place, and then use some
of the money you would have spent on promotions to improve your
products or increase your advertising instead. If your product is
better, and you've advertised this, then the customer may have more
inclination to buy your product even though the competition's is
cheaper... I mean, less expensive.
Sales promotion does have a place in your marketing efforts. Just remember to avoid the loser promotions. These include:
- Doing the same promotion more than twice - For some reason, the
magic number is two (for promotions that worked the first time,
- Boring promotions - People will snooze through contests that
don't seem to fit the positioning of the product. If there's no
connection, typically they won't work.
- Premium offers - "Send three proofs-of-purchase and $3.99 for
shipping and handling to get this great coupon organizer!" Overused and
usually disappointing to the consumer.
- Overpromising odds of winning - Don't make consumers think they're going to win every time they open a soda.
Just like everything else in your marketing mix, your promotions
have to stay on target with your objective and your marketing message
or position. To put together promotions that work, you should keep that
in mind and put on your "customer" hat. What would get you excited
about a product or service? What would be fun and give you the feeling
that you really have a chance to win? What could you win that would
make you think more highly of the product being promoted? What is your
most desirable prize?
Once you've brainstormed some ideas, make sure you make it
simple to register, provide good odds, and have a unique idea that is
of great interest to your market.
If you're planning
special events as a way to promote your product or business, then there
are a few other guidelines that will help you stay on target and be
more successful. Sponsored events are increasing in popularity and
account for billions of dollars annually for marketing. They are
extremely useful when launching a new product, increasing a product
trial, or building consumer relationships with the company name. They
require a lot of planning, resources (money and people), and can flop
without proper advertising, but they can also launch a product to
success very quickly.
Here are few tips to give your event a better chance of success:
- Make sure the event ties in with your company and product.
- Make sure your company and product name are very prominent.
- Make sure your audience knows why it should come. In other words, make sure there is a compelling reason to attend.
- Make sure there is some newsworthiness to the event so you'll also get some PR.
- Make sure your marketing message and position are clearly communicated.
Detail each promotion or event and refer back to the specific
marketing objective it addresses. Scheduling and costs will be covered
in the Action Plan and Implementation section of your plan.
Now, when writing your promotion strategies, address these issues as they relate to the promotion ideas you've come up with:
- Type of promotion
- Incentive for the promotion
- Open or closed promotion - Open promotions don't require any
action from the customer. An example would be a sale. Closed promotions
require the customer to do something to take advantage of the
promotion. An example would be a rebate, or a contest entry.
- Delivery method for the promotion
You're getting close -- now we just have to cover your sales force
strategies, and then you can move on to scheduling and implementation,
and, finally, evaluating the whole effort!
Product Marketing Literature
product literature and other company collateral materials will be key
to many of your marketing and sales efforts. These items must present
your company image very clearly and professionally. Not only is the
text and wording of your literature important, but also the visual
image and quality that it projects.
In your literature, it is critical to highlight and emphasize
the benefits of your product or service and not just the specifications
and features. When planning the literature needs, consider these
- What will the literature be used for?
Overall company information, specific product specs and benefits, special information folders?
- Who is the audience for each piece?
Investors, partners, customers?
- What approximate quantity do you anticipate for each piece?
This will help you not only budget for it, but also get an idea of what level of quality you should go for?
- Who will develop the piece?
Internal staff members, a printing company, a design firm? (Cost will vary tremendously with each.)
Premium items are
the trinkets and goodies you give away at trade shows or other events.
They typically have the company name branded on them and are of little
or no value. If you need premiums for trade shows or other events, the
best advice is to stick with something that is both useful and
consistent with your company's image and product or service line.
For example, a beer manufacturer might give away bottle openers, or a
book store might give away book marks or coffee mugs. Pens, note pads,
magnets are also good choices. Look for innovative features and good
quality if you go with these items (or any premium item), like magnets
that have clips to hold larger notes, or pens that will stick to your
file cabinet. Just like with your product line, you want your premium
items to stand out, be of good quality, and make a favorable
Not to beat a dead horse, but your sales force is another group that has to totally adhere to the Integrated Marketing Communications
theme we've been talking about. They see and talk with your customers
every day and absolutely must be consistent with your planned image and
position. Their one-to-one marketing efforts are very important for
many types of businesses, and not as important for others. Investigate
your need for a direct sales force and cut your costs if you can. If
you determine that you do need a sales force, then here are some
suggestions for making them successful and worth the costs (paying your
sales team's bills is expensive).
The key to making your sales force effectively communicate your
marketing message and sell your products is to educate them on the
objectives and strategies you've planned, as well as keep them
constantly updated and fully informed on advertising, promotions,
direct marketing, and any other marketing tool you are using.
In the sales force section of your marketing plan, also be sure to
include trade shows
and conferences your sales team (or others within your company) need to
attend. Your company's presence at key trade shows and exhibitions can
increase your sales and improve recognition of your name and products
within your target market. Trade shows are excellent for introducing
new products, services, or changes in your company name or image. See
How Trade Shows Work for detailed information on managing this process.