What is Under Positioning in Marketing?

Positioning and “Under” Positioning

In this article, I will delve into the concept of under-positioning, what it means, and why it matters for your brand.

As a marketer, positioning is one of the fundamental concepts that you should master to succeed in the competitive world of business.

Positioning determines how your consumers see your brand relative to your competition in terms of attributes, advantages, benefits, and so on. It is what’s in a consumer’s mind that influences their purchasing decisions.

But what happens when your brand is under positioned?

And while you’re here – remember to download the free Excel template for making perceptual maps quickly and easily – an ideal addition to your marketing toolkit.

Review the Under-Positioning Video, or Scroll Down to Review the Full Article

Definition of Under Positioning

Under positioning is where consumers in the market do not have a clear understanding of the key benefits of your brand.

This differs slightly from consumers being unaware of the brand, and highlights a problem with the overall marketing communication of the brand’s positioning in the marketplace.

This situation can result from weak or vague marketing messages, inadequate differentiation from competitors, or lack of a clear value proposition.

Especially in a cluttered and competitive marketplace, clear positioning is critical to generate strong sales and a consistent market share.

Being under positioned – that is lacking a clear position in the consumer’s mind – will result in reduced sales and profitability.

What Factors Create Under-Positioning?

Under positioning happens in two situations.

  1. A key driver of an under positioned brand is when we have taken a very broad and vague positioning, trying to be all things to all people.

While some large multinational companies can pull off this approach, most businesses need to be target market and positioning-based. When we take a broad and vague approach, we end up being under positioned, as the brand does not “stand out” on any specific product attributes.

This approach to positioning – similar to a mass-market strategy – makes it very hard for the consumer to remember any distinct benefits or characteristics of the brand. Therefore, when faced with a brand image survey asking them to rate various brand attributes, they will simply guess the answer or gravitate to the middle of the responses.

  1. When there is limited consumer knowledge and understanding about our brand.

In this case, we identify this through perceptual maps. These maps show how our brand is perceived compared to our competitors. We use different attributes and swap them around, creating multiple perceptual maps.

Our brand is usually found at the center in all of the perceptual maps,  while our competitors are scattered around other perceptions.

This happens because consumers know very little about our brand. When asked to rate our brand, consumers often give average ratings, which indicates a lack of understanding of our key benefits, points of difference, and what makes us stand out from our competitors.

As you can seen from this example perceptual map below, under-positioned brands will appear around the middle of every perceptual map, regardless of the combination of product attributes. Consumers simply choose the middle ground because they have a limited understanding of the brand and its attributes.

Why Under-Positioning Matters

Under-positioning matters because it affects the success of our brand.

When we fail to educate the market and explain to consumers what our brand is about, our key benefits, and points of difference, we miss out on potential customers who would have bought our products if they had understood our brand better.

Similarly, when we take a generalist under-positioning approach, we get picked off by competitors who have a very unique positioning, and we simply can’t compete.

As you can see, we are walking a fine line between under and over positioning. And indeed, there are logical arguments for both. Under-positioning = broad appeal to the broad market, and over-positioning = precise and indisputable offering to a very small niche market.

How to Identify Whether a Brand is Under Positioned

As demonstrated with the above perceptual map, the simplest way to identify under-positioned brands is through a brand image survey and the utilization of multiple perceptual maps – where the under-positioned brands will gravitate towards the center of virtually all map configurations.

However, if we do not have access to consumer image data, under positioned brands can usually also be identified through:

  • Inconsistent sales volumes – as they lack competitive differentiation
  • Reliance on sales promotions and deals – constantly needing to give consumers a “reason to buy”
  • The need to compete on price – as their benefits are not apparent to the end-consumer
  • Challenges obtaining suitable retailers – as the retailer may not see how their brand “fits” into their range
  • Fluctuating market shares – due to the combination of issues above
  • As well as through consumer image focus groups (as we do not have quantitative image data)

Using Consumer Image Survey Results

Building upon the above example perceptual, as indicated, when an under positioned brand is presented in a image survey to consumers, the brands ranking/ratings will consistently be towards the middle of the answer scale.

For example, if consumers are asked to rate a brand on a scale of 1 to 9, where 9 = a highly effective product and 1 = a highly ineffective product (and so on for various other questions and attributes) – an under positioned brand will typically score in the mid-range of 4 to 6.

In other words, when consumers are asked about a brand that they do not have a clear understanding of, they are more likely to pick a “safe” middle score as an acceptable answer.

Therefore, if a brand is consistently rated – across a range of attributes and benefits – in the middle range of the scale, then that brand is most likely well under positioned.

Because an under-positioned brand scores in this middle range, the results of an image survey are sometimes misinterpreted.

This is because an under positioned brand is likely to NOT be the worst rated brand in the competitive set. There will be other brands, where consumers have a stronger understanding of that brand’s positioning, where consumers will potentially rate these better-known brands below an under positioned brand.

Therefore, it is strongly recommended to remove under-positioned brands from inclusion ALL in perceptual maps. This is because it may give the impression that this is a deliberate positioning, when in fact it is a weakness in the brand’s positioning that tends to make it gravitate to the center of the maps.

Please make use of the free perceptual map template on this website to help determine whether or not your brand is under positioned.

Improving the Performance of an Under-Positioned Brand

If a brand is under positioned, then sales will be limited because consumers do not have a very clear understanding of the key competitive benefits of the brand.

And as highlighted above, this will also require the brand to be reliant upon expensive sales promotions (such as discounts) and will result in a fluctuating market share position.

Clearly this is not an acceptable situation for any brand. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a clearer positioning with the target market – most likely through:

  • Having a clear and precise positioning strategy
  • Greater focus on one key product benefit that is distinctive
  • Potential product improvement and/or redesign
  • Expansion of the product line to gain greater consumer and retailer attention
  • More precise advertising communication and messages
  • Better use of packaging
  • A clearer and more direct slogan/tagline
  • Perhaps using shorter communication messages
  • Perhaps using competitive comparative advertising
  • Using influencers to help promote our brand
  • And engaging in greater marketing research to assess out evolving brand position

Over-Positioning of a Brand

The counter situation to a brand being under-positioned, is a brand being over-positioned.

This is where a brand promotes a very precise benefit that has limited appeal to the target market. This may happen in a very competitive and cluttered marketplace, but is not overly advantageous in a less competitive situation, or where the brand offers multiple benefits that have value to consumers.

Over-positioning of a brand is probably more likely to occur in the early stages of the brand’s life, but needs to be improved over time by highlighting a greater extent of benefits and attempting to appeal to a broader target market.

Please see the full article and video covering What is Over-Positioning in Marketing?

Key Takeaways

  • Under positioning is when a brand fails to create a strong, unique, and clear image in the minds of its target audience/s.
  • It happens when there is limited consumer knowledge and understanding about our brand, or when we take a very broad and vague approach to positioning.
  • Under positioning matters because it affects the success of our brand.
  • To avoid under positioning, we need to establish a clear and precise positioning strategy that is tailored to our target market and communicates a clear message. By doing so, we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors and stand out in the marketplace.

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