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"Strategy is about setting yourself apart from the competition. It’s not a matter of being better at what you do – it's a matter of being different at what you do." These are the words of Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School. This sentiment encapsulates the principle at the heart of Positioning. Now, let's dig into the details of this critical strategic management concept, in the following sections: What is Positioning, the Importance of Positioning in an Organization, and How to Achieve Effective Positioning.

In the context of Strategic Planning, Positioning refers to how a brand or an organization distinguishes itself from competitors and where, or how, it sits in the minds of customers. A positioning strategy leverages the unique aspects of the organization and applies them to communications that resonate with customers and stakeholder groups. This is done by making strategic decisions in the areas of product, price, place (i.e., distribution), and promotion— the well-known "Four P's" of marketing. A well-established position results in customer purchase decisions driven by differentiated value rather than just price and features.

The Importance of Positioning in an Organization

In today's hyper-competitive corporate landscape, Positioning plays an essential role in various strategic domains—such as Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Branding, Communications, and Business Transformation. Positioning lends an organization unique and distinguishable characteristics that separate it from the pack. Thus, in no uncertain terms, effective Positioning leads to competitive advantage. A study by Deloitte pointed out that 87% of successful companies have well-defined brand positions that resonate with target stakeholders and align with organizational objectives.

Moreover, true to Michael Porter’s quote, Positioning is not just about being better; instead, it's about being different and having a unique value proposition. FedEx did not attain its leadership position by claiming to be better than UPS or DHL. It differentiated itself by focusing on reliability and speed—overnight delivery guaranteed.

How to Achieve Effective Positioning

Establishing effective Positioning is not a one-and-done task. It entails a series of iterative actions, which primarily involve understanding the business landscape, identifying unique differentiators, and effectively communicating them.

  1. Understand Your Market Landscape: This includes knowing your existing competition, potential new entrants, and evolving market demands. A comprehensive SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) can provide valuable insights.
  2. Determine Unique Differentiators: Identify the things you do differently than your competitors. This could be innovative product features, excellent customer service, appealing design, or even strategic partnerships.
  3. Communications Strategy Alignment: Align your communications—both internal and external—with your organization's unique position. This ensures that every element of your organization communicates the same value proposition.

According to a McKinsey study, companies that excel in positioning generate 31% higher shareholder returns. This statistic underscores the importance of effective Positioning in Strategic Management, further underscoring the point that effective Positioning is a journey rather than a destination.

To close this discussion, Positioning is a critical component in the pantheon of strategic management practices; helping organizations understand and articulate who they are, what they do, and most importantly, why they matter to customers. As the strategy genius Michael Porter reminds us, it's not just about being better. It's about being different.


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