There are three important issues when it comes to Brand Positioning: Define and communicate the competitive Frame of Reference; define Points of Parity (POPs) and point out Points of Difference (PODs).
The term frame of reference concerns with category membership of a product or which product category a brand competes with. When a brand compete in a specific market segment, it is supposed to chose a frame of reference and accordingly corresponding POPs and PODs.
When a brand practices a frame of reference to differentiate itself from competing brands, there should have POPs. Basic features and benefits are what is meant by POPs. For example, in the early 1980s, American luxury cars were perceived by many to be nice-looking. When entering this marker, BMW was able to capitalize on their Germany heritage in auto design sector to introduce a very well-designed luxury car that comes up with fundamental consumers expectation in the luxury auto market.
A brand must essentially have fundamental features and benefits of product category that it belongs to. They do not help to make brand stand-out, but a brand that falls short on point of parity will struggle to be accepted by consumers. Consumer cannot consider a bank a “real” bank unless this bank offers basic service like savings, deposit or loan along with other discretionary services.
Dominoes has a strong point of difference but have missed a key point of parity. Domino’s pizza differentiates themselves from other by their 30-minute delivery guarantee. The point is that while they manage to keep on delivery superiority, their sales has not gained significant volume due to the failure in fundamental function: Domino’s pizza does not have a good taste & flavor is not as liked as other. Fortunately, Domino’s was aware of this point of parity and a necessary improvement has been made.
Subway has a strong point of difference and they have a key point of parity. In 2011, Subway officially surpassed Mc Donald in terms of number of store (33,749 vs 32,737). This remarkable achievement is attributed to Subway’s prudent competitive strategy. In stead of competing directly with the giant in providing hamberger, Subway originated “fresh” submarine sandwich that is normally made in front of customers. Do you think this point of different made Subway successful? that is true but not enough. The conventional frame of reference in fast-food business is good taste (giant McDonald is strong at this core value). While Subway offers a fresher sandwich, McDonald has greater taste, and their stronger POP gives them an advantage. Subway competes on healthfulness but its taste is good-enough to be accepted as a fast-food brand, so it is a strong competitor.
A feature may be a point of parity or a point of difference depending on its audience. For example, an inevitable function of a cheep “Made in China” cell phone is calling easiness. In this case, this essential feature is a point of parity for any cheep cell phone brand (can you imagine a low-income buyer buy an cheep mobile phone that cannot serve well in calling?). By contrast, a fundamental characteristic of a smart phone brand is internet connection ability. Similarly, can a business person (or a trendy teenager) accept a smart phone that has very good graphic function (a point of difference) but very week in internet connection?
A brand needs both points of parity and points of difference to be successful. In today’s fierce market, brand differentiation is the first and foremost to win consumer heart. However, points of difference alone are not enough to be succeed in the marketplace. A brand need to come up with basic features in common with competitors. That is called points of parity.