Positioning and competitive advantage: The two key pieces to the marketing puzzle

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competitive advantage

Bruce Johnson in his WiredToGrow site has published a worthy article: The Difference Between Positioning and Competitive Advantage (and Why It Matters).

I discovered it to be a useful explanation of some marketing fundamentals, and this is after being in the business for three decades. Marketers’ failure to understand the concepts’ importance and distinction causes much wasted effort and frustration.

In essence, as he writes:

  1. Your positioning will drive your targeting efforts
  2. Your competitive advantages will drive your copy

The concept here is focus, and actual advantage, and addresses two problems:

  1. You have a qualitatively “better” product/service than the competitors, but they are blowing you away. This could be because one or more of your competitors have much better positioning than you; they are first in mind and you won’t be able to dislodge them from that spot unless you focus on a much clearer and defined niche.
  2. Assuming you discover your focus and speciality, what truly makes you stand out and justifies your exceptionalism. In other words, where are you really “better” — and does the niche you selected address a real need?

Johnson gives some examples, for example of a lawyer focusing on mergers and acquisitions (a niche), which he marketed with the competitive advantage of lower (suburban) billing rates.  In the case of a local caterer, the market focus became “affordable gourmet” — playing to the high-end in quality, but at regular (not discount) catering prices.

In some cases, we can solve the marketing challenges outlined here quickly and often they become the foundations for successful new businesses.  For example, when I started Ottawa Construction News in 1990, I could say quite directly that I had the first local independent monthly publication for the construction industry. But there were other players in the market, notably association publications (one long-established magazine reached about 800 association members in a twice-yearly frequency). Here, I played on the competitive advantage of cost per reach (to a qualified market).

But I’ve also made many mistakes, and lost the competitive advantages of existing products over time, as technology and market forces change. You cannot take anything for granted in business.

So it makes sense for you to look carefully at your business and ask yourself: Is my position good? Is my competitive advantage solid? And if it isn’t, prepare to make changes, before the market gets ahead (or away) from you.

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