A brand represents who your company is and what it stands for. This includes your name, logo, messaging, merchandise, design and any other feature that identifies your company and its products and service and makes it distinct from others. Brand management is the science of crafting and sustaining this brand. This means defining the brands, positioning the brand, and delivering the brand value consistently.
Brand positioning is one of the most powerful concepts in brand management. Every brand manager should be able to provide clear and simple answers to these questions about the brand they manage:
a) What does the brand stand for in the mind of the consumer?
b) Why do consumers choose my brand over competition?
c) Is my brand perceived as the leader, second, or third in the category?
This is what brand positioning is all about. It is the foundation on which the brand image, promise, values and communication strategy are built. Positioning a brand translates into building meaningful and unique perceptions in the consumer’s mind. It is the label(S) that consumers attach to a brand and that is the brand’s competitive advantage.
BRAND POSTIONING AND MARKETING AN INTERNATIONAL MARKET
International positioning, at its core, involves changing or creating attitudes. Consistent international positioning is the cornerstone of any successful global brand growth strategy. Without it, brands risk becoming irrelevant before they even get established in international markets. Scaling a local brand into an international powerhouse is one of the most difficult challenges many businesses face. Effective positioning can be achieved in atleast seven ways in international marketing:
1. Product Attributes. A trait or characteristic that distinguishes one product from others is a product attribute. Marketing efforts emphasize the attribute as the key selling point.
2. Competitors. Competitors can be used to establish position by contrasting the company’s product against others. Legal and/or cultural pressures may limit direct comparisons with a competitor, such as through comparison advertising; however, competitor positioning may still be emphasized in other ways. Companies in multiple countries often face a complex and differing combination of competitors in each market. Competition arises from other international brands or locally produced brands. The country in which the product was manufactured may also enter into consumer evaluations.
3. Use or Application. Use or application positioning involves creating a memorable set of uses for a product. It requires the identification of the target markets that purchase the product and then notes how those products are used in other countries.
4. Price-Quality Relationships. A price-quality relationship approach may be used for positioning purposes when businesses offer products at the extremes of the price range. At the high end, the emphasis becomes quality. In the low range, price will be emphasized. Price-quality perceptions may also be affected by the nation in which an item is produced.
5. Product User. The product user positioning method distinguishes a brand or product by clearly specifying who might use it. In transition economies, companies that differentiate by targeting younger consumers as part of a “global” market segment may position products as being more universal or worldly.
6. Product Class. Product class indicates a general category of items within which the good fits. Perceptions of product class vary by the culture and the economic circumstances of a country or region.
7. Cultural Symbol Positioning. Cultural symbol positioning involves an item or brand achieving unique status within a culture or region. Cultural symbols reflect a characteristic of a nation or region and may evolve from popular culture, religion, or other factors that make an area distinct. Consumers often buy a product when it is viewed as a cultural symbol. The spice curry is a cultural symbol to many consumers in India, even though the history of the spice involves several countries. Consumers around the world purchase curry when the goal is to cook “Indian flavored” dishes.
Emphasizing one of these approaches consistently across markets whenever possible remains the most advisable approach for international positioning. Establishing differentiation through one of the mentioned components is the predominant goal of this type of targeted positioning. Other goals include building brand equity and establishing brand parity.
The positioning process, whether international or domestic, includes a series of steps:
1. Identification of target markets. The company’s marketing team identifies target markets. These targets identify the group of consumers whose perceptions form the basis for the company or the product’s position. Members of various target markets may have different perceptions of the company. A company may be well positioned in one target market but not in another.
2. Analysis of competition within the target market. Next, primary and secondary competitors are identified within the target market.
3. Identification of points of difference. The marketing team conducts an analysis of target market characteristics to identify points of difference. Techniques such as positioning maps are used to further clarify the position a product or brand holds in the marketplace.
4. Enhancement or repositioning, if necessary. Depending on the results of the analysis, efforts to enhance or to reposition the brand may be undertaken.
Apart from the abovementioned steps following principles are integral to the positioning as well as marketing of a brand in an international market:
1. Establishing a homogenous brand image. Consistent positioning is by far one of the strongest enablers of global brand growth. This is even more crucial in today’s world where global consumers are constantly bombarded by brand messages (local & global), exposed to a multitude of brands in their travels. Today’s consumers read and form opinions about brands online and from social media, and have the potential to become strong brand advocates or critics with the ability to influence perceptions through their online and offline conversations. With this in mind companies looking to expand internationally must be consistent in their brand messaging and positioning to maximize their strength in all markets
2. Keep on message. Strategically select a strategy of consistent positioning and excellent brand experience so that it’s the consumers who spread the word about the brand’s position, and their experience, among their networks. The complex waters of international expansion can be navigated by taking strategic decisions on point-of-sale channels and retail placement, without diluting brand positioning, thus strengthening its brand equity.
3. Telling own stories. The concept of storytelling is one of the most relevant marketing strategies that a company can rely on to drives its brand’s consistent positioning.
As seen, there are a number of ways in which companies can achieve consistent positioning across geographies during global brand expansion; using their brand positioning to overcome challenges and find ways of handling market imperfections. It would require patience, perseverance and the ability to resist the temptation of entering new markets too early to protect their brand’s positioning.
Having consistent global positioning may not be the only factor that influences global and regional advancement, but it is the cornerstone of all successful growth strategies. A scaling strategy that has to lead a local company to become an international icon has always focused on the transitioning of their brands’ core values and positioning for global customers. Attempting to undertake brand positioning has one thing in common with many other international marketing efforts: the effort is largely same as in domestic markets. Additional differences arise in response to other factors. The influence of changes in technology, country-of-origin issues, regulations, plus packaging and labeling complications all affect international brand positioning programs. These elements reflect the cultural, language, political and regulatory, economic, and infrastructure influences in the international marketing environment which need to be given due consideration by the marketing teams.
Figure: The International Marketing Context