The subtitle for Al Ries and Jack Trout’s landmark book Positioning is “The Battle for Your Mind.” When marketers find that battle is being lost, they will call for the obvious rematch known as repositioning. This involves a deliberate and difficult shift in marketing mix elements to win a new position in consumers’ minds, which always entails comparison with competitors. Repositioning is closely tied with managing the product life cycle (PLC), staving off the decline phase by modifying products and/or markets.
Per Kerin, Hartley and Rudelius, four factors drive the need for repositioning:
- Reacting to a competitor’s position.
- Reaching a new market.
- Catching a rising trend.
- Changing the value offered.
Three major brands are in the midst of repositioning, using enormous marketing resources to assert their relevance and claim new customers.
GoDaddy. The web services company gained notoriety with racy ads run during a succession of Super Bowls, featuring scantily clad women, ample double entendres, and uncensored web versions of the TV spots. “Racy” took on additional meaning as race car driver Danica Patrick became the company’s spokeswoman. “Notoriety” took on its deepest meaning with GoDaddy widely criticized for sexist and sexual content.
GoDaddy is repositioning the brand based on factors 2 and 3 above: reaching a new market and catching a rising trend. The new market is women, primarily small business owners who can benefit from the company’s wide array of services such as website development and ecommerce platforms. The relevant trend may be new to GoDaddy but it predates the Internet: demand for gender equality. GoDaddy’s CEO Blake Irving acknowledged the public pressure against the company for its risque commercials.
GoDaddy moved from raunchy to simply irreverant with ads starring retro action movie hero Jean-Claude Van Damme. Danica Patrick has not been lost in the transition from women’s curves to men’s muscles as she appears in an ad with a squad of shirtless bodybuilders. The company’s repositioning is most apparent in ads featuring female small business owners giving testimonials about GoDaddy’s services. Irreverence combined with this theme as GoDaddy featured a woman who told her boss “I quit” during a 2014 Super Bowl ad so she could start her own business.
To reposition itself, GoDaddy has to modify only one element of its marketing mix: promotion. Underscoring its strength in the remaining 4 Ps–product, price, and place–GoDaddy remains the leading provider of domain names, the gateway service that introduces customers to its other offerings.
Radio Shack. The venerable personal electronics retailer made its own Super Bowl splash with a commercial that matched GoDaddy’s irreverence and recent nostalgia casting. A stunned salesperson hangs up the phone to announce: “The ’80s called. They want their store back.” Stars from that decade ransack the dated Radio Shack to the sounds of Loverboy.
By confessing shortcomings, Radio Shack takes a page from Domino’s acclaimed turnaround campaign “Oh Yes We Did,” which publicly acknowledged and updated subpar product. Radio Shack’s challenge comes in having to address each of the four factors that prompt repositioning. The first one, reacting to a competitor’s position, is the most formidable as the competition includes online retailers led by Amazon. The one-time juggernaut of personal electronics retail, Best Buy, has staggered with this market shift, making the outlook for also-ran Radio Shack that much more precarious.
Adding to the challenge, Radio Shack’s repositioning requires an ongoing overhaul of all four marketing Ps. It sells top brand products but competes directly with many of the brands themselves in retail such as Apple and Verizon, pitting its product, place and price strategies against theirs. Although its new promotion strategy garnered attention, years of declining sales show that it will take more than a great ad to reposition the brand.
JCPenney. The one-time leading retailer does not have to reposition so much as reclaim previous positioning. A company overhaul by ousted CEO Ron Johnson, former head of the Apple Stores, was a disastrous attempt to reinvent JCP as a trendy emporium where popular sales and discounts were discontinued.
JCP brought back Johnson’s predecessor, Myron Ullman, in a hopeful return to the “good old days.” Per GoDaddy and Radio Shack, the company attempted irreverence during the 2014 Super Bowl, not with a big TV commercial but with a stunt Twitter stream full of strange spellings eventually “blamed” on tweeters wearing mittens going on sale at the stores. Confusion led to condemnation among many observers.
New ads showcase JCP’s sales promotion, exemplifying the high-low pricing strategy that has been a company trademark. The latest tagline “When it fits, you feel it,” tries to combine fashion cues with personal satisfaction and expression. Like Radio Shack, JCPenney must not only revamp its promotion but the other three Ps of the marketing mix. And like Radio Shack, there are serious doubts that its retail segment–the traditional department store–can endure. As JCP continues to decline, department store icon Sears is facing similar losses and store closings.
Al Ries’ daughter and partner Laura Ries reminds us that positioning is up to the customer. Repositioning is a bold attempt to change a mind already made up. Any new position must be unoccupied, viable and profitable. GoDaddy is a proven leader in a vibrant segment. Radio Shack and JCPenney hold neither advantage. In seeking new positioning, GoDaddy is asking far less of the market.