Integrating the Means-End Approach into the Product Positioning Process Using the Example of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag in Germany

Diploma Thesis, 2010

158 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction and Course of Investigation
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Course of Investigation

2 Elaboration of Terms and Concepts
2.1 Product Positioning
2.1.1 Definition
2.1.2 Aim and Success Factors
2.2 Means-End Approach
2.2.1 General Concept of Means-End Theory
2.2.2 Laddering
2.2.3 Data processing

3 Means-End Approach in the Positioning Process
3.1 Basic Process Model
3.2 Positioning Analysis
3.2.1 Market Demarcation
3.2.2 Positioning Models Competition-Oriented Perceptual Map General Concept Methodology Consumer-Oriented Preference Map General Concept Methodology Positioning Models Derived from Laddering
3.2.3 Structural Positioning
3.2.4 Material Positioning Customer Segmentation Selecting the Positioning Target Selecting the Point of Difference
3.3 Positioning Conception
3.4 Positioning Implementation
3.4.1 Product
3.4.2 Price
3.4.3 Place
3.4.4 Promotion

4 Case Study: HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag
4.1 Background
4.2 Positioning Analysis
4.2.1 Methodology Focus Group Discussion Aim Sample Procedure Findings and Implications for the Online Survey Online Survey Aim Sample Questionnaire Design Laddering Data Evaluation
4.2.2 Results Aggregate Findings Perceptual Segments Preference Map
4.3 Recommendations
4.3.1 Structural Positioning
4.3.2 Material Positioning
4.3.3 Positioning Conception
4.3.4 Positioning Implementation Product Price Place Promotion Positioning Control

5 Summary and Critical Acclaim
5.1 Academic Implications
5.2 Practical Implications for HEAD Snowboarding

List of References


List of Figures

Figure 1: Means-End Levels of Abstraction

Figure 2: Hierarchical Value Map (HVM) of the Wine Cooler Category

Figure 3: Positioning Process

Figure 4: Product Positioning Process Adjusted

Figure 5: Perceptual Map of Hair Oils

Figure 6: Preference Map of Leisure Centers with three Distinct Preference Segments

Figure 7: Competition-Based Positioning Triangle

Figure 8: Five Product Levels

Figure 9 Interrelating Factors in Product Pricing

Figure 10: MECCAS – Means-End Conceptualization of Components for
Advertising Strategy

Figure 11: HVM of Boardbags

Figure 12: Storage Room Volume – Peace of Mind and Flexibility/Independence/Mobility Connection

Figure 13: Functional Pockets – Fun Connection

Figure 14: Robust Material – Peace of Mind and Financial Responsibility Connection

Figure 15: Padded Storage Room – Peace of Mind Connection

Figure 16: Design – Stand Out and Self-Esteem Connection

Figure 18: Price – Financial Responsibility Connection

Figure 17: Not Too Long – Esthetic and Transportation Comfort Connection

Figure 19: Preference Map of the Boardbag Category

Figure 20: Application of the MECCAS Model to the Promotion Message of the HEAD Travel Boardbag

List of Abbreviations

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1 Introduction and Course of Investigation

1.1 Introduction

In Germany, new products are launched almost every day (public link, 2009) resulting in an ever growing choice of increasingly similar market offerings and a flood of commercial messages. On average, urban citizens encounter 3000 to 5000 advertisements daily (Kotler et al., 2009, p. 691). Put in a nutshell, companies have to cope with an “overcommunicated society” (Ries & Trout, 1993, p. 1) in a „parity-product environment“ (Hiebing & Cooper., 2003, p. 144).

Long ago, marketers realized that any competition over “real” differences in product features alone had become unwinnable (Myers, 1996, p. 168-169; Ries & Trout, 1993, p. 23). Ries & Trout (1993, e.g. p. 19-21, p. 43) point out that it does not matter so much to be best at something, but to be first - not necessarily the first to invent a new product or feature, but the first to get into the mind of the consumer. The authors quote the example of IBM: although IBM did not invent the computer, they were the first to promote their competence in this category and thus became the market leader (Ries & Trout, p. 24). This example shows that the acceptance and success of a company, brand or product heavily depends on its inherent meaning to the customer. This is what positioning is all about – creating meaning (Gengler & Reynolds, 1995/2001, p. 138).

In this paper prevailing opinions and approaches to product positioning will be discussed with a special focus on means-end theory and its significance for various aspects in the positioning process. This psychological concept has established itself in marketing theory and practice over the past three decades and is frequently referred to in the context of consumer-oriented positioning (e.g. Myers, 1996, pp. 263-282; Sternthal & Tybout, 2001, pp. 39-42; Reynolds et al., 2001b, pp. 278-282). Yet, while these references depict means-end theory and its methodology as an alternative to other techniques in positioning, this paper investigates the potential of combining the means-end approach with the prevalent traditional approaches.

The practical application of these theoretical considerations shall be exemplified in the empirical case of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag[1] in Germany. HEAD entered the snowboard equipment market in 2000, which had by then already been close to maturity with numerous well established brands offering a vast choice of gear and related products. Nevertheless, HEAD have managed to transfer their expertise and good reputation from the skiing division to make themselves a name in the snowboard community with their hard goods, such as boards, boots and bindings as well as their line of protection gear. However, the entire product line of bags has so far not received any specific strategic attention.

The aim of this paper is to develop an integrative positioning process of traditional positioning approaches and the in-depth methodology of means-end theory to be applied to the case of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag in Germany and thus derive consumer-oriented marketing directives to establish a strong position on the market of boardbags.

1.2 Course of Investigation

Chapter 2 elaborates the central key-terms and concepts used in the following study: positioning and means-end theory. To begin with, the concept of product positioning is defined. Furthermore, the success factors to reach the ultimate aim of positioning, i.e. sales growth, are identified. Consumer preferences and perceptions are highlighted as the main criteria to all strategic considerations. In this context, the means-end approach is introduced as an effective technique to dive deeper for the core drivers that affect purchase decisions.

As a general basis for further elaboration, chapter 3 begins by deriving a logical process model based on the conclusions from the previous chapter. Each phase in the positioning process is subsequently described with reference to commonly applied approaches to explain how means-end theory and its methodology can complement the traditional methods.

In chapter 4 the derived integrative positioning process of traditional methodologies and the means-end approach is applied to the empirical case of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag. The case study is based on the analysis of primary research data which ultimately leads to practical recommendations for consumer-oriented re-positioning of the product.

The last chapter recapitulates the methodology and the main implications for theory and practice. In particular, the limitations of this study are pointed out as an appeal to academics and marketing managers for further research.

2 Elaboration of Terms and Concepts

2.1 Product Positioning

2.1.1 Definition

A multitude of definitions of ‘positioning’ can be found in literature (e.g. Sengupta, 2005, pp. 289-292). Any object of interest can be positioned – suppliers, restaurants, leisure parks etc., as the numerous examples in the following chapters will show. The one aspect upon which all scientists agree is that the target customer’s or consumer’s point of view is at the center of this marketing concept. Arguably – depending on the type of product or service - there may be differences with regard to the target of positioning – immediate buyers, i.e. the customers, or end-users, i.e. consumers. For the purpose of this paper and the specific product in focus, namely a boardbag, ‘customers’ and ‘consumers’ will be treated as synonyms.

Thus, the term ‘product positioning’ shall be defined here as actively influencing the target’s perception about the product through individually suited consumer oriented marketing measures.

2.1.2 Aim and Success Factors

Ideally, positioning efforts will accompany the market entry of any new product from the very start. Kotler & Armstrong (2010, p. 209) point out that “consumers position products with or without the help of marketers” - the question is whether this is the right position to ensure the success of the product.

The ultimate aim of positioning is to secure profitable sales figures or in more precise terms, the right product positioning helps consumers to make their purchase decisions in favor of a certain product. This implies occupying a position in the target consumers’ minds which, from their point of view, is distinctive and desirable (Matys, 2008, p. 182). In addition, the positioning has to be believable in order for it to be implemented in the minds of the target (Myers, 1996, p. 173). There are thus four main aspects to consider for a positioning strategy: the target group, their desires, the competition and believable positioning claims.

First, the target group needs to be clearly identified, as their perceptions are decisive for specifying the other three aspects of positioning: ‘desirable’, ‘distinctive’ and ‘believable’. Schiffman & Kanuk (2004, p. 158) and Sengupta (2005, p. 16) state that perceptions are subjective depending on individual needs, values and expectations. In other words, different people will interpret the same stimuli in different ways. Therefore, it is essential to focus positioning efforts on a selected segment of potential customers who are likely to share the same views on the product category: “Successful positioning is the art of sacrifice. You can’t be all things to all people” (Hiebing & Cooper, 2003, p. 145).

With the target group in mind, the next aspect of positioning can be approached: the position has to be desirable. Matys (2008, p. 185-186) names six most common human desires that influence purchase decisions: profit, security, self-esteem, comfort, social contacts and health. Positioning is a matter of selecting and addressing the most important buying motive an getting it across to the consumer. Hiebing & Cooper (2003, p. 145) term this position the ‘sweet spot’. In this, the authors draw a comparison towards racket sports, in which the sweet spot is the place on the racket or bat used to hit the ball most effectively. Likewise, the sweet spot in a consumer’s mind is the most promising place to aim at in order to establish a strong position. This optimal spot can only be discovered by gaining consumer insights as to consumers’ ‘emotional needs’ in combination with the ‘rational benefit’ consumers expect to receive from the product (Hiebing & Cooper, 2003, p. 145).

The third aspect to consider is the distinctiveness of the product position; it must be different from the positions of competing products. Past experience has shown that addressing competitors head-on, i.e. “fighting fire with fire” usually resulted in a waste of resources (Ries & Trout, 1993, p. 37-42). The trick is to find an open position in the consumer’s mind. French marketers have termed this approach “cherchez le creneau”, i.e. “Look for the hole” (Ries & Trout, 1993, p. 54). The list of possible options to look for holes in the consumer’s mind is almost unlimited: physical size, pricing, distribution or a special focus on age, gender or usage times and situations (Ries & Trout, p. 1993, pp. 54-58). Only in some special cases, a me-too-strategy, i.e. imitating competitors, may be more promising than differentiation (see chapter 3.2.3). In any case, the judgment as to whether a position is still open or already occupied by a competitor should never be based on own estimations but on consumer research. After all it is the consumers’ perception that matters in positioning (Ries & Trout, 1993, p. 54, Esch, 2008, p.152).

Last but not least, Myers (1996, p. 173) adds that the positioning claim must be believable as well. Marketing managers may easily be tempted to create an idealized product image by claiming desired benefits that differentiate the product from the competition but which the product cannot in fact fulfill. Although the product’s image and any claimed benefits may often be more important to consumers’ purchase decisions than actual attributes, no product can “succeed in the long run on the basis of image alone” (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004, p. 179). Hiebing & Cooper (2003, p. 146) warn against pursuing unrealistic positioning goals. Even if the communicated position is distinctive and desirable to the target group, positioning efforts are likely to fail as long as the product cannot meet the created expectations. As Matys (2008, p. 183) puts it, product positioning creates the substantial identity of the product – this entails more than producing an intangible image.

A clear and targeted positioning strategy serves as a directive for all marketing activities (Hiebing & Cooper, 2003, p. 146). Hence, the effectiveness of all marketing efforts depends on the ‘right’ positioning strategy in the first place.

2.2 Means-End Approach

2.2.1 General Concept of Means-End Theory

Successful product positioning requires an in-depth understanding of consumer perceptions and decision making. This field of research has for a long time been a major subject in marketing theory and practice. Today theorists and empirical researchers acknowledge that product attributes alone do not suffice to explain consumer choice behavior. Many authors approach this highly relevant subject in marketing research by referring to means-end theory, which links product attributes to individuals’ self-knowledge (e.g. Myers, 1996, pp. 263-281, Herrmann & Huber, 2009, pp. 178-192). In this theory the inherent driving forces for product choice are personal values that consequences from using a product can help to fulfill. Product attributes per se have no relevance; they merely serve as instrumental ‘means’ to achieve certain ‘ends’.

In its basic version, means-end theory is a hierarchical connection between attributes (objective characteristics describing the product), consequences (benefits inferred from product attributes) and values (individual enduring goals), as sketched below:

Attributes Consequences Values

This associative sequence is termed a means-end chain (MEC). It is suggested that consumers start the product evaluation process by assessing the concrete attributes. This leads them to expect potential benefits. Ultimately, they weigh up the alternatives with regard to their contribution in satisfying personal goals or values. Thus, people evaluate products by moving “up the ladder of abstraction” (Myers, 1996, p. 264). Some authors, such as Myers (1996, p. 265) propose a subdivision of the three basic levels of abstraction resulting in six MEC elements as shown in Figure 1. Practical examples are provided in Appendix 1. More recent works on means-end theory advocate a four level model, consisting of attributes, functional consequences, psycho-social consequences and personal values. Although this four level model has become the standard in today’s theory and practice, an absolute consensus on the appropriate number of levels does not yet exist (Aurifeille & Manin, 2003, pp. 157-158; Mostovicz & Kakabadse, 2009, p. 90; Phillips & Reynolds, 2009, pp. 85-86).

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Figure 1: Means-End Levels of Abstraction

(Myers, 1996, p. 266)

2.2.2 Laddering

The MECs illustrated above have been uncovered using the laddering methodology introduced by Reynolds & Gutman (1988/2009, pp. 412-436). Traditionally laddering is a one-on-one interviewing technique. It has been designed to investigate two critical questions: “What choice criteria do consumers use to evaluate and choose among the choice alternatives?” and “Why are these choice criteria personally relevant to these consumers?” (Olson & Reynolds, 2001, p. 16).

The laddering interview starts by eliciting relevant distinctive characteristics between given stimuli, e.g. products. There are various techniques, such as triadic sorting[2], in which respondents are presented with triads of objects and are successively asked to state the distinguishing factor that discriminates one object from the other two. Another technique involves ranking products in terms of preference and asking respondents for the crucial feature that makes one product more desirable than the other. As the latter technique elicits responses that refer directly to building preferences among a set of alternatives, this technique is particularly useful with regard to product positioning, which focuses on both: differentiation from competitors and consumer desires (as advised in chapter 2.1.2).

Once the relevant distinctions have been identified from a consumer’s point of view the interviewer dives deeper into the more abstract spheres of the respondent’s personal value structures. Successively, asking “why is that important to you?” the interviewer helps the respondent step by step to explore his or her motives in terms of expected benefits and ultimately unveil terminal values. However, Reynolds & Gutman (1984/2001, p. 157) acknowledge that not all perceptual connections may tie into this final abstraction level.

2.2.3 Data processing

Empirical experience has shown that each laddering interview typically generates two to three MECs per consumer (Reynolds & Gutman, 1988/2009, p. 426). Thus, with a recommended sample of at least 30 respondents (Myers, 1996, p. 268), a total amount of up to 120 MECs or more can be expected. In order to manage the multitude of responses, the elements are first classified as attributes, consequences and values, and then the various mentions are summarized and categorized in common code labels to avoid redundancies in meaning. The connections between these coded elements are recorded in a summary implication matrix, showing both, direct and indirect relations. Reynolds & Gutman (1988/2009, p. 431) recommend a “cutoff level” of four mentions per linkage in a research study of 125 MECs to purify the results of the less significant connections. Eventually, the most dominant connections are aggregated and visualized in a hierarchical value map (HVM), also known as a consumer decision map (CDM, e.g. Reynolds et al., 2001a, p. 111) as in the example shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Hierarchical Value Map (HVM) of the Wine Cooler Category

(Reynolds & Gutman, 1988/2009, p. 420)

3 Means-End Approach in the Positioning Process

3.1 Basic Process Model

In chapter 2.1.2 the determinants for a successful positioning strategy were introduced: the target group and their desires, the competitors and a believable positioning implementation supported by factual product characteristics. The positioning process has to acknowledge all of these determinants in a logically structured sequence. Baumgarth (2008, p. 131) suggests a four-phase positioning process as illustrated below.

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Figure 3: Positioning Process

(Baumgarth, 2008, p. 131)

This model provides a helpful guideline for the positioning process. Below the process shall be outlined with some additional suggestions for improvement.

Like every business strategy the process starts with an analysis phase. In the first step the market is demarcated, i.e. the potential customers and relevant competitors are defined. Deviant from the further sequence of Baumgarth’s process model, it is expedient at this point to generate an overview of the current positions in the demarcated market as a basis for choosing the fundamental positioning guidelines (structural positioning) and considering potential positioning attributes (material positioning). Summarily, Baumgarth’s model (Figure 3) should be adjusted in this respect by integrating the contents of the control phase into the analysis phase.

After the analysis phase the key findings are translated into a positioning concept. In general, the chosen positioning and the respective definition of the target are brought together in a positioning statement (e.g. Tybout & Sternthal, 2001, pp. 52-54; Kotler & Armstrong, 2010, p. 216).

At the stage of positioning implementation the strategy is put into practice by means of various marketing measures. The illustrated model primarily focuses on brand positioning and uses communication instruments to configure the brand image. For the purpose of product positioning the relevant marketing instruments can best be summarized in the four P’s of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion (e.g. Kotler & Armstrong, 2010, p. 217).

The positioning process finishes with the control phase, in which the new position of the product and its effects are continuously monitored through consumer research. Depending on the outcome of this ongoing ex-post analysis one or more phases of the re-positioning process may have to be adjusted and repeated.

The model below summarizes these considerations about the process steps of product positioning (see Figure 4).

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Figure 4: Product Positioning Process Adjusted

(own considerations)

Each phase includes various aspects and involves decision making problems needing to be considered. The following subchapters explain the single steps in more detail and point out the application of laddering and the value of means-end theory at every phase of positioning

3.2 Positioning Analysis

3.2.1 Market Demarcation

As a general frame for the positioning analysis the players in the relevant market have to be identified, i.e. the category customers and competitors. As has already been explained in chapter 2.1, the perception of the consumer is the measure of all aspects of positioning. So, in order to implicate the consumers’ point of view, the market is to be demarcated by means of consumer research. In fact, the definition of the respective category and its customers and competitors is not always evident. For example, Maggi Noodles are consumed as a meal in Asian countries, while in western countries this product is related to the snack category, just as sandwiches or fried peanuts (Sengupta, 2005, p. 25). As this example shows, the relevant customer group and competition should be clearly defined with reference to consumer research prior to any further positioning considerations.

Thus, laddering, conducted in the frame of the positioning analysis, should start by asking the respondents about their considered set of alternatives for a given purchase or consumption situation prior to comparing individual products with regard to differences and preferences. Regrettably, this important step has so far been left out in existing publications on means-end theory and laddering.

The consumer perspective of the relevant product market forms the basis for the next level in the positioning analysis: the construction of positioning models.

3.2.2 Positioning Models Competition-Oriented Perceptual Map General Concept

Once the relevant market has been demarcated, consumers’ perceptions of individual products can be analyzed. Various models have been developed to visualize the identified product positions (Baumgarth, 2008, pp. 290-304; Meyers, 1996, pp. 174-262). The most commonly used positioning models are perceptual maps of the kind illustrated in Figure 5. The locations of products on the map are determined in terms of perceived characteristics, which are displayed as vectors. The degree of product differentiation is visualized by the size of the interspaces between products. Thus, the strongest product positions are those with a clear direction towards the end of a vector and – following a differentiation strategy (see chapter 3.2.3) - a great distance from competitive positions. In the example below, the products 5, 6 and 7 have successfully been differentiated. Product 5 occupies the dimension of care (“for me; helps hair grooming, keeps hair healthy, makes hair glossy, prevents dandruff”), product 6 is believed to improve hair growth and product 7 has the lowest price. Apart from pinpointing the occupied positions, perceptual maps also reveal empty spaces or ‘créneaux’ (see chapter 2.1.2) in consumers’ minds. For example, the focus on perfume offers differentiation potential to those products with no clear position yet.

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Figure 5: Perceptual Map of Hair Oils

(Sengupta, 2005, p. 38) Methodology

In practice two main approaches are most commonly used to derive a perceptual map: attribute profiling methods and multidimensional positioning analysis.

The simplest approach to creating perceptual maps starts by developing product profiles based on concrete attributes. These profiles are typically derived from semantic scale questions in surveys. Appendices 2 and 3 show two possible display formats of attribute performance profiles.

A drawback when generating perceptual maps from attribute profiles is the use of a pre-determined set of attributes in the survey. The inherent risk lies in leaving out important criteria upon which consumers differentiate between products. Some of these criteria may be too subtle or subconscious to be recognized by researchers through simple brain-storming.

In marketing practice the most prevalent approach towards creating positioning maps is multi-dimensional positioning analysis. It seeks to reveal different product positions by comparing products as bundles of multiple characteristics. Using multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), respondents are asked to judge the similarity and dissimilarity between products without mentioning any attributes. This way the products are compared as a whole, so that all relevant differentiating dimensions, some of which are subconscious, are automatically included in the assessment. The resulting similarity ratings are the only input needed by MDS software (e.g. KYST) to generate the corresponding perceptual map (Myers, 1996, pp. 200-206). Such an initial map shows the positions of products in relation to each other without any indication of the relevant differentiating dimensions (see Appendix 4).

For a better understanding of the competitive product sphere, the underlying dimensions that lead to the perceptual map need to be identified ex post. This can be done by presenting consumers with pairs of products that have been identified as similar and ask them which main features the products have in common. Likewise, pairs considered as particularly different are presented to ask for the factors that distinguish the two products. Another option to elicit distinguishing factors in product perceptions is triadic sorting which has been introduced in relation with the laddering methodology (see chapter 2.2.2). The identified attributes in this manner are taken as a basis to rate each product by. Another software package (e.g. PREFMAP) is used to match these attribute performance ratings with the initially derived perceptual map to add dimensions to the model as vectors (Hooley et al., 2008, pp. 264-266). The eventual model will then resemble the above given example in Figure 5.

The advantage of this procedure lies in the initial assessment of products as a whole. In real life situations, consumers regularly judge products without thinking about the single attributes that lead to their opinion. The above described procedure discovers the underlying criteria relevant to comparative product perceptions step by step. Even subconscious criteria may be unveiled this way (Hooley et al., 2008, p. 264).

The informative value of a competition-oriented perceptual map is based on consumers’ perceptions of product differences. The model provides an illustrative overview of the status quo positions within a given category. Yet, there is no evidence for the desirability of each position. Thus an important aspect of positioning is not accounted for in this model (see chapter 2.1.2). In this respect goal-based preference maps provide more interpretative value. Consumer-Oriented Preference Map General Concept

Consumer-oriented preference maps include an additional benchmark to judge competitive product positions by, namely consumers’ desired or ideal positions. As the term suggests, these are symbolic depictions of consumers’ preferences in terms of important differentiation criteria. Groups of consumers with similar preferences can be subsumed to clusters as illustrated in Figure 6.

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Figure 6: Preference Map of Leisure Centers with three Distinct Preference Segments

(Hooley et al., 2008, p. 267) Methodology

The most common approaches towards deriving preference maps are again based on special computer programs, for example using MDS. The preference map shown in Figure 6 is the result of external preference analysis. A competition-based perceptual map has been taken as a basis and ideal positions have then been integrated into this map as circles for each consumer segment (Hooley et al., 2008, pp. 266-267).

Another approach to constructing preference maps is internal preference analysis. Here, products are positioned directly in terms of preference rankings or ratings (Myers, 1996, pp. 227-230). In this, internal preference maps differ from external preference maps, which define product positions in terms of perceived similarities and differences.

Depending on the method used, the preference maps generated through MDS have to be interpreted differently. When similarity ratings are involved, as in external preference analysis, the underlying dimensions will be attributes that best distinguish between the objects. However, in internal preference maps, the applied dimensions are directly related to the relevant criteria that drive preferences. In this, internal preference analysis produces more meaningful insights into consumer desires than external preference analysis.

Nevertheless, this traditional approach to internal preference analysis has its limitations, in that it does not explain the underlying motives of consumer preferences. It reveals the desired product attributes, but it does not answer the question why these are important to product choices. This deeper understanding of consumer decision making is necessary to guide the manager in his or her strategic decisions. Positioning Models Derived from Laddering

The means-end approach not only helps to relate consumer decision making to relevant choice criteria, but, more importantly, it explains why those factors are decisive for decision makers. In the words of Reynolds et al. (2001a, p. 99) “the qualitative results from a laddering structure are deep and focused while [the results from] a typical qualitative structure are shallow and broad”.

Laddering integrates the advantages of MDS, namely referring only to attributes that are important to the target. Subconscious choice criteria are accounted for by asking respondents first to rate and distinguish products before referring back to the underlying features that brought about this perception. In addition, laddering identifies the deeper motives behind the ranking and categorization of products and it explores the cognitive connections between these important, partly subconscious product choice motives. This insight is necessary to stimulate strategic thinking and develop creative positioning solutions.

The optimal positioning model would be a combination of the in-depth laddering results and the clear visual format of traditional positioning maps. For instance, the dimensions could be further differentiated by depicting consumers’ perceptual orientations rather than restricting the map to attributes and functional benefits (exemplified in the case study, chapter, Figure 19) .

3.2.3 Structural Positioning

With the actual position in mind the fundamental options for further strategic steps have to be thought over. In the case of the product in focus already having been on the market, the principal strategic options concern enforcing the actual position or re-positioning the product (Baumgarth, 2008, p. 140).

Two basic types of structural positioning can be distinguished in terms of competition: differentiation and me-too-positioning. The differentiation strategy corresponds to the aim of occupying a “créneau” in the mind of the target consumer, as described in chapter 2.1.2.

Baumgarth (2008, p. 135) advances the following directives for a successful differentiation strategy:

- “USP (Unique Selling Proposition),
- KISS (keep it simple stupid),
- FIRST (preempt competitors),
- VOICE (with strong communication pressure).”

Although this strategy is prevalent in literature and practice, companies should at least give some consideration to the potential option of me-too-positioning. The me-too-positioning strategy intentionally aims at a position already occupied by a competitor. Yet, the prerequisite to be successful with this strategic option is a large target segment with non-brand-sensitive consumers (Baumgarth, 2008, p.135)

Esch (2008, pp.154-155) suggests that a successful positioning strategy is in fact a balancing act of highlighting ‘points of difference’ and sustaining ‘points of parity’ with competition. He agrees with Baumgarth’s (2008, p. 135) directive to communicate a ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP), i.e. to promote few features in which the company or product has a competitive advantage. These are the ‘points of difference’. Yet, Esch (2008, pp. 154-155) acknowledges that no product can compete with other products without maintaining a certain performance level on other features as well. These are usually standard features that are expected of a product within its category. A BMW, for instance sets itself apart from other car brands through racy driving characteristics, without curtailing on the safety standards of the medium-class limousine market (Esch, 2008, pp.154-155). As such performance standards are common to all products within the category these attributes can be referred to as ‘points of parity’. The interrelations between brands or products within the same category can be thought of as a triangle as illustrated below:

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Figure 7: Competition-Based Positioning Triangle

(Tybout & Sternthal, 2001, p. 39)

Reynolds et al. (2001a, p. 100) emphasize that means-end research should not only focus on the outstanding features that makes one product more desirable than the other, i.e. equities. Interviewees should also be encouraged to elicit negative characteristics, termed disequities that make some products less desirable than the rest. With reference to the above considerations, equities correspond to positive points of difference, while the disequities can be interpreted as negative deviations from the common category standard. This coherence is addressed in the Kano Model, in which the expected standard is characterized as must-be qualities and an expected level of performance qualities. A deficit on any of these qualities causes dissatisfaction (see Appendix 5). For example, in the focus group discussion in chapter the Flow Board Shuttle SE was rated overall poorly in a comparison of online-shop offerings. The main disequity identified was the product description which was written in English instead of German. So it can be concluded that a German product representation is one point of parity or must-be quality expected for online offerings of boardbags in Germany.

Hence, the foundation of any competition-oriented positioning strategy is given by the fundamental criteria and conditions customers expect for products of the respective category. These have to be fulfilled before considering potential differentiation criteria to capture a certain position.

3.2.4 Material Positioning

Material approaches dive deeper into the positioning strategy by investigating possible positioning contents. In a me-too-strategy the material positioning is automatically given by referring to the positioning of a strong competitor. For differentiating a product from competition, however, the array of possible positioning foci is almost inexhaustible. Depending on the kind of product category the differentiation potential ranges from technical features, design and price to certain applications such as a special focus on age, gender or occasion of usage (Ries & Trout, 1993, pp. 54-58, Kotler & Armstrong, 2010, p. 213). Customer Segmentation

In the words of Sengupta (2005, p. 50), “Positioning and segmentation are like two sides of a coin, inseparable and integrated”. Product positions have to be oriented towards the ideal points of certain customer segments to be meaningful (see chapter Hence, viable customer segmentation is the foundation of successful material positioning.

In general, segmentation should generate “distinct groups of buyers who have different needs, characteristics, or behaviors, and who might require separate products or marketing programs” (Kotler & Armstrong, 2010, p 49). The quality and viability of market segmentation greatly depends on the applied segmentation variables. An overview of commonly applied consumer segmentation categories is given in Appendix 6. The most commonly used segmentation criteria are socio-demographics because they can be easily measured and obtained with little effort from secondary sources (Hooley et al., 2008, p. 226; Myers, 1996, p. 38). Yet, Myers (1996, p. 16) and Hooley et a.l (2008, p. 215) warn that segments can only be considered useful by marketing practitioners if these segments are formed by criteria that are relevant to marketing measures. Of course, the users or non-users of a product category may be defined by age or gender (e.g. sanitary towels), but these characteristics are usually unable to predict product and brand choices (Hooley et al, 2008, p. 221). In fact, empirical studies show that socio-demographic attributes have only limited relevance to purchasing behavior and are often not suitable to define distinct market segments (Herrmann & Huber, 2009, p. 93).

For the purpose of product positioning, the most interesting segmentation criteria are those that influence product choices, namely perceptions and preferences. In this respect, the means-end approach provides a valuable contribution to generate meaningful segments: MECs include distinct attributes that drive customers’ perceptions and they reveal more abstract concepts that influence individual preferences.

Reynolds & Rochon (2001, pp. 288-297) provide an empirical example on how MECs can be used to typify relevant consumer segments that require different marketing approaches. Each respondent was asked for only one MEC that originated from the most important feature determining their product choice. This salient MEC was termed the individual’s “perceptual orientation” (Reynolds & Rochon, 2001, p. 289). Eventually, six segments were identified according to six distinct perceptual orientations as shown in Appendix 7.

Kotler et al. (2009, p. 357) provide five guidelines to judge the results of segmentation by, namely substance, differentiability, measurability, accessibility and actionability. The means-end approach largely fulfills these premises as the derived perceptual segments are substantial to positioning orientations, they differ from each other in terms of ideal positions, and the insights from laddering allude to the optimal approach to access the segments and achieve the desired actions. Yet, a general drawback of this approach is the lack of measurability making it difficult to identify and approach the segments in the real world. Herein lays a major managerial challenge. On the one hand the variables have to be relevant to customer attitudes and behavior, but on the other hand, they still have to be measurable for operational use. Based on this consideration, Hooley et al. (2008, pp. 231-232) recommend a two-level approach. It starts by looking at customers’ desired benefits or usage habits in the ‘first-order segmentation. To specify these segments, the respective customers are further analyzed in terms of demographic attributes and media use. This refined subdivision of the market is termed ‘second-order segmentation’. In other words, the ‘first-order segmentation’ answers the question about who the customer/consumer is, and the ‘second-order segmentation’ provides the necessary insights on how the customer/consumer can be identified in practice.


[1] Boardbags are designed to carry and protect snowboards during the journey.

[2] Also known as Kelly Grids (see Hooley et al., 2008, p. 265)

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Integrating the Means-End Approach into the Product Positioning Process Using the Example of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag in Germany
Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
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Dipl.-Kffr. Sabine von Possel (Author), 2010, Integrating the Means-End Approach into the Product Positioning Process Using the Example of the HEAD Snowboarding Travel Boardbag in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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