Positioning the art of being different!

I watched an episode of Mary Portas: Secret Shopper, first aired on 26th January 2011 on Channel 4 last night and thought how powerful it was for anyone how realised the business principles she was advocating. She took on the might of the sofa superstores that can be found on the outskirts of most major towns in cities throughout the UK and convinced the Managing Director of CSL Sofas to look at his positioning with the startling outcomes.

What is positioning?

To quote Wikipedia "positioning has come to mean 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" which is fine as a definition, but doesn't really put it into content for most business owners. You'll also hear the phrase repositioning used that is essentially the same process, except it is where a business might change their product or brand to react to the marketplace.

Putting it into context.


Although the programme was about customer service, what Mary Portas did was to look at the marketplace and work out that all the sofa superstores were using the same hard sell tactics, so that it didn't matter which one you went to, the customer experience would always be the same. These tactics aren't very sophisticated and included:

Price guarantees that meant little or nothing.
Massive savings that didn't really exist.
Sales that ran 365 days a year.

Most consumers (when asked) knew these for what they were and didn't like them, just goes to show what a little bit of market research can do!

Marys solution was to do away with these tactics, focus on the customers needs / wants (her inspiration centres). It isn't rocket science, but what she did is identify how she could reposition the business so that it stood out from the crowd.

The results (if we are to believe them) was a record breaking Boxing Day sales week without running a sale; in fact the Managing Director said that by the end of the week sales were 30% up on the previous year.

How can you apply it to your business?

The first thing you need to do s understand your marketplace, your competitors and your customers. In most cases this means doing some market research, but also some soul searching, in that you need to understand your proposition. They are a number of companies that can help you with this, Shirlaws Coaching is one we would recommend.

More often than not you'll find your sector all do the same, or at least some similar. Some sectors will have common models, fashion would be a good example here. Boutiques are reassuringly expensive offering exclusive products, where as the high street retails offer affordable products (stack em high, price em low). These examples over simplify a complex topic, but common sense as at the root of any marketing activity you do and I am assuming you have that in bucket loads (having set up a business yourself).

You then need to work out if there is an advantage to doing things differently and then reposition your product or brand accordingly. Mary Portas established that the consumer wanted to be treated like grown ups and didn't appreciate the hard sell. What is more, I honestly believe that if the company can back up their new service lead proposition customers will come back time and time again! I don?t think it be long before some of the other sofa superstores will follow suit, but only time will tell.


Positioning is a powerful tool that enables you to stand out against your competitors. There are plenty of companies that have intentionally positioned themselves in what appears to be a suicidal place, but or many it has paid massive dividends (literally)!

Rolls Royce "quality / expensive"
Rolex "quality / expensive"
Apple "quality (design) / expensive"
Volvo "safety"
Tesco / Asda "value" vs Waitrose "quality / expensive"
Primark "value"
Marks & Spencers "quality / services"
Kuoni "luxury & tailor made holidays" vs Thomas Cook "family holidays"

So, consider your brand and see if you can position yourself in a space where your competitors aren't.

Resources / references

Mary Portas: Secret Shopper

CSL Sofas: Wednesday 26 Jan 2011 9pm on Channel 4


Date: 20/06/2014


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