The P in marketing that no one is talking about

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There’s a lot of misconception surrounding positioning. Everyone has differing ideas and opinions about what it is.

Which is why it’s important that we firstly define what we mean by positioning in marketing.

Positioning in marketing is very similar (sometimes the same) as positioning in business.

For a company that sells a solitary product or service (eg. web hosting), positioning is the same regardless of the product or business.

However, if you're a company with multiple brands and sub-brands (such as Coca-cola), then positioning will be different for each brand as well for the company itself.

Why? Because the company has different products, but more importantly, they have different customers.

Commonly, there’s also confusion about what positioning is and what its not. For instance, it’s irrelevant whether you have a positioning strategy or not: positioning exists regardless.

Hence the need for a positioning strategy, rather than letting your market position happen by accident.

Your positioning will form the foundation of your marketing

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So what exactly is positioning? 

Positioning is about: What you're offering, who you're targeting, your competitive advantage, and how you’re communicating your position in the market.

Essentially, it's about your customer's perception of your brand and position in the market.

Not only that, positioning is about all of these components in relation to competitors and their products or services.

Which is why positioning happens with or without you. Customers will have an opinion about your brand whether you’re aware of it or not.

Needless to say, you need to get your positioning strategy right.

Especially when you consider that every customer has slightly different perceptions of your brand.  
 

IDENTITY AND IMAGE: 

Identity and image are important aspects of positioning. Identity is who your brand actually is: the people, values, language, logo, colours and imagery. Whereas, image is how your brand is actually perceived by your customers and the marketplace.

It’s this interplay between what you project as a business and how your customers perceive you.

Brand identity and image should be the same. But, this isn’t always the case.

If we take a local example, Vodafone have the message on their site, “Our customers are at the heart of what we do.”

Then why did they top the list of most complained about companies last year?

Could it be that Vodafone’s brand identity is not aligned with their brand image? I can see thousands of Kiwis nodding their heads right now.

The point of this example is not to poke the finger at Vodafone, but to illustrate how important it is for brand identity and brand image to be aligned.

In order to align both your identity and image, you'll need to be able to answer these difficult questions:

What's your company’s purpose?

Who are your customers?

What’s your business’s point-of-difference?

How do you communicate your value proposition?  
 

GOOD VS GREAT MARKETING:

Good marketing focuses on benefits and features. Great marketing focuses on pain-points, values and the why.

 

Simon Sinek is famous for saying, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

No quote better illustrates the importance of positioning.

In a world where every sector is competitive, companies are competing less on product differentiation and more on values, solving real pain-points and storytelling.

In other words, the why and quality storytelling are being used as competitive advantages.

The why is an answer to these key questions: Why does your organisation exist? Why do you do what you do?

Look at Apple, they have as many competitors as most businesses. However, Apple don’t position themselves as an electronics company. They position themselves as a values and human-centred company.

They lead all of their marketing and advertising with their why. What they believe, why they are in business, what they want for their customers etc.

Apple communicates a clear and simple proposition that is easy to understand. They then communicate their why utilising great storytelling.

Likewise, smart marketers get their positioning right before they begin any marketing activities. 

What is a positioning strategy?

A positioning strategy is a deliberate attempt to position a brand/product/service in the marketplace. 

THE POSITIONING PROCESS

So far we’ve discussed the theory behind positioning in marketing. That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you actually create a positioning strategy?

We outline the positioning process below:

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1) ASSESS YOUR CURRENT POSITIONING

What is your position in the market? What do customers like most about your offering/s? Your offering is any product or service that you're selling in the market.  

Now, let's not kid ourselves into thinking that our customers love us 24/7... What do customers complain about the most?

Things you need to consider include product, pricing, customer service and branding. 

You need to remove all assumptions from this process. It’s what your customers think about you, not how you perceive what they think about your brand.

Is the feedback largely positive or negative? What are the specific words and phrases they use to describe you?

This is your current positioning.

Now, is this how you want to be known in the market? Will this positioning help you increase or decrease revenue?

If it’s the latter, you need a new positioning strategy.

Next we need to define the business’s why.
 

2) DEFINE YOUR BUSINESS' PURPOSE

Why does your company exist? It could be for a number of reasons.

For example, an ice cream company could exist to bring joy and happiness to kids. Or a university could exist to develop the leaders of tomorrow. A tire shop could exist to keep cars on the road and smiles on people’s faces.

Notice how we didn’t mention generating profit, achieving KPIs or winning industry awards? Your purpose should go deeper than that.

Why are you in your organisation and not another? Why do people work for your business and not a competitor?

There are a number of ways to collect responses to these questions.

For large organisations, you could send out a company-wide survey and keep it anonymous - so employees are more compelled to be honest.

For smaller businesses, gather your office together and share each other’s thoughts. It’s important to accept differing opinions without judgment from other staff or from management.

Otherwise, fellow employees will be less likely to answer truthfully.

The significance of this activity cannot be ignored. Your purpose is your organisation’s why. And this collective purpose will form the foundation of your brand for years to come.
 

3) IDENTIFY YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS

This is arguably the most important activity in the positioning process. Because this is where your positioning strategy either flourishes or falls flat.

It’s important to sit down and define your best customers. Because you can’t be everything to everyone.

In other words, by identifying your best customers, you are also stating who you don’t want to work with.

Your targeted buyers need to not only have the purchasing power to buy your offering, but your offering must also fill a need or solve a problem.

This solution could be psychological or physiological, but it needs to give the buyer group enough motivation to buy your product or service.

In other words, the perceived value must overcome the cost and difficulty of accepting your market offering.

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Now that you’ve identified your best customers, you need to create customer profiles.

We call these profiles, buyer personas. These buyer groups make up a segment of like-minded customers.

You’ll likely have more than one customer segment you’re targeting. In this case, you’ll need to develop multiple buyer personas.

Needless to say, choose your target buyer groups carefully.

Next, we need to identity core competencies.
 

4) IDENTIFY YOUR BUSINESS' CORE COMPETENCIES

What do you do better than competitors? Which products or services offer the most value to your customers?

Another way to think about it is: If you only had one offering, what would it be?

Without core competencies, you’ll find it incredibly difficult in today’s competitive landscape.

There is a lot of noise, not a lot of differentiation in the marketplace. Differentiation is the key.

Are your customers aware of your core competencies? Your competitive advantage? Point-of-difference?

It’s crucial that your customers understand your differentiation. If not, they’ll choose your competitors over you, or at least show less loyalty towards your business.

Next, we need to define your organisation's culture.
 

5) DEFINE YOUR BUSINESS CULTURE

Start with your people: Who works at the company? What are their stories?

Now, thinking about where else you’ve worked: What’s different about your current organisation?

Do you have a different way of thinking? A unique philosophy or working processes?

What’s one thing you’d never change about your culture? Perhaps, how could your culture be improved?

Lastly, regardless of role: What does it take for someone to truly succeed in your organisation?  

Now try and collate all of this information into a paragraph. The more succinct, the better.
 

6) CREATE YOUR POSITIONING STATEMENT

Now we’re ready to craft your positioning statement. Here’s some positioning statements to spark your imagination:

"To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." - Nike

“Saving people money so they can live better.” - Walmart

“Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” - Google

Now you might have some ideas swirling in your head? Well, before you start crafting your positioning statement, we need to understand the purpose and significance of positioning statements.

A positioning statement, “is an expression of how a given product, service or brand fills a particular consumer need in a way that its competitors don’t.”

The two keys here are: fulfilling a customer’s need and differentiation.

A good positioning statement should clearly demonstrate a need as well as a unique promise to customers.

Easier said than done, your positioning statement should also summarise, or at least illustrate your positioning strategy.

A positioning statement should be a roadmap; an arrow that steers your organisation into the future.

Positioning statements should provide direction and a clear focus as employees arrive at work each day.
 

7) DOCUMENT YOUR POSITIONING STRATEGY

You’ve completed the other six steps. Nice!

Now it’s time to document your positioning strategy. This is to ensure that all of your hard work is not wasted - placed in the trash can... never to be seen again.

Create a doc. Either static or utilising a collaborative platform such as Google Drive or OneDrive.

Now separate each theme into logical sections. There is no ‘one way’ to do this.

But here’s an idea:

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1) Company Purpose
2) Company Culture
3) Target Customers
- Buyer Personas
4) Core Competencies
5) Positioning Statement
6) Communication Strategy 

Now, the communication or messaging strategy is one aspect of positioning that we haven’t touched on.

Your communication strategy is very important. You’ve just invested a lot of time and effort into crafting your organisation’s positioning strategy. Now you need to tell your customers about it!

However, how you communicate this positioning with your customers is crucial.

The first thing you need to do is identify your marketing channels. Below are some common ones:

  • Website (sub-websites)
  • Blogs
  • Email Newsletters
  • Social Channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.)
  • Paid Channels (Google Ads, Facebook Ads etc.)
  • Shareholders
  • Stakeholders

Now we’ve identified channels, we need to outline our messaging strategy for each channel.

We've hopefully already identified what we want to communicate (brand values, core competencies, positioning statement etc.). Now we need to define how we'll communicate these messages across each channel.

Considerations include: tone, adjectives, phrases, grammar and context for each medium.

Ultimately, your goal should be to communicate your value, in your customer’s language.

Communication at a human-level is important. No one likes being ‘talked to’. They want to be listened to, and engaged with.

Otherwise, your marketing messages will be lost in the competition and ignored by the majority of consumers.

If you’re offering a diverse range of products or services, it might be worthwhile to develop different communication strategies for each brand/product-line. Especially if these offerings are for different buyer groups.

For the sake of simplicity, however, you could outline a generic communications strategy.

You could start with a generic guide, and let managers and their teams further develop strategies for their brands/product-lines independently.

However, it’s important that these strategies are adjusted depending on the channel being used.

For example, the messaging for a Google Search Ad will likely be ‘more salesy’ than a traditional blog article.

You need your communication strategy to convey the same ideas, but adapt the tone and messaging depending on the platform.

This is to ensure that customers receive non-conflicting messages and build positive perceptions of your brand.

Get it right, and your brand will be a powerful force in the market.

Gee, that was a lot of information to take in all at once... If you want this article as PDF, feel free to download it here. Or perhaps you want help crafting your positioning strategy? Download your free guide here.

Positioning in marketing strategy guide