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E-Commerce positioning – a perfect place for marketing and e-Commerce to connect

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Why read this? : Your e-Commerce positioning defines which shoppers you go after and how you’ll persuade them to buy. We share how you create a positioning map and statement. Learn from our examples of how different e-Commerce brands bring their positioning to life. Read this to define how you position yourself in e-Commerce. 

Marketing and e-Commerce often have to work closely together. E-Commerce positioning is a good example of this. This is when you define what you’ll do for customers (the benefit) and why they should believe you (the reason why and reason to believe). It also :-

It’s created after you segment the market, and choose your target audience, so let’s look at those first.

Segmentation

Segmentation starts by identifying all potential customers for your products (also known as your product’s “universe”).

You then do segmentation research to group them into smaller segments.

Each segment shares common traits which make them different from other segments. And to be meaningful, the segment must generate enough sales to be worth going after. 

Also, the traits must be easy to identify and have some influence over the buying decision. 

The easiest traits to identify are demographics e.g. age, gender, income. Then, there are occasion-based traits e.g. time of day or location when shopping. Finally, there are psychographic traits which are normally attitudes or beliefs e.g. buying sustainable products or always buying on value. 

It’s unlikely only one trait drives buying decisions. Usually, a mix of traits drives what people buy.

For e-Commerce, you also want to identify what each segment wants from online shopping. For example, it could be ease and convenience, a wide range to choose from and/or being able to compare prices.  

Targeting

Once you work out the segments, you decide which ones to go after. You can’t appeal to all customers. Some customers will be easier to win or more valuable than others. 

You pick a target audience, using the targeting process, which works out the attractiveness of all the different segments.

It’s based on data like the size of the segment, how profitable it is, and if it’s growing. 

Archery target with arrows in bullseye to symbolise marketing targeting

E-Commerce segments are attractive if they :-

But your brand also has to be able to meet the segment’s needs. You have to be attractive to that segment. You need to be what they’re looking for. 

Attractiveness is usually a calculated score. You list the data for each segment e.g. size of market, growth in sales, level of competition. Then, you rank segments based on a weighting and score for each variable. The final ranking shows you which segment you should target. 

Positioning

The final step is your positioning. This defines a clear, distinctive and desirable place in the mind of the target audience, relative to competitors.

It summarises what the brand stands for and how it’ll compete, and uses 2 key tools :-

  • positioning mapa visual representation of where you and competitor brands play.
  • positioning statement – a written template which defines key elements of your brand identity like your benefit and the rationale for customers to buy you and believe what you say.
is a process to define a clear, distinctive and desirable place in the mind of target consumers, relative to competitors. Concise summary of what the brand stands for and how it will compete.

E-Commerce positioning map

The positioning map is a grid with 2 axes. Each axis is a key buying decision driver. The map shows how customers perceive brands against each driver.

The most common way to create this is via qualitative research. In simple terms, you ask customers to tell you the 2 things which most influence their buying decisions. You use these as the axes.

Then, you ask them to place brands on the map against where they sit relative to each axis. Where they place each brand (including competitors) gives you a visual view of how they perceive that brand. 

Positioning map - example

Let’s look at an example from our recent review of online fashion shopping sites.

The segment axes were range and service

The stores we reviewed – The Iconic, Myer and the Converse D2C store clearly occupy different positions on these factors

Myer wins on range. The Iconic wins on service. Converse has the lowest range, but is better than Myer on service. Very easy to work out with a visual map like this. 

But what if you want to find a less competitive space? For example, let’s say TK Maxx is planning to enter this category. They’d use a map like this to see where competitors are strong. But they’d also look for “gaps” in the market where they could play.

In this case, TK Maxx might go for a low service position, and a medium range. They could use the cost savings to be more competitive on price, for example. They’d not compete directly on Myer’s range, or The Iconic’s service, but find something else to compete on. 

E-Commerce positioning statement

The positioning map helps show “where” you’ll play. But the positioning statement shows “how” you’ll play. For example, if you’ll focus on price or take more of a challenger brand approach. It’s a template-based sentence you fill in with details of your target audience, benefit, and rationale.

This statement starts your brand identity. You to use it to create brand assets to bring your e-Commerce positioning to life. The (blank) statement looks like this :- 

To (Target Audience), (your brand) is the (frame of reference) that (benefit) because (Reason Why and Reason to believe). 

Target audience

As we already said, segmentation and targeting identify which segments you’ll go after.

But you have to be able to describe these segments. Who they are. What they think and feel. How they make decisions.

A common tool for this is the customer segment profile or persona. In this, you collate key data and insights about each segment. This includes demographic, occasion and psychographic information about them. And you also use it to give your segment a meaningful name.

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

The name usually brings to life a key need or behaviour. For example, “Service Seeking Susan” or “Range Researching Rachel”. These names remind you what you need to do to help that segment. 

For example, “Service Seeking Susan” might always check the delivery and returns options. So, you make those easy to find on your store website

“Range Researching Rachel” on the other hand, might like browsing different areas of the website. For her, you prioritise search and navigation. You want her to find your store quickly, and move around it easily. 

You don’t need all this detail in the statement itself. But you need to know it to define your target audience.

Frame of reference

Next, you start to define how you’ll meet your target audience’s needs.

The first step is the frame of reference. This defines the category you play in. You choose how broad or narrow to make this definition.

In this pizza delivery example, the frame of reference could be :-

  • narrow – pizza shops in Bondi
  • broad – evening meals in Sydney
  • somewhere in-between – pizza delivery in Eastern suburbs.
Frame of reference - pizza shop example

Each choice has different implications for how you operate, and who you compete against. For e-Commerce positioning, how broad or narrow affects your competitive strategy

You can be a generalist store with a wide range of products, for example. That’s a broad Frame of Reference.

Or you can be a niche store with a focused range of products. That’s a narrow Frame of Reference. 

The broader the frame of reference, the more potential customers you attract. But, it costs you more to go after this larger segment. Plus, you’ll also have more competitors. Deciding the frame of reference helps you work out how much you need to spend, and how much effort it’ll take. 

For e-Commerce, it influences how you set up your store website, your range and stock management, and your order to delivery systems, for example.

The Frame of Reference defines your competitor set

The e-Commerce frame of reference also defines your competitive set. That affects your marketing plan. For example, the products you offer, your pricing strategy, your distribution set-up and of course, how you promote your brand.

For example, from our earlier fashion example, The Iconic and Myer are direct competitors. They’d have a similar Frame of Reference, where they offer similar ranges and service levels. 

But Converse D2C doesn’t directly compete with those brands. Its Frame of Reference would be different. It would compete against other shoe brand D2C stores. 

The benefit

The next stage in e-Commerce positioning is to define the main benefit for the customer. Benefits work at many levels. From functional product features to more complex emotional benefits. 

As per our what online shoppers want article, the 3 most common online shopping benefits are ease and convenience, range and price comparisons. 

These are all functional rather than emotional. They appeal to rational decision-making rather than feelings or emotions. 

Brand benefit ladder - four key levels of benefit

Arguably, these functional benefits may have some indirect emotional connections.

For example, you feel reassured you know when a package will arrive. You feel proud you’ve found something unusual to buy as a gift. You feel happy you’ve found a bargain. But, these come after the buying decision. They’re not usually what drives the decision. 

Which benefit matters most changes over the customer journey

Where the customer is on their journey affects which benefits matter to them. (See our recent article on marketing and e-Commerce differences for more on this). 

Emotional benefits work best when the focus is awareness and consideration. They create more attention and interest. Customers don’t care much about functional benefits at that stage. Emotional benefits help strong brands stand out.

But nearer the point of purchase, the logical rational brain steps in. Functional benefits become more important.  But, it’s harder to stand out on functional benefits. Most store websites and order to delivery systems offer similar functional benefits.

To stand out, you usually have to offer some advantage in your back-end order processing systems. e.g. :- 

  • The only store to deliver within 24 hours of the order being placed (ease and convenience). 

  • The only store to stock more than 1 million products (range)

  • Find a cheaper product and we’ll refund the difference by 10%. (price)

These sorts of e-Commerce functional benefits usually suit generalist stores, because they have economies of scale. They can afford to invest in the support activities (fast delivery, large range, price discounts etc) needed to deliver those benefits.

Emotional benefits in e-Commerce

Niche stores on the other hand don’t have the same economies of scale. A stronger, more defendable benefit for them is to dial up the emotion. 

For example, one online store we worked on led with its ability to always have products in stock. It sold high-demand products that were often out of stock in other channels. The out-of-stock situation in other channels caused much anxiety. So, this store reassured customers they’d always be able to access the product. The “always in stock” was a functional benefit. The “reassurance” was an emotional one. 

Example - Amazon emotional benefit

Emotional benefits are tricky in e-Commerce, but not impossible. Bigger e-Commerce brands like Amazon use advertising to create more emotional connections with customers. This works at the top of the funnel to drive more traffic to their website (where the functional benefits of ease, range and price then take over). 

For example, this advert features a cute dog and a cute baby. Clearly, neither shop at Amazon. But they’ll have a strong emotional appeal to the customer types (family shoppers) Amazon wants. (Plus the humour adds even more of an emotional connection).

Of course, if your brand already has a clear emotional benefit, you can tie your e-Commerce store to this benefit.

For example, many charities now have online stores. These link the emotional benefit of the charity brand (feeling good by helping others) to what their online store offers. 

Example - Red Cross emotional benefit

Look at Red Cross Australia, for example. They offer a limited edition Kindness Collection range of totes and bags. These have been exclusively designed and aren’t available elsewhere.

There’s a clear emotional benefit to supporting the Red Cross by buying these products. The focus isn’t on ease and convenience, range or price. It’s about supporting a good cause and helping others. 

Your benefit is why customers choose your brand over competitors. It has to be credible and believable. And for that, you also need to define the reason why and the reason to believe.

Reason Why and Reason to Believe

The reason why and reason to believe are the justification system for your positioning. It’s why customers should believe what you say. 

In your e-Commerce positioning statement, the reason why helps customers understand the benefit. The reason to believe proves the benefit. Together, they justify the benefit. 

Reasons why could typically include ingredients, or where and how the product is made. Beck’s Beer, only ever brewed in Bremen, Germany, for example.

In e-Commerce, the reason why usually relates to how the online store works. It normally relates to a process or system.

Example e-Commerce Reasons Why include the :-

  • best navigation and layout.
  • simplest check-out process.
  • widest range of delivery options.
  • breadth of the product range.
  • frequency of price checks.
  • some sort of pricing guarantee

Competitors will try to copy or improve on these benefits. You have to make them unique and defendable. You do this with a clear Reason To Believe.

Reason to Believe - e-Commerce ease and convenience

The Reason to Believe is the proof of your reason why. 

Let’s say your Reason Why is ease and convenience. Any store can claim this, so why would customers believe you? You should be more specific about what you mean. Are you easy and convenient at every stage, for example? Or is one part of your delivery process better than everyone else? 

Ease and convenience on your store website could mean good site navigation and layout. You could focus on the minimum number of clicks to buy for example, like Amazon’s 1-Click order system. 

So, if you were Amazon, your convenience benefit could drive a Reason Why and Reason to Believe something like this :-

“the most convenient way to shop online due to our focus on making the purchase as easy as possible, proved by our 1-Click order system”. 

(though in fact, as per our working with Amazon article, their lead benefit is range, not convenience).

Amazon logo on phone

Ease and convenience - e-Commerce systems

Ease and convenience could also apply to payments. Setting up your site to remember payment details, for example. That’s definitely easier and more convenient. 

Payment options like PayPal or AfterPay add ease and convenience. Subscriptions, repeat orders or reminder services all make the next purchase much easier. 

You can also bring out this benefit in your order to delivery system. A choice of convenient delivery slots which includes evening or weekend deliveries, for example. Or even something as simple as lower delivery cost options. 

But what makes life easier for shoppers tends to make life harder for you. You’ll need technical know-how and investment to support these types of Reason to Believe. Your e-Commerce positioning work helps flag these needs early in the e-Commerce planning process.

Reason to Believe - e-Commerce range

A wide range of products helps attract more customers. But there’s a cost. You need more stock and the order to delivery system is more complex. Plus, it’s hard to show you have a wider range than competitors. How will customers know?

To prove you have a wider range than competitors, you first need to know how big their range is, so you can compare. This isn’t always feasible. 

An easier range benefit to prove is offering exclusives. Find specific products only your store sells. Rare or limited edition products and one-offs are a great way to differentiate your brand. 

Exclusives make you unique and more desirable for shoppers, as they can’t get those products elsewhere. (See our advanced e-Commerce techniques article for more on exclusives). 

Reason to Believe - e-Commerce price 

Finally, if your competitive strategy is cost leadership, you have to prove you offer the best value. You can do this by regularly price-checking against competitors and making it easy for customers to do the same.

In some categories, third-party websites run regular price checks. Customers (and you) can use these sites to monitor prices. The site supermarket.co.uk for example does this for UK grocery shopping.

Failing that, you can monitor competitor prices directly on their websites. Or you can invest in marketing technology solutions. Services like Edge by Ascential set up automatic monitoring and tracking of competitor prices. You can set up alerts for when prices change. 

To make it easier for customers to compare prices, you can look at companies like Numerator. They supply software that sits on your website and displays prices from retailer websites for each of your products. For example, look at how Tim Tam biscuits do it.

What to do with your e-Commerce positioning statement

Completing these 5 e-Commerce positioning elements sets you up for the rest of the brand identity development process. 

The e-Commerce positioning statement is an important part of your e-Commerce plan.

It shows what your brand will do, and how it’ll do it. It summarises how your brand will sell online. 

The positioning informs key elements of your brand identity like your essence, values and personality. It gives clear direction to your marketing plans and brand activation.

Your e-Commerce positioning helps you find a clear and distinctive place in the minds of customers. That’s why it’s a great place for e-Commerce and Marketing to connect.

Conclusion - E-Commerce positioning

E-Commerce world is often very competitive. E-Commerce positioning helps you find the best space in the market to play in, relative to competitors. 

It helps you work out how to make your brand stand out against other brands. Use it to decide on the specific position you want to occupy in the minds of your target audience

There are 5 key elements of the positioning statement – target audience, frame of reference, benefit, reason why and reason to believe.

Hand holding old fashioned looking compass

These are core brand identity elements. They should appear in your briefs, your marketing plans and all your e-Commerce activation

Your e-Commerce positioning forces you to make decisions about who your target customer is and how you’ll go after them. Use it to make sure your e-Commerce marketing plan delivers :-

  • more relevant products.
  • smarter pricing.
  • effective and targeted communications.
  • a great customer experience. 

Read our segmentation, targeting and positioning guide to find out more. Or, check out our functions of e-Commerce guide to see how different business functions should work together. And of course, get in touch if there’s a specific positioning project you need help with.

Photo Credits

Person holding compass : Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Coffee cups : Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Target : Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Flowers : Photo by Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

Amazon on phone : Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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