The Whats And Whys Of Positioning

Originally Published in the November 1988 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.

In their excellent book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind”, Al Ries and Jack Trout discuss the ins and outs of product positioning in an overcrowded marketplace.

Simply stated, positioning involves how the product is placed in the mind of the consumer. A product is not positioned, the mind of the consumer is positioned to be receptive to the product being sold. Positioning is, as the authors explain, the first body of thought that enables you to be heard in an over communicated society.

Why do all products need to be positioned? The answer is simple. Our brains are bombarded with literally millions of images a year. Americans consume over half of all advertising in the world. The average American consumes twice as much advertising as the average Canadian. But the average Canadian is exposed to twice as much advertising as the average European. Over the last 40 years, people have been exposed to 10 to 15 times the amount advertising they were previously shown.

As an outfitter at a sports show, you must position your product head to head with up to 200 other businessmen who are selling essentially the same product.

Spring editions of sportsmen’s magazines often contain ads for 50 to 75 businesses.

It is easy to get lost in the shuffle, especially when studies have indicated that the human mind cannot deal with more than seven units at a time. That number represents high interest items. For those items that create a passing interest, often only two or three are remembered.

That means that if your camp rates fifth or six with a potential customer, then you are going to lose out on a great deal of business.

As Ries and Trout state “to succeed in an over communicated society a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind”.

In an over communicated world, the best way to get the message across is with the simplest message. That is why “Coke is it!”, “at Ford Quality is Job 1” and “Ontario is Incredible”.


Once an operator has decided to position his product and has selected where and how he wants to position it, then he must decide how to create the positioning strategy.

A number of factors can be considered.

Above all, let your personality shine. Your tourist camp is a reflection of you. People select family operated businesses over chains because they like the personalized, hands on service they receive from owner operators. When positioning your product, it is important to create a personality of your operation.

Your operation has a personality anyway. If you are craft oriented, it shows, if you love wilderness, it shows. Look around any business, you will notice the owner’s own stamp on the property. Use it! Build on it! It is your strength.

Businesses must be set apart from the competition. To accomplish this, you must know and understand the competition. Both MacDonald’s and Burger King serve hamburgers. But, the style and presentation of each business is different. By that same token, you can and must establish a separate identity for your business.

Be first! If you can establish a position that places you first in the minds of the consumer, half the battle is won.

Ford Motor Company says “Quality is Job 1”. Whether or not that statement is true in all cases, Ford is first in claiming that strategy. The Dallas Cowboys are America’s football team. Why? Because they claimed the name first.

On a more personal note, tourist operators can also claim a first. If a camp can position itself clearly on a water body, then it has immediate advantage. If the consumer associates the camp with Lake of the Woods, then you have the advantage.

Any positioning strategy must be single minded. “Shoppers Drug Mart is Canada’s Drugstore”, “Crest fights cavities” and “It’s mainly because of the meat,” are just some of the many single minded strategies. By trying to be too many things to too many people, the consumer is left confused. Other products and services can be sold, but it is one item that attracts people. If an operator has two distinct products, ie. Cross country skiing in the winter and fishing in the summer, it may be appropriate to adapt two positioning strategies to reflect the product.

Tell the truth in a better way. Consumers like to think they are getting a good deal. By telling the truth in a better way, the consumer will feel that he or she is actually receiving more. For example, if a modified American plan is being offered, what sounds better; “We don’t serve lunch” or “The plan includes full breakfast and hearty supper”?

By the same token, what one operator may feel is a liability may be used by another operator as a strength. This is noticed for example, by how some operators are marketing under utilized fish species.

When positioning a tourist operation, it is imperative to make the benefits meaningful and believable. Don’t mislead your clients. Just as it is important not to undersell yourself, it is also equally important not to oversell yourself.

Use pricing to your advantage. It appears that some operators are shy about discussing prices. What impression does that leave with the guests? Do they think that you may be charging too much? Pricing is a powerful positioning tool. An American Plan package at $1000 per person is immediately positioned differently from one costing $200 per person.

There are advantages to being either a budget, mid-priced or high end destination. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.

Lastly, be consistent with your positioning. If you try to re-position yourself each year, you will alienate your customers. A good position creates an image in the mind of the consumer that is long lasting. People still associate “You deserve a break today” with MacDonald’s, even though that tag line has not been used in many years.


Positioning your business sounds simple, yet the complexities involved in successfully accomplishing this feat are sometimes mind boggling. Every product, business and tourist camp can be successfully positioned.

With a potential market of 90 million North Americans within easy access of Northern Ontario and a tourist camp that, on average, accommodates fewer than 1000 people per year, every operator in Ontario is capable of successfully positioning his or her product with the consumer.

A number of key points must be considered when taking a critical look at your product and how it fits into the market plan.

First, you must know who you are and what you do. This sounds simple, but often times too many businesses get caught in the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. What is it you do best? What aspects of your business are strongest? Do they change from season to season? Where are the profit centers at your camp? Do you really offer the product you think you do?

These critical questions must be addressed before you can ask how well you are positioned.

Second, you must define your customer. What type of customer are you attracting or do you want to attract? Can you satisfy the demands of your customer?

The nature of the business is ever changing. Products, customer desires, and customer needs change. If you are locked into an archaic customer profile, your business may suffer.

Third, know your competition! By learning all about your competition, you will be better able to position your camp vis-à-vis your competitor. Every operator has strengths and every operator has weaknesses in the eye of the consumer. A small housekeeping resort may position itself against a much larger resort on the basis of personal touches. Outpost camps can position themselves against the base lodges etc.

Fourth, focus your efforts on themes and actions. You must know the philosophy of your camp. Are you a family resort, a wilderness lodge, a high end destination or a moderately priced facility?

Once this is known, it is essential to pay attention to the little details. If the details are addressed and the focus is clear, then programs will naturally follow. Mistakes are made when operators fail to address the fine details, preferring to spend time on broader issues. Without commitment to detail, plans will never succeed.

These guidelines will assist operators to define where they may want to position the product.


For many tourist operators, brochures are the key contact between prospective customers and the tourist operator. A well designed brochure will generate business while a poor one will actually drive customers away.

There are a number of key items that all operators should consider in the design of the brochure.

The front cover of the brochure is the single most important sales tool an operator has. The cover must, in a concise way, define your product, present your image, and clearly define who it is and what you do.

Any brochure must be single-minded in nature. Studies have indicated that a shot gun approach to brochure design is a sure recipe for failure. By being single minded, a brochure can still show more than one activity. If your product is a fishing lodge, then, by all means show the many facets of fishing. But, do not show fishing in one panel, a discotheque in another and yacht races in a third. This serves only to confuse your potential clientele.

The brochure must be meaningful to your target audience and the audience must identify with the brochure. If the target market is groups of male fishermen seeking a wilderness experience, then a beach scene full of children is inappropriate. By the same token, if the target audience is families, photographs of burly men with four day’s facial growth will not work.

The most difficult task in creating any brochure is to develop a mission statement. In no more than two short sentences, you must be able to clearly define to your customers why they want to come to your place. Too many words will result in a brochure that does not get read. Too few words and the message will not get out.

Once the mission statement is produced, then you can elaborate with visuals and words to support the camp’s philosophy. It is in this section that operators can elaborate more. 

When designing a brochure, be sure to add your personal touch to it. Small businesses are selling personalized service. By including a section on, “Your hosts are John and Sarah Smith” or a simply written “Camp Philosophy”, the operator adds his or her personal touch.

When using photography, it is always better to show happy people doing happy things. An empty dining room looks cold compared to a close up of a table of satisfied diners. Similarly, children playing makes a beach or playground much more appealing.

A little used sales tool is the envelope in which the brochure is enclosed. Publisher’s Clearing House uses this tool extremely effectively, because it works. The envelope often is blank space that could be used to create a very positive sales tool for you.

The camp logo and slogan are two items that should always be included on envelopes. The back of the envelope creates marketing opportunities that are rarely used.

By utilizing these ideas, tourist operators can optimize the effectiveness of their brochures.


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