Decoy effects in brand positioning

Boatswain, Marvyn L. (2015) Decoy effects in brand positioning. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Marketing academics and practitioners consider brand positioning to be a key element of modern marketing management, branding, and strategy, given today's increasingly competitive marketplace. By way of its position, an offering seeks to take possession of a unique place in the minds of the targeted consumers, and in so doing, differentiates itself from the competition. Extant research confirms the importance of brand positioning, demonstrating that it positively affects, among other key factors, brand equity and value; consumer loyalty; and customer willingness to search and pay premium for a brand. market share, and the overall financial performance of the firm. Throughout the literature, various positioning typologies have been developed and used in the management and application of positioning. In addition, both firm-centred and customer-centred approaches have been adopted to evaluate the effectiveness and success of positioning strategies. Although considerable amounts of research have been devoted to the management of positioning, these efforts have focussed primarily on the positioning new offerings, re-positioning existing offerings to new target markets. However, despite the accorded importance of an offering's position in the long run, the review fails to identify research devoted to strengthening the already-established position of offerings over time. Consequently, the aim of this study is to empirically examine positioning strategies to strengthen the perceptions of the positions of existing offerings, hereby offering a proactive and deliberate approach to positioning, beyond the scope of extant research on positioning strategies. The lack of suitable theory withing the positioning literature led to a search and eventual use of the decoy effect, a phenomenon explained by theories within social and consumer psychology. In addressing the research aim, the decoy effect provides a theoretically-grounded conceptual framework to underpin the research. This framework proposes that the consumers' perception of the position of an existing offering (denoted in the study as, the Focal offering), is enhanced by the introduction of a new offering that is positioned similar yet inferior to the focal, i.e. an asymmetrically-dominated decoy (denoted as a decoy-positioned offering). This framework is empirically tested within the consumer product domain of washing detergents, and with this use of a field experiment. A 2 x 2 between-subjects design is applied to test the impact of two types of decoys (frequency and range) across two types of positioning bases (feature-, and benefit-oriented positioning). Data, collected using an electronic self-completion questionnaire from a random sample (n = 1200) of adult (18 and above) UK consumers, are analysed using analysis of covariance. The results confirm that the introduction of a decoy-positioned offering enhances the position of the focal offering across the four dimensions of perceived positioning - i.e., favourabilty, differentiation, credibility, and uniqueness. Of these dimensions, the decoy is most influential in enhancing perceived differentiation and uniqueness of the focal offering on the introduction of the decoy. Comparing the two decoys, the results show that the frequency decoy exerts a stronger impact than the range decoy on positioning perceptions. In terms of positioning bases, decoys are found more effective in the context of benefit-oriented positioning as compared to feature-oriented positioning. This study advances the literature in several ways; primarily as the first theoretically-grounded effort to examine how a brand can strengthen the position of existing offerings, thus addressing the calls for a theoretical foundation to investigate the calls for a theoretical foundation to investigate the concept of positioning. The study also demonstrates the prudence of taking into account both the specific dimension of the positioning concept, and the perceived-importance of the attributes on which an offering is positioned. To practitioners, the study provided guidance as to how the firm can strengthen the position of its existing offering amidst the competitive dynamics of today's marketplace.

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