Positioning or Messaging – an Example with Beer


This leaflet fell out of the newspaper last week. I really liked it, and not just because it says “Beer” everywhere. It’s a campaign to try and inform beer drinkers that “You know you can match beer with food as well? It’s not just wine!”. And what they’re trying to do is increase beer drinking by getting customers to consider it as a food accompaniment, not just something you drink on its own (maybe with some pork scratchings or salt-and-vinegar Walkers – but that doesn’t count).

So a nice little campaign. But then I wondered – are they trying to “position” beer as something different (to change its frame of reference to be an accompaniment to food – part of a meal), or is this just new “messaging”? What’s the difference?

This week I found the following great, short-ish video, which I’d strongly recommend to anyone with 17 minutes spare:

I really like April Dunford’s straightforward explanation of how to do positioning (or as she’d describe – “Framing”). Regardless of the point I’m making here about messaging and positioning, this is a great video explaining positioning in a simple way – well worth the watch.

But there’s an interesting question she asks near the end (around 15:50) – when you’re talking about re-positioning an offering – is this just messaging? Are we just saying “Okay, here’s my product, let me talk about it in a different way?”. Or is it more than that?

The point April makes is that it’s much more than just “Talking about my product differently”. Much more than just messaging. In the example she gives, where she re-positioned a “Database” product as a “Data warehouse” offering, the changes that needed to be made weren’t just amendments to the tag line on the website, or the sales collateral. Doing that can only get you so far – customers will soon realise the shortcomings in your offering if you haven’t started plugging the gaps that truly make it a “Data warehouse solution” (rather than a “Database solution”). What are the features that are needed? What’s the roadmap? And beyond that, how are you selling it? What’s the go-to-market strategy? What’s the pricing and packaging? She gives a great example of how Data Warehouse products generally sold for twice the price of Database products – you’re missing a great opportunity if you don’t up your prices to reflect the market!

What’s this got to do with beer? I’d argue that the beer example at the top is fundamentally a change in messaging – not in positioning. It’s a campaign. It’s a great campaign (I’ve found it very useful!), but it’s a campaign nonetheless. Why? AFAIK, the beer manufacturers aren’t changing their product, price, packaging, sales channels to move beer in to the “Accompaniment to food” category. This would mean making changes to certain beers (or coming up with new beers of course) to fit this category. The only close example I could think of is something I spotted in Hotel Chocolat:


As described on the page, this is a wine specifically selected to go with chocolate – they’ve made product decisions based on the category (of “Alcoholic drinks that go with food”). And it does deliver on that promise! Very unusually for a red wine, it doesn’t clash horribly with a piece of dark chocolate.

So, if you’ve got a problem with a product or offering, and are thinking about a change in its frame of reference, you can do something with messaging – sell this thing in a new way. But if you really want to deliver on that promise and dominate a category or segment – you also need to change the rest of the offering to suit. The roadmap, the packaging, the go-to-market strategy, the sales model and so on. the sum-total of those things should add up to far more than just a change in wording.



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