Re-Positioning: When It’s Time For A Change In Direction

Re-Positioning | Master Positioning

Re-Positioning: When It’s Time To Change Direction



Re-positioning is the deployment of a major change in positioning for a brand, service, company or product. This can be quite a challenge, especially for well-established or strong brands, and for those who have made their current positioning too narrow. Remember, positioning is the science of controlling consumer perceptions about your brand. Re-positioning is done when you are playing in a Remedial Marketing Environment and realize your brand has a crisis of identity.

I’ll give an example.

With the positioning of ‘help yourself by helping others’, Red Cross marketed themselves with the positioning mantra that ‘to change a life, start with your own’. This focused on the emotional fulfillment that in helping others in need, you, the donor, also benefit. And of course we do; being generous to those in need is one thing that helps defines our human identity and human-ness. It’s a nice sentiment, and a decent marketing strategy, although not quite a fully-fledged Positioning Platform. And it worked reasonably well for the Red Cross… until the depression of 2008 – 2009 hit.

Consumers felt their financial belts tighten and were less likely and less able to make charitable donations, one of the first discretionary spending habits that gets cut in times of financial difficulty. In fourth quarter of 2009 – traditionally a high period of giving due to the holiday season and sentiment – Red Cross was in serious financial trouble. Donations were a trickle of what they had traditionally been.

So Red Cross embarked on one of the hardest tasks in marketing: a re-positioning. Research confirmed that most Americans saw the Red Cross as being the ‘charity that is always there during times of disaster’. People associated the American Red Cross with disasters. When a disaster struck, the Red Cross was seen everywhere in the media, helping out, providing emergency services, care, blankets, clothing, housing and shelter for the victims.

While Red Cross was busy marketing the ‘feel good through giving’ positioning, the public saw them as ‘the disaster relief charity’. This positioning was not intentionally created; it resulted from Red Cross being omnipresent during times of disaster. And it ran counter to what Red Cross’ own positioning tried to accomplish – a continuous stream of giving, not just when a disaster struck.

This is one of the risks of NOT intentionally creating your positioning and managing it consistently; your brand has a positioning whether you crafted it or not and whether you manage it properly or not. If you don’t manage the process decisively, the marketplace will step in and you’ll be gifted with an ‘associative positioning’. And it’s not always good, or stable. And it usually is a disconnect from what you really intend.

But Red Cross, under pain of financial disaster, woke up to this and decided to not just to take charge of their positioning but to change the market’s perceptions entirely. Thus, a re-positioning was engaged. Re-positioning is something a brand can do when it realizes that its current positioning is failing, due to it not being properly crafted in the first place, or not being intentionally created at all.

Red Cross re-positioned themselves along the lines of ‘giving the gift that can save the day.’ I don’t think I would have re-positioned them with these exact words, but the point got made. Through careful incorporation of the new positioning across all marketing channels, and especially via television ads, Red Cross successfully re-directed the mass consumer perception away from ‘disasters only’, and towards ‘charity for others all the time’.

This new positioning conveyed and acknowledged the positioning that people had come to about the important role the Red Cross played in times of disaster, but it expanded to encourage Americans to become part of the process of helping others all the time. With words like ‘giving the gift,’ Red Cross also entrenched the concept that Red Cross was a perfect recipient for holiday giving – even without a disaster in the world.

Did it work? Hell yes!

By end of 2010 American Red Cross donations increased more than 25 percent over 2009, and the average size of donations increased by over 40 percent.


When it’s done well, a strong positioning should last quite a while; ideally for the life of the brand or product. But there are several factors that can lead to a need to re-position.

COMPETITION can enter the market or join with other competitors and threaten to make your positioning obsolete. Of course, this is the objective of positions – to make other brands ‘obsolete’ in the minds of your target consumers. So why wouldn’t you expect your competition to do this to you? This is why the creation of a new ‘Category Class’ is so critical, as it creates an entirely new niche that insulates your brand from competitive attack.

CHANGES IN THE MARKET ENVIRONMENT such as a major social or political climate change, or a major shift in market economics can hurt brands that have positioned themselves along social or political agendas, or who have based their positioning on pricing, be it high-priced or low.

CONSUMER TRENDS do change generationally, and sometimes within a generation. Technology advances can trigger new opportunities that your current positioning might not be able to sustain (think Amazon vs Blockbuster).

YOU GET A WAKE-UP CALL about your positioning a la Red Cross, where you suddenly find out your positioning isn’t what you thought it was, and it isn’t working. That’s sink-or-swim time, and usually the result of a flawed positioning.

The Repositioning Process

The re-positioning process is almost the same as the original positioning process, but it starts at a different point.

An initial positioning is focused on crafting a new positioning in a new ‘Category Class’ that wasn’t there before. The process of re-positioning analyzes the established positioning of a product, service, or brand and out how to redirect it and control consumer perceptions in a compelling way in favor of your brand and away from the competition or your own weak positioning. The objective of both positioning and re-positioning is the same: competitive advantage.

To better control market perceptions, re-positioning might require changes in the actual product or service being offered, but not always. Re-positioning programs attempt to get consumers to to take a fresh look at a product or service and hopefully to see it with a new and different perspective.

In a next article I’ll explore the risks of re-positioning and how to avoid them.