Monday, August 02, 2010

Marketing Q&A : Frame of Reference and Points of Parity

A Marketing Practice reader asks this very pertinent question " What is frame of reference and points of parity and their role in branding ?"

Frame of reference is the framework used by the consumers to make sense of the product in question. Humans understand and remember new things by linking it to existing (known) objects. Frame of reference is that evaluative criterion which is used by consumers to make a better understanding of the product/services. Frame of reference also explains the context in which consumers tend to evaluate /place the product. For example , the frame of reference used to evaluate Frooti is that it is a mango drink. Coca Cola = Cola, Ace = Mini Truck, Dettol = Antiseptic etc. If Frooti launches an Apple Drink, the consumers will find it difficult to accept the product since it is out of the frame of reference used to evaluate/understand Frooti

Since consumers use a frame of reference in understanding a product, the concept has a very important place in the positioning of the product. Positioning is defined as the act of designing the company's offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market ( Kotler). The first task of the marketer is to identify the frame of reference used by the target market in evaluating the product/service. Once the frame of reference is identified, the marketer will position the product in line with the frame of reference. In case of products that lack a frame of reference, marketers should create a frame of reference for the consumers.

The concept of Points of Parity helps marketers to place the product in line with the consumer's frame of reference. Points of parity are those associations that are not necessarily unique to the brand but may in fact be shared with other brands. There are two forms of Points of Parity - Category POP and Competitive POP. Category POP are those associations that consumers view as being necessary to be a legitimate and credible offering with a certain product or service category.Competitive POP are those associations designed to negate competitor's Points of Parity ( Kevin Keller).

In simple terms , when a product is launched, the marketer should tell the customer about the category in which the product belongs ( category POP). This task is important for products which belong to a new category. For example , hand sanitizer is a new category and consumers are not aware of such a category. So when a brand is being launched in such a new category, brand managers should first establish a category POP. For that , the consumers should be made aware of such a category. Right now marketers are using infomercials to educate the consumers about hand sanitizer, its advantages and uses. Once the frame of reference is established ,then the brand should be placed in the category. Usually marketers use packaging, product form and labels to establish category points of parity.

Competitor POP is where marketers tell the consumers that their brand have all the properties/qualities of their competing brands. For example Lifebuoy soap will establish competitive POP with Dettol soap by claiming that it has germ killing qualities and vice versa.

These strategies will fail if the marketers did not understand the frame of reference used by consumers in evaluating the product. This lack of understanding can lead to positioning failures that eventually lead to product failure.