Most marketers know that the process of positioning a product or service in the market is the key to driving profitable growth. Ever since Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote a series of articles for Advertising Age back in 1972, the discipline has been part of the marketer tool kit. Defined by Wikipedia as "the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization," positioning is even more important today with the explosion in the number and type of products and brands available to customers. However, repeatable and sustainable positioning success has been elusive.
A big part of the problem is that most marketing literature and text books define specific types or categories of positioning. For example, they say that a company can have the lowest prices, the best products, or the best service. Furthermore, conventional wisdom holds that companies can try to do 1 or 2 of these well, but rarely all 3. The problem with this perspective is that it is "inside-out" thinking. The customer does not think in these terms. Companies do.
Customers hire products and services to get specific jobs done. They measure success in getting these jobs done by specific metrics or desired outcomes. To innovate, companies must understand what jobs customers are trying to get done and where they are struggling to achieve the desired outcomes they are seeking. Through this approach, companies can approach innovation systematically.
Marketers can approach positioning in a similar systematic fashion. By uncovering the functional and emotional jobs customers are trying to get done when "hiring" their company's products and learning what is important to them, but not well satisfied, marketers can find the "holes" or opportunities in the market. If their products or services address these needs well (or at least better than the competition), then marketers will be able to develop a unique and valued position for their product or service that successfully resonates with the customer. They will own that position.
This is not limited to 2 or 3 types of positions. Rather, it can be based on the myriad of jobs and desired outcomes customers are trying to achieve.