A potential client came to meet with leaders of a highly regarded local firm that was looking to close a large sales opportunity. The experienced managers had worked hard to develop a compelling presentation, and convincing the prospect of their company’s capabilities at this meeting was critical to their sales effort. The meeting began and the CEO and VP of Business Development laid out the plan with enthusiasm and energy. After 20 minutes, the potential client put up his hand, asked them to stop, and said, “I still don’t understand what you do”. The silence was deafening.
Situations like this one are more common than we like to believe in business. Often business leaders get ahead of themselves and jump to talking about features and benefits and strategies and tactics, without first grounding themselves in proper positioning of the company. Without a clear positioning message, a company confuses its audiences – employees, prospects, customers, partners, investors and others. We start to solve this problem by developing proper positioning for the company.
Developing a company’s positioning and messaging, two key elements of s\Sales and Marketing, can waste an enormous amount of time and effort. Our experience has shown that companies, if given the right guidance, can quickly and effectively produce strong positioning and messaging platforms that coordinate the efforts and communications across the organization in a way that propels the company forward.
What are the Positioning Statement and Messaging Platform?
A company’s positioning and messaging platforms are key parts of the company’s playbook. They are tools used to make sure everyone is on the same page about what the company does and says, so that everyone is saying the same things about the company to different stakeholders outside the company.
The Positioning Statement is an internal document designed to align all employees around:
- Target customer
- Product/Service name
- Unique product category
- Primary benefit offered
- Key point(s) of differentiation
The Message Platform coordinates the messages that are given to the customer throughout the sales process. The Buyer Persona assessment provided the first two components of the Message Platform. The Company Positioning assessment provides the Solution Message and the Proof Point message.
Many people perceive that developing a company’s positioning and messaging is simply a fill in the blank exercise, but it is an in-depth effort if done well. Developing the first draft is something that a company’s leaders can wrestle with for hours, if not days. Completing the process by testing, evaluating and redrafting them with prospects and partners can take several more days or even weeks, depending on the company’s commitment and focus.
Step 1: Determine if you need to revisit your positioning and messaging
Here are some common hints that you need to revisit your company’s positioning:
- Sales people have different elevator pitches.
- It’s been a year since the executive team re-evaluated the company’s positioning.
- Sales reps take more than 30 seconds to describe the product or service.
- The company has changed markets, pricing, distribution models, or channel strategies
- The VP of Marketing and the VP of Sales have conflicting views on positioning and tactics
- You’ve never developed a positioning statement
Step 2: Create the team
In addition to the heads of Sales and Marketing, you would want to include other members of senior leadership focused on commercialization of the product or service, such as Business Development and/or Research and Development. In addition, it is often smart to include an outside voice such as a board member or industry expert.
Step 3: Brainstorm the Positioning and Messaging Elements
There are several key elements that the team must debate to develop the Positioning Statement and Messaging Platform. These are:
|(Target Persona)||Developed in Buyer Persona Phase|
|Product/Service Name||The actual brand name|
|Unique Category||Define the category so that the product or service is the only one in it|
|Key Customer Benefit||The most preferred benefit provided by the product or service|
|Other Customer Benefits||Other benefits provided by the product or service|
|Competitive Alternative||Type of company or technology|
|Key Differentiator||One key point that most differentiates the product from the competitive alternative|
|Other Points of Differentiation||Other points of differentiation|
|Solution Message||Description of the solution and how/why it is the best option to meet the target persona’s desired criteria. Highlight the key points of differentiation|
|Proof Point Message||Describe how the target persona’s life will be better as a result of using the product. Indicate the metrics and testimonials that will be used to validate the purchase decision.|
Step 4: Complete the Positioning Statement and Messaging Platform
Positioning statements come in many forms, but ultimately they must align the company around the points stated above. Trout and Ries developed the template below, and it does a great job of concisely conveying the key elements of an effective positioning statement.
<td(Key Customer Benefit)>that
|To||(Target Persona)||is the one|
|(Unique Category)||, unlike|
|(Key Customer Benefit)||that|
|(Key Point of Differentiation)|
The team should review and brainstorm each of the key pieces of the template above, discuss them thoroughly, and come to agreement around what they are specifically
|Target Persona||Use your target buyer persona name|
|Product/Service Offering||Product/Service Name|
|Current State Message||What issue of theirs will get their attention?What problem of theirs can you solve?The customer should recognize their predicament in this messaging.|
|Desired State Message||What are the desired criteria that must be met by the product or service to best address the persona’s problem?The customer should see their desired state in this messaging.|
|Solution Message||Describe your solution and how/why it is the best option for the addressing the customer’s desired criteria|
|Proof Message||As a result of implementing the product or service, describe how the customer’s life will be better than before.Indicate what metrics and testimonials will be used to prove why the customer made the right choice|
Step 5: Develop The Messaging Platform
Incorporate the elements from the Buyer Persona exercise to develop the Current State Message and the Desired State Message. Use the elements from the Positioning exercise to develop the Solution Message and the Proof Point Message.
Step 6: Testing and Revision
Take the messaging you’ve developed and share it with Sales staff and current customers to gain their feedback. Revise as necessary until you feel you have messaging that resonates to your target market.
Blog Post: Positioning Strategy
How-To Article: Marketing Profs
Video: Positioning Strategy
Book: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Trout and Ries
Book: The Marketing High Ground, by Gospe
[i] Trout and Ries, Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind.
[ii] Gospe, JM, The Marketing High Ground.