How Product Positioning Affects Product Evaluations

Summary: The way a product is positioned affects its evaluation. Functional and experiential product positioning will elicit different perceptions.

6 minutes to read. By author Michaela Mora on October 21, 2021
Topics: Brand Research, Concept Testing, Market Research Cartoons, New Product Development

How Product Positioning Affects Product Evaluations

Once you get over the AHA moment of the new idea for a product you just got, the next question is about product positioning in the mind of your target audience. This is also valid for old products that need a makeover or a boost in sales.

New products usually come in:

  • A new format with the same product features, aiming at improving the user experience (e.g., a unique bottle shape)
  • A known form with new features, looking to meet or create new needs (e.g., a car with GPS)
  • A new combination of form and features (e.g., iPhone)

Product positioning tends to fall into two major categories: functional or experiential. Although you can find a little bit of both in many ads, there is usually a focus on one of them.

Functional Positioning

In functional positioning, practical benefits take a front seat by focusing on product attributes, how it works, how helpful it is, and what needs it meets. Take the 2019 ad for the Dodge Ram 1500 Limited commercial below. It uses a long tradition in car advertising of listing different product attributes such as luxurious interior, four-corner suspension, 22” wheels, etc.

Experiential Positioning

Experiential positioning, on the other hand, is about hedonic benefits and how the product makes you feel. A stellar example is the classic Old Spice’s campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” from 2010, including commercials telling women how they would feel if their men were to use Old Spice body wash. Imagery and crafty lines like “We’re not saying this body wash will make your man smell into a romantic millionaire jet fighter pilot, but we are insinuating it” spoke to the experience women will get if they were to buy Old Spice for their men. It was not about the men. It was about the women would feel.

This type of positioning is often extended to brand positioning for the whole product portfolio.

What Does the Research Say?

Research published by the Journal of Marketing Research (Noseworthy & Trudell, 2011), shows that new products that are moderately incongruent with what consumers expect but positioned with a practical angle, tend to receive more favorable evaluations than typical, congruent products or highly incongruent products.

However, in experiential positioning, this seems to work in the other direction. Congruent products are more likely to receive favorable evaluations than products that come in an atypical form.

This research, validated across five different product categories, found that when we position a product on functional dimensions, a moderately incongruent form causes consumers to perceive more hedonic benefits.

On the other hand, when a product is positioned on experiential dimensions, a moderately incongruent form causes consumers to perceive fewer practical benefits.

Make Sure Customers Get It

These results suggest that consumers put more value on hedonic benefits once they understand what the product does, which seems obvious, but not always considered.

Have you ever seen a commercial and wondered what is it for? Check the G commercial created when Gatorade did a brand makeover a couple of years ago and left consumers scratching their heads.

Positioning Research ABCs

Before you decide on how to position your product, I suggest doing research to understand:

  • Familiarity and experience with the brand, product, or product category
  • Brand history
  • User behavior
  • Awareness and usage of competing alternatives
  • Perceived risks
  • Price perceptions and willingness to pay

With this knowledge, I suggest creating both functional and experiential positioning versions and test, before deciding on the most effective version. One test may not be enough.

Test a version, refine it based on the research results. Keep testing until you feel confident that the positioning chosen is going to advance your product.