Positioning strategies and incidence of congruence of two UK store card brands Charles Blankson
Abstract • This study examines the activities and congruence of positioning strategies within the UK store card sector. • With triangulation research methodology, results confirm branding activities. • Most popular position strategies are: • Marks and Spender Card brand: “Service,” “Value for money,” and “The Brand Name.” • Harrods Card brand: “Top of the range” and “The Brand Name.”
There are congruencies between the two card brands, which are marketing “communications” efforts and consumers’ “perceived” strategies. • There are no congruencies between managers’ “presumed” strategies and the brand’s marketing “communications” efforts. • While “communications” positioning activities are recognized by the target group, managers “presumptions/intentions” are unclear in “communications.”
Introduction and background to the study • Positioning Activities provide the objectives for products and services, therefore offerings’ positions in the marketplace are/should be assessed to determine if goals of position have been accomplished. • Advertisements today, have an objective to position an offering in the consumer’s mind. • “…in a real sense, position analysis takes all the materials that have been developed about the situation and puts them together into the message idea…” (Ray, 1992)
Therefore, this article looks at two store card brands: Marks and Spencers (or M & S) and Harrods and studies brand position strategies and congruence in positioning. • Positioning: is concerned with the attempt to modify the tangible characteristics and the intangible perceptions of a marketable offering in relation to the competition. (Arnott 1992, 1993) • Formally defined “…positioning is the deliberate, proactive, iterative process of defining, measuring, modifying, and monitoring consumer perceptions of a marketable object…” (Arnott 1992, pp. 111-114)
Positioning involves: • Defining the dimensions of a particular perceptual space that adequately represented the target audience’s perceptions. • Measuring objects locations within that space and modifying actual characteristics of the object and perceptions of the target audience via a marketing communications strategy. • So in other words the process of positioning: • Is iterative • Requires deliberate and proactive involvement of the marketer.
Explanations are in terms of consumer and managerial/organizational perspectives from three key issues: 1. Consumers 2. Companies 3. Competitors • Positioning strategies are applied to this study by examining their use through service managers. • However, Positioning a service is more difficult than positioning a product because of the need to communicate vague and intangible benefits. (Assael, 1985)
A challenge encountered in positioning service brands is “tangible product attributes provide more favorable consumer perceptions than intangible attributes” (Darley and Smith, 1993). • Overall, tangible attributes, rather than intangible attributes, are more likely to affect a consumers’ perception when used in advertising, because intangible attributes advertising (services) provides consumer with no objective perceptual criteria and therefore they will rely on consumers emotions in most cases (Darley and Smith, 1993).
Advertisements of services, overall, contain more emotional appeals than product advertisements (Cutler and Javalgi, 1993). • To increase or improve tangibility of services positioning strategies and tactics included: • Advertisements with emotions • Advertisements with personalized headlines • Symbolic representation of the services (Culter and Javalgi, 1993) • Counter arguments say that there are similarities between services and physical goods, (Baker, 1981; Levitt, 1981; Middleton, 1983) or the tangible and intangible, therefore there is no suitable reason to use different positioning strategies (Buttle, 1986; Wyckham et al., 1975).
For services, contextual specifics must be taken into consideration when assessing/evaluating the use of positioning strategies of services (de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley, 1999). • This research examines: • The use of a newly developed generic typology of positioning strategies. • Tests the congruence of positioning activities using the typology in the UK retail sector. • The rationale for this research is: increased competition within the store card sector has occurred due to the increase in personal income and wealth and development in information technology (Burnham et al., 2003).
The subject of positioning store card brands is important because of increasing competition between retailers, especially to improve customer retention. • It is imperative for managers and advertising executives to decide which marketing communications to employ and how much they affect the consumers’ perceptions. • The reason for comparing Marks and Spencers Cards with Harrods Cards is because they appear to be two opposing spectrums in terms of branding and target groups.
Research aims and objectives • The aim of the research is to: 1. Identify the positioning strategies 2. Determine the related congruence in positioning activities. • Objectives: 1. Determine the positioning strategies (presumed practice) 2. Determine the positioning strategies employed in marketing communications (actual practice) 3. Determine the target group’s perceptions of positioning strategies (perceived practice) 4. Test the congruence between executives’/experts’ presumptions, actual positioning practices as exhibited in marketing (advertisements), and the target group’s perceptions of the employed positioning strategies
Research methodology • To determine the position strategies and test congruence in activities/efforts 3 main populations were used: 1. Executives & Experts 2. Companies’ Marketing Communications 3. Members of the Public (Target Groups)
Executives and Experts • Executives of M & S and Harrods and other organizations were considered to represent the most appropriate sources of such information because it is a valid way of obtaining consensus and developing an appreciation of the relevant issues.
Population is defined as marketing managers, product directors, and store managers for executives, and advertising executives, senior research directors of plastic card institutions, managers and partners in consultancy firms and academics in the case of experts. • 20 executives and 43 experts were interviewed • First, a face-to-face interview was conducted with open-ended questions that elicited the executives or experts descriptions of their organizational positioning strategies. • Second, they were presented with eight positioning strategies and asked to rate each one on a scale of 1-7, where 1 was very irrelevant and 7 was very relevant in comparison to their own positioning/marketing activities.
Companies’ Marketing Communication • With the diversity of the communications media, a number of different sample frames were examined: • Newspaper Ads • Brochures, Pamphlets & Leaflets • Camera Pictures • Content analysis: a research technique used in analyzing the content of any information with regard to key trends and themes.
The coding procedure used in this study was the frequency system. Which is the case whereby the occurrence of a specific theme (copy point) is recorded and given a single point. • The content of each marketing communication form was coded using the scale-items of the eight positioning strategies. • If any of the scale-items of a particular construct was present it was considered to indicate a corresponding positioning strategy.
Members of the Public • Comprised of all individuals who use store cards and have a high literate background. • 1,000 members were sent a questionnaire and 357 questionnaires were received yielding an effective 35 percent response rate.
Selection of sampling method • Convenience and snowball techniques were used for executives and experts • Convenience non-probability sampling method was used for companies’ marketing communications • Probability sample design was drawn from random sampling method was used on members of the public
Measurements • It was decided to adopt a newly developed generic, appropriate for services and goods, consumer derived typology of positioning strategies, (Blankson and Kalafatis, 2000, 2001) serving as the measurement for the examination of the employment of positioning strategies.
The typology comprises eight dimensions that collectively are measured as summated scales of 31 items. • Each item relates to consumers’ perceptions of products and services, so it can be applied to manufacturing and services industries. • The typology can be useful in assessing positioning activities through the employment of the strategies in firms’ marketing communication tactics and strategies. • The data analysis comprised assessment of measurement accuracy and examination of response patterns of positioning strategies of each card brand under examination.
Results Positioning strategies Data from each of the populations were subjected to ANOVA with null hypotheses of no significant differences in the mean values associated with each of the eight positioning strategies. In order to simplify presentation of the results, only the summarized results are presented.
M&S card Table I Positioning strategies: M & S card __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Populations Positioning Executives’/experts’ Communications Target group’s Strategies views Other Print TV(n/a) Overall perceptions ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Top of the range * Service * * * * Value for money * * * * Reliability * * Attractive * * Country of origin The brand name * * * * Selectivity * F-ratio = 3.838; F-ratio 12.972; F-ratio = 24.571; F-ratio = 7.802; F-ratio = 17.706; df = 7,136; df = 8,111; df = 7,32; df = 7,152; df = 7,620; sig. = 0.001 sig. = 0.000 sig. = 0.000 n/a sig. = 0.000 sig. = 0.000 Note: n/a denotes not applicable; Other refers to brochures, pamphlets, leaflets, and outdoors (i.e. billboards, bus shelters, bus sides, Taxi sides, underground stations, and company premises windows) __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Harrods card Table II Positioning strategies: Harrods card ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Populations Positioning Executives’/experts’ Communications Target group’s Strategies views Other Print TV (n/a) Overall perceptions ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Top of the range * * * * Service * * Value for money Reliability * * Attractive * * Country of origin * The brand name * * * * Selectivity * * F-ratio = 6.123; F-ratio 3.680; F-ratio = 16.000; F-ratio = 6.142; F-ratio = 54.914; df = 7,120; df = 7,72; df = 7,56; df = 7,136; df = 7,693; sig. = 0.000 sig. = 0.002 sig. = 0.000 n/a sig. = 0.000 sig. = 0.000 Note: n/a denotes not applicable ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
M & S vs Harrods card Table III Congruence in positioning activities among the three populations __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Presumed vs Actual communications Actual communications strategies vs Strategies Perceived strategies Store card brands Store card brands Positioning strategies M & S card Harrods card M & S card Harrods card __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Top of the range NE E PdC E Service E PdC E PdC Value for money E NE E NE Reliability PdC PdC PdC PdC Attractive CF PdC CF PdC Country of origin NE PdC NE NE The brand name E E E E Selectivity NE PdC PdC PdC NE = 4/16 (25 percent)* NE = 3/16 (19 percent) E = 5/16 (31 percent) E = 5/16 (31 percent) CF = 1/16 (6 percent) CF = 1/16 (6 percent) PdC = 6/16 (38 percent) PdC = 7/16 (44 percent) Congruence/link (E+NE) = 9/16 (56 percent) Congruence/link (E+NE) = 8/16 (50 percent) No Congruence/No link (CF=PdC) = 7/16 (44 percent) No Congruence/No link (CF=PdC) = 8/16 (50 percent) Employed strategy(ies) = The brand name Employed strategy(ies) = The brand name * Percentages have been rounded off Note: NE = Strategy not employed, E = Strategy employed, CF = Strategies in communications do not reflect presumptions or perceptions, PdC = Strategies presumed or perceived to be present despite/without communications __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Conclusion The development of positioning, which is essentially, a statement about what the firm’s offering is and stands for, and which the customer can relate to and understand, is an important and vital part of marketing communications plan and branding tactics.
M & S Card’s positioning activities • Service • Value for money • The Brand Name • Harrods Card • Top of the range • The Brand Name
Managerial implications • Study provides positioning strategies • Study serves as a starting point • Study provides strategies and benchmarks for applying positioning strategies • Study helps guide marketing managers and marketing researchers as to how and when to use what positioning strategies and models
Limitations and future research directions • Convenience samples • Disparity in the dates of data collection • Inability to capture current positioning deliberations, i.e. dated study • Subjective analysis from in-depth face-to-face interviews and content analysis