The Evolving Patterns of the Concept of Positioning: Some Initial Findings

Charles Blankson, University of North Texas
Bo Dai, Georgia Southern University


This paper aims to contribute toward a greater understanding of the concept of positioning through a review of and content analysis of extant research on the subject. The literature is clear on the importance of the concept and its central place in modern marketing management (Talke and Hultink 2010). Unfortunately, at present little is known about underlying themes of the concept let alone generic measurement constructs in the huge volume of marketing and allied journals that contain positioning-related studies. To address the gaps in the literature, we examine two key research questions: (1) What has been driving research themes in positioning over time that are capable of being operationalized by researchers and managers? (2) Among the leading marketing and allied journals, what level of publication productivity is contingent on the concept of positioning? First, we relied on a comprehensive set of marketing and allied journals publishing positioning-based articles over time. Second, we commenced with our first study where we analyzed 61 years (1949–2010) of positioning studies published in the Journal of Marketing. Third, for the second study, we reviewed publications on the concept of positioning in leading marketing and allied journals. The unit of analysis involved Business Source Complete, ABI/INFORM, JSTOR, EBSCOhost, Google Scholar, and ProQuest. Specifically, we followed Hult et al. (1997) and identified the seven most important journals in the marketing field: Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Journal of Retailing, International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. In addition, a second set of highly regarded allied journals were selected given their importance and relevance to the knowledge development and advancement of the scientific community (Whitelock and Fastoso 2007).

A content analysis of the articles reveals that brand positioning is the dominant independent variable (40 %) followed by product category (16 %) and positioning strategy (14 %). Interestingly, consumer involvement (8 %) and country of origin (4 %) are used less often as independent variables. Brand choice and brand attribute association (40.3 %) lead the dependent variables compared to organizational performance—sales, profits, market share, and consumer buying behavior (27.4) and consumer perception (25.8 %). Between 1953 and 1963, five themes dominated scholarly activities. However, more recently, from 2007 to 2012, 28 themes have emerged as the positioning themes. This paper concludes that there is an opportunity to examine the field of marketing strategy and more specifically, positioning, in terms of focus on current interests pertaining to the dynamic marketplace such as social media, impact of internet marketing on positioning strategies, and examination of emerging and liberalized developing marketplaces in a continued research within the field (Griffith et al. 2008).

Theoretically, our findings reveal that despite the inclusive characteristic of the subject matter, there is need for continued research in our leading journals. In terms of methodology, marketing scholars appear to shy away from qualitative methods and secondary data analysis in positioning studies. It is hoped that this qualitative review paper will spur future research in positioning theory development and positioning theory testing as well as testing these theories in overlooked research settings such as Africa and the Middle East.