The “Aha!” Factor — positioning so your audience “gets it”

A true story: A luminary and well-respected leader was invited to attend a critical board meeting of a Silicon Valley start-up.  The executive team had feverishly worked to reinvent and reposition the company, and this meeting was their one chance to gain a critical endorsement.  With introductions completed, the CEO and VP of Marketing began to relay the genesis of the start-up with eagerness and passion.  Fifteen minutes later, the luminary politely raised his hand and asked them to stop.   He said, “I still don’t get what you do.” The silence was palpable.

What went wrong?  There was no “Aha!” moment as they described the business problem they address and the benefits of their solution.  The good news is that disasters like this are avoidable.  This article highlights the single most important exercise executive teams should conduct to craft messages that ensure that board members, analysts, partners, and sales prospects alike, “get it.”

The key to a crisp and focused product strategy

A positioning statement is a subset of a value proposition that optimizes it for marketing communications purposes. It identifies the target audience (persona), the product and its category, a specific benefit, and is differentiable from the nearest competitive alternative. It is not the message to the customer. Instead, it is an internal, non-emotional statement that marketers use to construct customer-ready and relevant messages. This becomes the messaging cornerstone to an integrated marketing campaign.

Forming the positioning statement

The lack of a clear message confuses prospects and other critical audiences, yet few executives dedicate the time and talent required to transform their ideas into crisp messages. 

The solution is to dedicate executives’ time and focus on building a consensus around a clear, specific positioning statement.  (Here’s a story about why we need one.)  This exercise may be the responsibility of the marketing VP,  but it will require the entire organization to embrace it and communicate it.   

Further definition of the positioning statement

Although it appears at first to be a simple “fill in the blank” exercise, executive teams can wrestle with this exercise for days.  Testing and evaluating it with prospects and business partners may take several weeks.

Do you have a positioning crisis?

Without a common framework and agreement on the words to use to communicate the value of the product and service, the members of the executive team will not be aligned.  The result: mis-directed sales reps, ineffective marketing campaigns, and avoidable conflicts between marketing and engineering regarding the product road map.  

With these turbulent economic times and the rapid evolution of technology, smart companies review their positioning once or twice a year.

Where to start

The most productive positioning exercises or workshops include the participation of a marketing, sales, customer support and other team members who have insight and perspective about the customer, their priorities, and how they make purchase decisions.  Although it is sometimes difficult to set aside time for this type of activity, the insights gained tend to greatly improve the go-to-market strategy.

The best place to be begin is with a clear understanding of your competition. And yes, you have some — even if you think you don’t. Customers always have alternatives, even if the alternative is to “do nothing” or maintain the status quo.

Aside from the involvement and partnership with marketing and sales teams in this exercise, the positioning and its resulting messages must be tested and nurtured with both prospects and customers. 

Successful companies are vigilant in testing their messages to match the most relevant message to a specific target audience.  Messages can be tested formally (via focus groups), informally (via “friendly” prospects and customers), or through a variety of well-targeted market outreach mechanisms.  With careful planning, testing can be executed quickly and inexpensively.  

Putting it all together

Bottom line: improved messaging will have a direct impact on the ROI of any marketing and sales program.

For more on the template, techniques, and tips & tricks for building and evaluating positioning statements, please read The Marketing High Ground.

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