Positioning is a process that focuses on conveying product value to buyers, resulting in a family of documents that drives all outbound communications. Yet, in recent years, it seems as if positioning has “devolved” into a document of vague superlatives.
However, if done well, positioning is a powerful tool for companies looking to differentiate their products from competitors. It helps potential buyers more quickly understand how your offerings are different, why they are better and how they will help them.
Positioning also helps companies to be consistent in their messaging across all channels and touchpoints.
The Why of Positioning
Positioning is important because it helps companies tell their story in a way that resonates with the target audience. It can also help to quickly and easily differentiate a product or service from what competitors are offering.
A positioning statement should provide clear guidance on the product’s target market, key benefits, competitive advantages, and expected customer outcomes.
Positioning results in a series of well-crafted documents focusing on the buyer and how your solutions improve their life.
The trick to positioning is to understand the product’s value to the buyer. In other words, what problems can you solve for the buyer? Do you know the benefits your customers achieve with your products and services? Not sure? Ask.
Talk to customers and prospects, as well as sales reps who are on the front lines. Then, talk to executives who have a bird’s-eye view and can help you understand customer needs from a broader perspective. This will provide essential insights that inform the positioning process and, ultimately, result in effective positioning statements.
Once you have gathered your customer insight, it’s time to create an effective positioning statement that clearly explains how customers benefit from your product offerings.
When positioned properly, messaging should be succinct and easily understood. While you want to be concise, make sure that your statement is clear and detailed enough for people to understand your product’s or service’s value.
The Problem With Insincere Positioning
Much of the writing we see in marketing materials seem obscure due to insincerity. It’s as if the writer wants to fool the reader into thinking the product is more important than it is or that the product solves problems better than the competitor’s when it doesn’t really.
If your product is inferior, you cannot fix it with positioning. A product must be adequate for the market need to succeed; no amount of marketing can overcome it.
Many organizations create cute or clever taglines that don’t convey meaning. But cute doesn’t work in B2B (and maybe not in B2C either). What does General Electric Company (GE) expect us to think about its ‘Imagination at Work’ tagline from 2005?
Can we use GE products to spark the imagination? Are their products only sound in the workplace? A Google search for this phrase generates over 374 million pages ranging from childcare facilities to books. How meaningful is the phrase to consumers of GE products?
The current slogan of GE is: “We Bring Good Things to Life.” This is a bit more tangible, especially given their industry.
The lesson here is not to be too clever in your positioning. Your words must convey a focused message that will resonate with the target audience. Positioning should provide clear differentiation from competitors and communicate how your product or service meets customer needs. Don’t try to fool the market into thinking you are something you’re not or can do something you can
Solving Problems Versus Speaking Specs
As an industry, we wallow in technical jargon and assume that the reader can connect the specs to their problems. Or we hope that our salespeople can connect the dots.
How unfair to both buyer and seller! The positioning and the subsequent marketing materials and sales tools should explain the value and use specifications to support our promises (if necessary for the buyer).
Compare these two product descriptions posted on eBay for the same product:
First, the specification-oriented listing:
This is a trailer-mounted z-boom model # TMZ-34/19. This is a 2000 model Genie. This is a great value and innovation in the trailer-mounted boom market. It is all-electric, which is economical, and it has four new batteries and new tires. It has a spare tire. The working height is 40 feet. 19 ft horizontal reach, articulating jib has 130-degree working range, Compact 34 inch width, 500 lb lift capacity, Large 8 in outrigger footpads, Junction box, shelf, and tie-down attachment points to accommodate generators up to 2500 W, Non-marking footpad covers, AC outlet in the platform. It also has Surge Brakes, Parking Brakes, Horn.
I am the original owner, and this has only been used about 40-50 times It is in excellent working condition. I own a sign shop and have used it when working on billboards. If you have any additional questions, you can email me, and I will get back to you. I will also be willing to meet someone within a 300-mile radius.
Now a problem-oriented listing (for the same product):
This is an excellent lift because you don’t have to maintain a gas or electric engine. You hook it up to your vehicle, tow it into position, drop the four outriggers, and go up. Great for trimming trees, construction, or any job needing a 40-foot reach!
This unit is a 1999 model that was factory refurbished (including new batteries) in 2002 and stored inside a hangar. It has been used for about 10 hours since it was overhauled. The tires have about 300 miles, including a new spare tire. It looks and operates like new.
This lift has a 500-pound capacity but is narrow enough to fit through many man doors. Plug it in, charge it up, and you are ready for a full day of powerlifting!
You can pick it up, or I am willing to tow the lift to one of the shipping firms in [town name] who can flatbed it to your location. All shipping arrangements and fees are the responsibility of the buyer.
For more details and specifications, go to <link to manufacturer’s product page.>
You don’t have to look too closely to notice the specification and jargon in the specification-oriented listing versus the listing talking to the buyer in buyer language. The problem-oriented message left the specs out but provided a link to the manufacturer’s spec page.
And the results? The specification-oriented description was listed for two weeks with no bids. The problem-oriented listing sold for the same price as the competitor’s minimum bid in four days and three hours.
A Template for Positioning
Most technology companies use a template–and often a formula–for positioning. The best positioning is in the context of solving a problem for a specific buyer. That means that there are multiple positioning documents, each conveying product value in terms that resonate with the specific buyer.
Start with the industry’s generic problem and the ideal solution (which is basically what your product does). Then provide a short primary message, 25 words you want the buyer to remember, followed by a more detailed product description of the buyer’s need.
Finally, describe the three to five relevant features of this buyer profile.
It takes many different people within an organization to make a purchasing decision for a complex product. Typically, we see a financial buyer, a technical buyer, and one or more user buyers.
Each of these buyers has a different primary goal and sees product information differently. The user buyers want to know how the features will make their daily job different and better. The financial buyer wants to know how the product will save money for the company. In contrast, the technical buyer is primarily concerned with how the product will fit into the existing technology environment.
Of course, all buyers want to be assured that the product will satisfy the needs of the users of the product.
How can we use one message to communicate to multiple buyers? Answer: We can’t. We’ll need different articulations of our message that resonate with each buyer type.
Company, Family and Product Positioning
Products and services, as well as families of products, all follow the same method. Within the company’s overall message, we articulate how the product, service, or product family solves problems for each type of buyer.
For example, I assume that Microsoft has positioning documents for Microsoft Word (product), Microsoft Office (product family), and Microsoft Corporation (company). It must be true, as each positioning message is consistent.
Ideally, product positioning must amplify the company positioning. It may not matter if you do the product or company first, but the product positioning must support the company positioning. Every product should integrate with the company message.
Positioning has two main benefits. The one obvious to all marketers is the consistency of the message. Each marketing and sales piece communicates precisely the same message.
A less obvious benefit, but perhaps the more important one, is that the positioning process forces product management to identify and spell out clear benefits for each type of buyer. Without a clear message, most products are doomed to failure.
Learn More About the Power of Positioning,
In the course, Foundations, students learn how to become market-driven by exploring concepts such as how to uncover strategic opportunities, define product team roles and responsibilities, prioritize actual vs. desired business goals and how to talk to and observe the market in action.