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What does your company do? How is what you do valuable to your customers? The answers to these questions are the foundation for your company’s positioning. Ideally you should have a positioning document for the company as well as each of your lines of business/practices and/or your products/services.

The concept of positioning is one of the most important components of the marketing mix. Positioning should include these four key components of your brand strategy:

  1. The meaningful Point of Difference that separates you from others
  2. A Brand Promise that answers the question: What can I count on from you? This promise specifically responds to what customers want from you – from product features to the feelings they get when using your products. The brand promise must be relevant to the customer and differentiate us from the competition.
  3. A Value Proposition that answers the question: Why should I buy from you?
  4. A Concept of Singularity that answers the question: What is the single overall concept that I associate with you?

Positioning, when properly executed, serves as a powerful business strategy tool. The wrong positioning can be fatal. Read on to learn more about how to develop powerful positioning.

Your Company’s Position and Mission Statements Must Work Together

The mission statement generally dictates the organization’s direction, vision and values, whereas the position statement articulates what the company does, how it does it, how it is different, why it is better and the company’s overall value proposition. It is from the latter that the strategic position statement and all messaging and product positions are developed. The position platform identifies the market segment, competitive frame of reference, and your meaningful point of difference. Positioning requires having a clear understanding of the competitive landscape. Positioning is primarily about your company choosing a specific market segment in which to market its product, and what messages, touch points, and channel to use to communicate with this market.

Your positioning statement must fit within the company’s mission statement, bringing it to life. When the company’s mission is inconsistent with the company’s positioning and related go-to-market strategy, customers, prospects, partners and employees will be confused. This confusion will ultimately damage the image and reputation of the company, and will lead to lost revenue and market share, not to mention wasted marketing dollars.

Positioning Comes Before Branding

Avoid trying to build brand awareness before you establish a clear brand position. It’s important to be clear about what you stand for and what people can count on you for – before you can convince them to buy your solution. When done well, your positioning is customer-centric. As a result, you can

Positioning – Don’t Go to Market Without It

promote the attributes that your customers and prospects care about, not those you think are cool and nifty. Be careful about frequently altering your positioning. Once you’ve found a position that works, you may need to keep tweaking it to keep it current, but think long and hard before completely starting over.

Because positioning and branding are interrelated, this work belongs in the domain of the CMO. The CMO and leadership team must ensure that the company’s mission and the positioning are aligned and that all messaging and content match and support the value proposition.

Don’t Go to Market Without It: How to Create Powerful Positioning

Follow these five proven practices to create successful positioning.

1. Understand Your Target Market

Letting the market define your positioning is a mistake. Be proactive. The first step in developing your positioning or repositioning is to identify and thoroughly understand your customer target. To develop a competitive positioning platform that is relevant and differentiated, you will need to understand core users’ needs and wants. If you don’t feel you have adequate information about this group, we strongly encourage you to conduct research.

Surveying customers and prospects, using an in-depth interview methodology, is the most common way to discover the targets needs and wants, perceptions of suppliers, perceived strengths and weaknesses of these suppliers, and hidden opportunities. Using an independent organization to conduct this research and then listening to the market will give you clear practical guidance. Understanding your market and marketing to their true needs and requirements will give you an advantage over your competition.

Internal resources should also be interviewed. Product Managers, Sales, Professional Services, and Customer Support personnel all work directly with customers and prospects and will have valuable insights. Again, an independent organization is best for this task as they are trained to recognize bias and recency-only based input.

2. Assess Your Competitor’s Positioning

Positioning exists within a competitive context. Therefore the next step is to assess your competitive position. This step is important because two key elements in developing a positioning statement include a frame of reference and points of parity. Your competitive positioning analysis should explore any companies, services, and processes that can serve as a substitute for you.

You probably have multiple competitors in multiple markets. If resources are limited, focus on the one or two players in your category and market (product, segment, or geography) that pose the greatest threat to you. Conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis. For each competitor analyze their positioning statement. See their press release boiler plate for company positioning and key messaging. Make an extensive visit to their website and run Wordle on their key product and service web pages to see which words are used most frequently.

During the customer research phase ask prospects and customers who they think are your competitors, these companies’ strengths and weaknesses, and how they and their solutions are better and different from each other.

3. Gain Alignment and Buy In with a Cross-Functional Internal Working Session

Once you complete your research, you are ready for the next leg of work – creating your positioning statement. Ideally you will engage an outside expert to facilitate an internal working session that begins by bringing key representatives together from across the company. In most companies there are many differences in how different people and different groups perceive and articulate brand and differentiation. Bringing everyone together will provide further insight, help ensure buy in for the positioning, and ultimately communication consistency, both interlay and externally, going forward.

As part of this internal working session you will want to answer these questions using the research and the experience in the market and with customers:

  • “What is the frame of reference for our brand?” This is actually the most important question and therefore the one you should address first. The frame of reference signals to the buyer what they can expect to achieve by using your brand. Sometimes the frame of reference is other brands in the same category and sometimes it’s brands in disparate categories. Your product’s stage in the life cycle may impact your approach. New products are often placed within the same category so buyers can quickly determine what the product is. Later stage products may step outside the category and shift the frame of reference to create growth opportunities. Very established brands may want to shift the frame of reference to preempt the competition.
  • “What are the associated points of parity and how can we leverage them?” Once the frame of reference is established, you can think of the points of parity. These are the attributes that give your product credibility and legitimacy. Think of these as the minimum feature/functional requirements your product must meet for purchase consideration. It can be very challenging to fit an innovative break-through technology product into a frame of reference and provide points of parity, which is why so many new products fail. The more your product is really a brand extension, the more important the frame of reference. And for established brands, what was once a differentiator can overtime become a minimum requirement.
  • “What is our point of differentiation?” Points of difference are very powerful. Strong, unique, compelling, associations that distinguish your brand from others in the same frame of reference is essential to successful positioning. Example attributes include specific or total number of features, benefits, ease of use, ease of doing business, customer service, and price.

4. Draft and Validate Your Strategic Positioning Statement

With the insights from the research and this phase of the internal work, make your first pass at a strategic positioning statement. It should be a clear and concise statement that declares what “space” your company wants to own in the mind of the customers. Your positioning statement consists of these elements, the:

  • Target market for the product/service offering
  • Competitive frame of reference, and most importantly
  • Organization’s meaningful point of difference. For more on creating positioning statement, read pages 28-36 in our ebook Gone Fishin’

Take the time to test and validate your positioning statement. Your customer advisory board provides an excellent source of “friendlies” for this purpose.

Use the test process to refine your positioning statement.

5. Create Your Positioning Document

Once you settle on a position statement the next step is to create a positioning document. A positioning document should have a customer-centric perspective and contain at least the following five components:

  1. Definition – what you do
  2. Differentiation – what makes your company and its solutions different. Avoid basing your positioning on points of difference that can be easily copied.
  3. Capabilities – the advantages your company and solutions deliver to your customers and the market
  4. Relevance – why your differences and capabilities matter to the market and your customers
  5. Proof Points – evidence that you can deliver on the positioning and the promise

This resulting positioning document serves as the blueprint for all of your messaging and your approach to the market. It is intended to clearly and concisely articulate your value. If you cannot create this document it may mean the company, business, product/service is not yet ready for the market.

Positioning Audit and Summary

Taking the time and resources to develop proper positioning is a necessary and wise strategic investment. Using these proven practices will provide a higher return on all marketing investments and prevent market failures.

Think you have it nailed?  Conduct a positioning audit. The purpose of a positioning audit is to understand how your company stacks up against competitors. Assemble an evaluation team from your Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, R&D, Channel ranks to administer this self- audit:

  1. Collectively agree on the competitors you’ll include
  2. Line up your company and the competitors on a single sheet of paper, listing their global market shares, annual sales and profits in tabular form.
  3. Add two columns to your sheet one labeled Market Position and one labeled Brand Position
  4. Have each member of the evaluation team individually complete the worksheet for each company by market segment
  5. Under the Market Position column have each evaluation team member indicate whether the company’s market position is Dominant (#1 in the segment), Strong (#2 or #3 in the segment), Weak (# 4 or lower in the segment) or NP (no presence in the segment or region)
  6. Under the Brand Position column have each evaluation team member indicate the brand position for each company in the segment (some examples might be quality, value, reliable, trustworthy, innovative, etc).
  7. Reconvene as a group and reconcile the worksheets. Based on the analysis you will have a good start on an audit from an internal perspective.

Room for improvement?  Learn how we helped our customers with positioning

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