To any toy or toy product on offer on the toy market, there is a natural attachment in the form of a positioning strategy which has to be communicated to the market or to the target group.
Formulating a positioning strategy for any toy product can present difficulties if there are other products whose appearance or play value are very similar.
If a product is not alone on the market, the form of communication (mentioned earlier, includes TV spots, brochures, the toy’s position in the toy store, etc.) must be both original and well thought out.
There are many motivations for positioning a toy brand or product. The five most important motivations are:
1. Specific product characteristics:
The manufacturer might elect to emphasise durability or quality of the materials used to make the product.
2. The toy solves a problem or fulfils a need:
Emphasising the toy’s special significance for the child’s play. This is achieved by focus on how the child’s needs and development are stimulated through play with this particular toy in preference to other similar products.
3. Context of playwith the toy:
Accentuating, for example, the fact that the toy is specially suitable for several children to play with together or that it is both an indoor and an outdoor toy.
4. User category:
Underlining e.g. the toy’s special appeal to girls/boys or to children in a specified age group. For example, a toy tool box specially developed for boys, aged 3-4 years.
5. Other product or brand:
Pointing out that a dollis also available with brown eyes, dark hair and dark skin or that certain animal figures can also be found on jigsaw puzzles, in fold-out books or other alternative form.
For the manufacturer, it is important to choose the “correct”, precise and strategically optimum motivation for positioning his product, clearly encompassing and isolating the consumer group he wishes to come into contact with.
Positioning becomes the outer structure for all the ideas which have to be communicated to the consumers in order to motivate them to purchase the product.
The manufacturer’s, the toy maker’s or sender’s thoughts and ideas must be strong, special and original enough to ensure that the consumers or recipients are able to interpret the text of the toy in accordance with the idea of the toy.
Coming up with unique ideas for a product is a very complicated process and especially if there are other very similar products on the market because:
- the more similar two toy products are, the greater the competition between them
- the closer a product comes to fulfilling the consumer’s or consumer segment’s dreamsand ideals relative to other similar products, the more likely it is that the consumer or segment will purchase the product in question, and
- the more unique the product, the more unique its position.
This is why - according to Poulsen (1988:218-219) - the manufacturer has to evaluate precisely where the toy is to be found relative to its competitors, why it is in that particular position and where it may be possible to reposition his product relative to potential new users and its user segment generally.
The manufacturer’s strategic permutations are the following:
1. Move the toy product closer to the ideals of the selected usergroup
- This is achieved by repositioningthe product by changing product characteristics, making it more interesting or by launching it in a new and different way (and avoiding losing the product’s traditional, loyal users).
Repositioning involves making new decisions about price, advertising, distribution, etc.
2. Introduce an entirely new product (to supplement the existing product) targeted at the selected usergroup or segment
- When using this technique it is important to be aware of the risk of product cannibalisation, i.e. that a new product might “steal” position and market share from one’s own existing product rather than from competitor products.
3. Move the target group’s ideal closer to the position of the existing product
- A very difficult thing to achieve as it means bringing about a change in the general attitude of the users to the different products’ relative positions on the toy market.
- It also means bringing about a change to the users’ often very solid overall opinion about whether a specific or special toy is either right or wrong for their children to play with.
4. Introduce something really new and innovative to the market by adding a completely new product dimension to the product category, hereby changing the nature of the entire market.
- Again, very difficult to achieve. Such a radical strategy in actual fact demands a general change in the user group’s basic understandingof what toy products are and ought to be. In addition, the product must be a stroke of sheer genius!
Quite apart from the above, it is a fact that children and adults can have completely different ideas about what is new and interesting, which new dimensions they notice and can accept. For parents, new items are sometimes “nothing new” while children accept anything new to them with natural enthusiasm.
To quote Poulsen’s (1988:219) comments on potential strategies:
“Each of these strategies has its own advantages and disadvantages and the marketer must investigate very precisely the costs and the risk involved in the gains associated with each alternative. The marketer’s considerations will differ, depending on whether his is a predominant company on the market or a small scale niche supplier. In any case, positioning and the calculation techniques connected with it are valuable strategic and tactical weapons in marketing planning.”
Seen from the point of view of the toy’s semiotics - its sign, text and codes - the fundamental problem for the manufacturer (sender) lies in whether the users (recipients) are able to read and decode the primary signals of the toy in question. Which codes are associated with which toys?
This is what the following chapters are all about.
The following chapters in Part VI describe several toys individually. For each individual toy, this description is to be found in a sub-section entitled “About the toy” which includes an explanation of eight topics:
The toy’s positioning is based on an understanding of how the users - the persons-at-play who use the toy - comprehend and gain knowledge and information about the toy. Also how this information forms part of consumer consciousness.
The reason for this is that the user evaluates the toy on the basis of its (maybe) having some characteristics and qualities which both meet a need for and suggest associations to the situations in which one can imagine the toy can be used.
I think Wammen et al (1989:1) come closest to a definition of the real meaning of the term “a product’s position” (in his context, an individual toy’s position - here, any toy product’s position):
Any toy’s position can be defined as the user’s understanding of the toy’s image, which is formed from the objective and subjective attributes of the toy relative to his comprehension of the images of other both directly and generically competing toy items.