Exactly what is positioning and why should anybody care?


This is a true story. Years ago, I remember meeting with an entrepreneur who was a former hairdresser starting a shampoo company. He came into my company seeking a product design and some marketing help to bring the new line to market. When I asked him “How would you like this product to be positioned?” he replied “Right next to Pantene, or maybe to the left of it.”   Even though I worked hard to explain why we needed a budget to evaluate competitor value propositions, brand presentation and the like, he still was not clear on why this “positioning” would cost extra when all he wanted was a name, a logo and a package design. The simple answer is that none of the rest of the deliverables can be accomplished without it.  Much of branding is about context. And context usually means that you are bringing your product or service to market against competitors who already occupy a certain place in the minds of customers and other influencers – like retailers, distributors, media, etc. So, positioning is the starting place for determining what the brand needs to be and how it can be successfully brought to market. But that said, it still may end up on a shelf to the left or right or worse yet – below, brand X.

Target took their eye off the bulls-eye

Most everyone in the design and advertising community has significant admiration for Target who broke out of the typical “fill the page with product” retail advertising practice and used graphic images and beautiful design to sell the brand first and then feature the products in a motivational context.  Here’s a classic example of Target greatness:


But hang on, something unforeseen has happened.  Take a look at the new company web site, just in time for the holiday season.  http://www.target.com  is a monstrosity by any account and apparently the latest “target” for outrage by anyone with good taste.


According to Adweek who in the November 22 issue catalogues a few of the juicier comments the Twitter sphere is a buzz with comments like:

“Which one of you monsters did this to target?”

“I don’t know why everyone’s so up in arms about healthcare.gov when target.com is still out there?”

“Holy drop shadow. Looks like Target is bringing back the middle ages of web design.”

While it is easy to agree with all the critics, (which I certainly do) the real test will be how the new look performs in the market and how it is received by Target customers. The age old battle resumes between creatives who truly believe that great design delivers great profits and insistent clients who in retail just as strongly believe that too much white space is wasted real estate that doesn’t sell.