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A Successful Methodology for Strategic Positioning

"A concept is a promise a product makes to resolve an unmet consumer need, the reason why it will satisfy the need, and a description or portrayal of any key element that will affect the perception of the product."

Procter & Gamble

A competitor achieves a strategic position of product differentiation by uniquely and persuasively claiming to resolve the unmet need in the category that is of high importance to target consumers. In the research, the primary objective is to develop a concept strategy based on identifying:

  1. The unmet need or major frustration
  2. The benefit your product offers that resolves this need/frustration
  3. The unique reason to believe (RTB) that your product delivers this benefit. As an Approved Moderator for Procter & Gamble, I have conducted this strategic research for many P&G products, and adapted it to the positioning needs of several other companies

Two Examples: Two products - Procter & Gamble's Scope mouthwash and the teeth whitening treatment BriteSmile - were undifferentiated in a cluttered marketplace. In research, we uncovered the unmet consumer needs that were functionally and emotionally important to the target consumers: for mouthwash, the key driver was to be prepared for close contact; for teeth whitener, it was assurance of safe treatment. In both cases, everyone else was advertising "confidence" and "efficacy," which were givens to the consumers. Our strategies made the competitive difference. By capturing the key needs and unique promises to satisfy these important needs, we emerged with the basis for the winning strategies, which the agencies worked into all Scope and BriteSmile advertising respectively, to ensure clear, consistent message.

I have developed a successful methodology for this research that is described below. It is effective, cost-efficient, and lends itself to variations to maximize research benefits.

Methodology: Two rounds of focus groups with target consumers; maximum of 6 respondents per group to ensure in-depth exploration. Each round consists of 3-4 focus groups to check for consistency and ensure full amplification of response. Rounds 1 and 2 take place in different markets to test for possible geographical variations in consumer insights. Techniques for in-depth probing are used, particularly laddering and sensory recall, to get both functional and emotional insights around the nature and importance of the unmet need and product benefit to consumers.

Round 1. Objectives:

  1. To gain relevant insights around unmet needs/major frustrations in the category.
  2. To identify the most relevant benefits resolving these needs
  3. To identify the unique Reasons To Believe that your product can best deliver the key benefits
  4. To expose consumers to preliminary concepts and gain their input. These can be developed ahead of time, but will be modified and new ones developed during Round 1 to reflect the consumers' input. Each preliminary concept contains an Accepted Consumer Belief (ACB), which is a statement that expresses an unmet need or frustration; a benefit statement that resolves it, and a Reason to Believe the benefit.

Round 2. Objectives:

  1. To expose consumers to full concepts based on Round 1 findings before the agency writes a creative brief. Which concept is the most emotionally and functionally resonant with the target consumers; which benefit gives you the unique advantage over the competition?
    1. Does the insight (ACB) check with consumers?
    2. Does the benefit check against the insight and Reason to Believe?
    3. Does the RTB adequately support the benefit?
  2. To test visuals for communication and relation to concepts

In the Debrief following Round 2, the concept strategy is finalized. The agency will employ this strategy in all forms of advertising for the product.

Variations: you may want to integrate deeper product knowledge with the concept strategy. In this case, instead of using two markets, have the same respondents in Round 1 reconvene for Round 2.You're losing representative consumers - after Round 1 the respondents are already sensitized to strategic components - but you're gaining a mini-panel that can expound on the findings and add to product knowledge. In the week separating Rounds 1 and 2, have them complete an assignment around issues you want fleshed out; have them keep a journal to record their experiences and reactions.

Three Examples:

  1. Scope. The respondents who use mouthwash tried different competitor brands or did without mouthwash over the interim week, and the non-users were assigned various mouthwash brands to use. At the end of the week, the respondents had much to say about the experience and benefits of mouthwash and the differences between brands.

  2. Arts United. In Round 1 the respondents gave us good understanding about the role of the arts in their lives, based on the venues they had experienced. During the following week, each of them went to three venues they hadn't visited before. When they met for Round 2 they brought a rich product knowledge to the discussion.

  3. Sara Lee Foods. We asked the respondents to try different versions of a food prototype over the interim week. The research team visited them during the week to observe product preparation and usage and gain the reactions of respondents and their families. When the respondents met for Round 2 they compared their experiences with the different prototypes and evaluated the product and packaging adjustments we were able to offer on the basis of our onsite observations.

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