Eventually most marketers are presented with the task of creating a positioning statement for their business, brand, product or service. While some may dismiss this important step as unnecessary or time-consuming, a good positioning statement can start you off on the right foot, and ample time and effort should be invested in developing your positioning statement. In addition to the utility you’ll derive from your positioning statement once it’s crafted, the development process also forces you to think about your brand from a strategic point of view and consider the value your product or service has for your target audiences.
Purpose of a Positioning Statement
People (even some marketers) often confuse a positioning statement with a tagline or slogan. The key is that a positioning statement outlines the benefit of your product or service to your target audience, and states how you’re different from competitors. A tagline or slogan, on the other hand, is an advertising message about how you want to be perceived by your target audience, succinctly delivered through different media channels. Typically, an ad agency (or you if you are doing all your marketing in-house) will use your positioning statement to develop a tagline or slogan.
In a nutshell, a positioning statement answers some basic—yet important—questions:
- Who is your brand?
- What is your business or industry?
- Who is your target audience, and what are their needs?
- Who are your competitors?
- What is your key/unique benefit or differentiator over competitors?
- Why should anyone believe you can deliver the benefits?
Some people also refer to a positioning statement as a “brand strategy,” a “positioning strategy” or a “brand positioning statement.” Use whatever terminology in which you feel most comfortable. The main takeaway is that a positioning statement serves as a succinct description of the core target audience to whom your brand is directed and provides a compelling picture of how you want that audience to view your brand by bringing focus and clarity to the development of your marketing strategy and tactics. Once a strong positioning statement is in place every decision made about the brand is judged by how well it supports the positioning statement. This means everything, including the brand name, the features and benefits of the product/service itself, packaging, advertising, pricing, promotions, etc., so you can see why it is important to craft your positioning statement first. If not, you risk wasting time, effort and resources on off-brand activities. Your positioning statement should never be far from reach, and good marketers refer to it often to ensure their strategies and tactics support the positioning statement.
Positioning Statement Process
There are many ways you can go about developing your positioning statement, and the process you follow should reflect your own style and needs. But I have found that a combination of interviews and brainstorming sessions works for me. Here is a brief outline of how that could work:
Identify key internal and external stakeholders and formally interview them about your brand. And don’t be afraid to ask hard questions like “What do our competitors do better than us?”, “Who would most benefit from our offering?”, “Why would someone use product/service X instead of product/service Y?” Some of the answers to these questions may be painful, but even the painful ones provide a better view of how your brand is positioned. Eventually you’ll appreciate the insight (in fact I’ve found that the best marketers crave them!). Use a list of standard questions to keep yourself on track, but be flexible enough to let the interviewee lead the discussion (within reason). Have someone sit in to take notes, but not participate in the interviews. This allows you to focus on the discussion, and it makes comparing responses from all the interviews more productive.
Brainstorming Session #1
Invite a cross-section of stakeholders to your brainstorming sessions, but try to limit it to a maximum of six to eight people. And try to avoid inviting people who report to or are direct reports of someone else in the group. Rarely will you get a direct report willing to challenge a supervisor’s point of view in front of everyone, and you’ll get fewer honest and diverse responses if an attendee is worried about offending his boss. Also, set ground rules: no ridiculing ideas, no self censorship, no Blackberries, etc.
This session should be used to answer the questions I listed above (Who is your brand?, What is your business or industry?, Who is your target audience, and what are their needs?, Who are your competitors?, What is your key/unique benefit or differentiator over competitors? and Why should anyone believe you can deliver the benefits?), but you don’t have to limit yourself to those questions. You’ll feel the urge to edit and delete as you go, but resist that urge for now; just get everything documented. You’ll also feel the urge to share snippets from your interviews, but don’t. The group may take those responses out of context, or your brainstorm session may get derailed as you spend more time discussing someone else’s responses than brainstorming.
This will probably be your lengthiest session since it involves in-depth self-study. To make the session shorter, you might consider sending out some questions before the sessions so attendees can start thinking about them.
Brainstorming Session #2
This should include everyone from session #1 and should be held a few days after that session to allow the participants to digest what was discussed. This session is pretty straightforward, and the goal is to edit, refine and agree on (as well as possible) the answers to the questions.
Positioning Statement Draft
This is where you put everything you learned from the interviews and brainstorming sessions to good use. Use the template I provided below (or another template you find and are more comfortable with) to create a draft of your positioning statement. I have found this step is best done as an individual rather than as a group.
Brainstorming Session #3
This session doesn’t necessarily need to include everyone from the first two sessions, but try to include them, especially if their input has been valuable or insightful. Also try to include others who are involved in the brand, but make it clear that the objective is to refine the positioning statement draft, not rewrite it. Diverse input is usually valuable, but you want to avoid negating the work and input of everyone else because an individual comes in at the 11th hour and objects to your findings. To avoid this, make sure to start the session by reviewing the process you have followed, and share some tidbits from the interviews and brainstorming sessions that helped formulate the positioning statement you drafted.
Once you have reviewed the process and shared some excerpts from the interviews and brainstorming sessions, present the positioning statement draft and ask for comments. At the end of this session, you should have a working positioning statement in which everyone is comfortable.
Positioning Statement Template
There are several templates available that provide a framework to how a positioning statement should be structured. One that I like for its simplicity is:
For (target audience), (brand) is the (frame of reference) that delivers (benefit/point of difference) because only (product/service/brand name) is (reason to believe).
The structure is simple enough, but here is some detail as to what each component addresses. The six elements or components of a positioning statement are:
- Target Audience. This is an attitudinal and demographic description of your core prospect. This is to whom your brand is intended to appeal, and includes customers that most closely represents your brand’s most fervent users. As you can see, market research (informal or formal) is key to understanding and formulating this component.
- Brand. This is what you’re marketing. It may seem like a simple step, but take a few moments to reflect on exactly what you are attempting to brand. Is it the product/service itself? Or is it your company? Or is it something else?
- Frame of Reference. This is the category in which your brand competes, and including it helps provide context for your brand and relevance to your customers.
- Benefit/Point of Difference. Cite the most compelling and motivating benefit your brand offers your target audience relative to your competition.
- Product/Service/Brand Name. Your brand can be different than your brand name. For example, Apple is an overarching brand, while iPad is a brand name within that brand. If you have developed a brand name already, use it here. If not use a descriptor of your product/service.
- Reason to Believe. Figure out what convincing proof do you have that your brand delivers what it promises and add it here.
One thing to remember is that while your positioning statement should accurately describe your brand and brand promise, it should also have an aspirational feel to it.
Evaluating Your Positioning Statement
Now that you have created your positioning statement, it is important to test it to make sure it will work for you. Ask yourself:
- Is my positioning statement memorable?
- Does it motivate and focus on the core target audience?
- Is it clear?
- Does it provide a distinctive and meaningful picture of my brand?
- Does it differentiate my brand from the competition?
- Is it credible?
- Does it allow for future growth?
- Will it serve as a filter for brand decision making, and make decision making easier?
- Will I use it?
If you answered yes to all these questions, congratulations you have a positioning statement. If not, don’t fret. That just means you’re that much closer to getting your true positioning statement.
Positioning Statement Example
Here’s the positioning statement I created when I started thinking about creating this website. How do you think I’ve done so far in adhering to this positioning statement?
For marketing professionals, John Moss is the marketing and branding expert who delivers authentic knowledge, expertise and guidance because only John Moss Marketing shares John Moss’ experience as he explores real-world marketing and branding issues facing new and established brands.
Notice that I didn’t focus on a website or blog. Those are just tactics/mechanisms for delivering on the brand promise, and I may change those tactics one day. By focusing on the core brand promise as I developed the positioning statement instead of the details, I left myself plenty of room for growth.
Tips for Developing a Positioning Statement
Here are a few other tips when developing your positioning statement:
- Try to stick to one benefit/differentiator. Avoid stuffing as much as you can into your positioning statement. Simplicity is always better, and if you are having a hard time figuring out what is your main differentiator from a group of equally important differentiators, maybe none of them are your true competitive advantage.
- Define your target audience. And take the time to do this right, even if it means doing some market research.
- Include a plausible and customer-centric reason to believe or the reason to buy. Keep focused on the customer and his needs.
- Include unique benefits that are sustainable over a period of time. No one is going to get excited by an imitator. And who cares if your unique benefits are short lived? A positioning statement is intended as a long-term statement, so short-term benefits have no place in it.
- Invest the time and effort to do it right!