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9 Timeless PR Positioning Strategies

positioning strategies PR

The word “positioning” gets tossed around almost carelessly in corporate documents, and I often feel as if the word is misunderstood (that’s foreshadowing).  Positioning isn’t what we say, it’s what people think and to that end any “position” that is coveted by brands has to be plausible, or anything brands say will be misaligned.

Gartner positions vendors in its Magic Quadrant reports along four categories: Leaders, visionaries, challengers and niche players.  Positioning as a “leader” is generally a difficult proposition because every company claims to be a leader.  If everyone is a leader, then leadership as a point of differentiation has lost its luster.

PR pros, however, know it’s entirely something different when someone else calls us a leader, which what makes the upper right-hand corner of a quadrant so magical.  It’s the simple notion that nothing we say about ourselves is as powerful as someone saying it about us. Better still when the concept is aligned with preconceived notions; it’s hard to create new notions.

Here are several timeless PR positioning strategies:

1) Positioning as a niche.  A niche is a unique need where a product, service or brand is especially well suited. The key to niche positioning in PR is proving that the niche is worth attention because it has some broader implication. By definition, a niche does not meet the needs of the masses.

2) Positioning as David vs. Goliath.  Brains over brawn is a classic marketing strategy. Everyone wants to root for the little guy, and better still when the little guy does it with ingenuity over brute strength.  What often goes unsaid is the re-positioning of the competition without saying it aloud.  Goliath was a bully and nobody likes a bully.

3) Positioning as a dark horse.  News by definition defies expectations, and the dark horse that comes out of nowhere to win a race is news. The dark horse is a good technique for companies doing interesting things that haven’t yet earned greater interest; it works for large brands too. One of the standouts in history is perhaps the “think small” campaign for the Volkswagen bug.  In an era where big cars were in style, VW took a perceived weakness, made it central to their positioning, and turned it into a strength.

4) Positioning as an unlikely success. This position is a come from behind win – an idea that has been vetted and discounted but is now proving the pundits wrong. Bonus if we have at least three pundits — because three is a trend.

5) Positioning a mission impossible. This is a variation of the “unlikely success” the difference is that the unlikely success has tackled a good idea with a method the pundits have said cannot work. Mission impossible is just that:  It cannot be done.  Those that are doing it anyway are doing it out of sheer determination.

6) Positioning as a personal passion.  For a charismatic business leader, this position humanizes a brand and puts a personal face on a story.  People identify with people because we are by our very nature social creatures. The caveat is that the position is lost if a brand has but one face.

7) Positioning as reinvention.  It’s all a misunderstanding.  Hollywood and rappers are incredibly adept at remaking themselves. Brittney Spears has reinvented herself several times over.  Miley Cyrus is shaking away her Disney roots. George Takei is now Tech Trek. Arnold transformed from Terminator to governator. Reagan went from actor to corporate talker to President. It was Howard Stern’s pitch when his movie was release; he’s a nice guy that sometimes says naughty things.

8) Positioning as first. In the classic marketing book, Positioning:  The Battle for your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote, “History shows that the first brand into the brain, on average, gets twice the long-term market share of the No. 2 brand and twice gain as much as the No. 3 brand.” The authors see first as the positioning of leadership though I think the technology market has challenged some of these long-held principles. Google was just a better AltaVista. Microsoft wasn’t first and the company seems to be proving that innovation doesn’t last forever.  It took a long time for Apple — and a reinvention along the way — to make a return on being first.

9) Positioning as customer-centric.  If you can’t win on price or innovation, service just might be the ticket. It’s how Zappos grew to fame, but doing it well is a hard standard to maintain. Quick – think of how many companies do customers service well?  It’s a lonely position and therein lies its strength.


  • What positioning strategies have I missed?
  • Which positioning strategies have you seen work well?
  • Is positioning overrated marketing speak?

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Photo credit: Flickr, Cliff,  Maneuver for Position… (CC BY 2.0)

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