The purpose of this paper is to revise the concept of positioning to differentiate between fundamental approaches to it and chart a scheme of schools of positioning.
An extensive literature review traces the roots and evolution of the concept. Two approaches to positioning are explored and related to the paradigms of market and brand orientation. Based on current theory and practice, different schools of positioning are identified and categorized along a market- and brand-orientation spectrum. Metaphors differentiate schools of positioning, illustrated by case examples.
Positioning is a key concept in marketing, branding and strategy. However, its theoretical and practical usefulness is in peril due to its many meanings, applications and overall vagueness. There is a need for a theoretical overview of positioning, which the literature currently lacks. Two approaches to define a brand’s position are identified and introduced: market- and brand-oriented positioning. Five principal schools of positioning show how these are different and why differentiating between them matters. The choice of school implies the market- and/or brand-oriented approach to positioning.
Further empirical case-based research might investigate when, what and how different positioning schools are applied in practice. The brief cases in this paper indicate a dynamic over time regarding the applications of the brand- and market-oriented school of positioning. An in-depth theoretical and practical investigation of the dynamics of positions would be of value for the research field.
The distinction among different schools of thought helps bridge the gap between the theory and practice of positioning. A specific positioning objective can guide management in the selection of a particular school of positioning, which enables management to make more insightful conscious choices regarding its opportunities, limitations and consequences.
Position and positioning is of relevance in society in broad terms, e.g. in sports, politics and culture. Positioning strategy is discussed and implemented in different industries (business-to-business and consumer), for all kinds of brands (including, for instance, corporate brands) and for “brands” in the very widest sense (such as places or people).
This paper relates positioning to the fundamental discussion of brand and market orientation. It integrates positioning research and provides a structured overview of the concept.
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