In nonprofit marketing there are two definitions of positioning. Both play an important role in helping you plan marketing activity.
Customer defined positioning
This is what your customers really think of your product (which could be goods, a service or an idea) and your organisation - as opposed to what you would like them to think. It is what your customers say about your product and your organisation 'after you have left the room' - a brutally honest assessment untempered by politeness. This definition of marketing is core to marketing.
The second is more closely allied to strategic planning and is how you try and place your products and organisation in the marketplace.
Here we concentrate on the first approach - positioning as defined by your customers.
Why positioning is important
Why do you need to know exactly and honestly what your customers think about your organisation and its products? The answer is simple: if you do not know, you will not know how to improve and you won't be able to communicate those improvements to your customers.
An example from RNIB
Five years after I had joined RNIB we did some market research to find out what the general public thought about us and our range of products.
In those five years we had been working hard on modernising, including upgrading the buildings where we delivered our services, delivering more campaigning work on behalf of blind and partially sighted people, introducing more high tech services and becoming more proactive.
To our dismay, the market research revealed that while the public thought that we were trustworthy, reliable, efficient and effective, they still thought of us a being slow to act and a bit old fashioned.
If we had not been keen to find out the truth, we would never have found out we had a problem. Discovering our true positioning spurred us on to more effective communications about our modernised state. We developed a new logo, a new design and house style for all our publications, adverts and signage, and started to feature more of our high tech services in our adverts and PR.
Market research with beneficiaries
Although this example relates to supporter customers, knowing what your beneficiary customers think of your organisation is even more important. You cannot rely on personal feedback to staff and trustees because you will get a rosy picture – the 'ever so grateful' syndrome.
Market research among beneficiaries with a credible and absolute guarantee of the respondents’ anonymity is crucial – only this will get you the truth on which you can act.
Positioning leads to branding
Positioning leads to branding - sometimes known as identity. The identity or the brand is the very essence of the charity - its personality. But it is the personality as viewed through the eyes of your customers, rather than you or your colleagues.
This means that sometimes your brand may not be as you want it to be. This section looks at what you can do in this situation and why you should do it.
The value of a strong identity or brand
While it seldom appears on the balance sheet, a strong, well-supported brand is one of a company’s most enduring assets. This is even more true in our charity world. We need to nurture and grow our brands if we are to achieve maximum success with our donors and also our beneficiary customers.
If our potential beneficiaries have not heard of us, or if they have heard of us but do not have a high opinion of our services, then we have a problem that must be solved. The solution is not spin - it has to be genuine change combined with credible and well-targeted communications that convey this change to customers, including beneficiaries, supporters and donors; staff and other stakeholders; and regulators.
The most obvious and probably the most important part of the brand is the name, but there are other visual and sometimes sensual symbols such as straplines, logos, publications, buildings (and their design), your staff and their presentation, attitudes and behaviour. All of these brand components require attention and all need to flow from your charity’s purpose and philosophical base.
The name is so important because it is a shorthand for everything you do and stand for. If I say 'NSPCC' to you, you will instantly have an image and understanding of what it is, what it does which would take at least half a minute to describe in words.
The speed and holistic experience that the brand name triggers is crucial in keeping large charities successful nationally and small charities strong locally. This is because customers have a bewildering array of charities in front of them and a strong brand with a well known brand name simplifies the choice for the customer.
Take a look at the Charity Talk 'The what when and how of a relaunch' to find out more about relaunching and rebranding an organisation.
Further help and advice
Why not try the Studyzone Organisational Values training course?