So What, Who Cares?McClenahan Bruer’s Position on Positioning and MessagingPositioning and messaging is one of the most important, and seemingly leastappreciated, forms of marketing. It is the foundation on which all successfulcommunication is built. With powerful positioning and compelling key messages,everything from PR and advertising to lead generation (and more) performsbetter. Without it, these programs have little chance of success.When it comes to positioning and messaging, we at McBru use a very simplequestion as a litmus test to gauge effectiveness: "So what, who cares?" If thepositioning and messaging being evaluated doesnt "pass" that test, it certainlywont do its job in the market, which is to say it will not build preference for acompany or its products.In order to effectively build preference, positioning and messaging has to be twodeceptively simple things:• Highly differentiated, and• Highly relevant.The word "deceptive" refers to the fact that those two qualities are anything butsimple to develop. In fact, in highly competitive deep technology markets in whichthe laws of physics govern to a large degree what a product can and cannot do,sometimes it is a real challenge to find, or at least articulate clearly, legitimatedifferentiation.
And yet, without differentiation, messages wont penetrate, and positions will beindistinct from the rest of the players in the market. In fact, undifferentiated orirrelevant messaging and positioning render outbound marketing efforts next touseless, effectively wasting budget and resources on efforts that, at best, will beless successful than they could be, and at worst will fail. Given how crucial solidpositioning and messaging is, why is it so often neglected or skimmed over asthe ugly stepchild of marketing?Perhaps because it is so hard to do well.Differentiation: The Key to Premium PricingWithout differentiation, it is impossible to justify premium pricing, particularly inhighly competitive and/or crowded markets. Conversely, if your company andproducts are well differentiated from key competitors, it becomes at leastpossible to charge more. Thats why the first step we take when tackling apositioning and messaging project is to delve into competitive messaging.Admittedly, assessing competitive messaging and positioning is more art thanscience. Combing through a companys Web site, ads, news releases, salescollateral, financial reports and more to extract key messages and the apparentposition a company is striving for requires both a solid grasp of marketing and adeep comfort with the technology, products and services being addressed. It alsorequires the ability to leave bias out of the equation; objectivity is essential toaccuracy.Armed with solid competitive positioning and messaging, you can begin toidentify gaps and opportunities for differentiation. However, the fact that amessaging or positioning attribute is unclaimed by the competition does notautomatically mean you should attach it to your own position. Some attributes areless valuable than others. Conversely, its important to be brutally honest whenassessing your qualifications for various attributes. For instance, if there is an800-pound gorilla well established in your particular market, chances are slim to
none that you can successfully claim the attribute of leadership; it would lackcredibility.Relevancy: The Key to Sales VolumeIf differentiation is the path to premium pricing, relevancy is how you get tovolume. The more relevant you are perceived to be by the market, the larger yourtarget customer base (within the context of your total available market, or TAM)will be. Relevancy is found in the answer to the question "Whats in it for me?" Inother words, its the degree to which you can meet customers needs and thebenefits they will get from using your products and services.The best way to imbue messages with relevancy is to channel the customerwhen youre developing them. Thinking as your customer thinks will automaticallyorient you correctly vis-à-vis needs and benefits. An all-too-common traptechnology companies fall into is to lead with features. You are justifiably proudof those technological accomplishments and know how valuable they would be tocustomers. So turn your thinking 90 degrees and focus on the value, the needthose features meet, the benefits they are bringing to customers.If you can craft messages that illustrate how you meet customers critical needsand bring them benefits that matter to them, you will automatically communicaterelevancy.Putting Position and Messages to WorkNow that the hard work of creating a position and messages that are both highlydifferentiated and very relevant is over, your work is done right? Not exactly. Nowcomes time to employ both strategy and discipline in deploying them.Starting with strategy, we like to create a matrix, with audience along one axisand type of message along the other. Examples of targets found along theaudience axis could include trade press, business press, analysts, end users,purchase influencers and C-level executives, each of whom have very different
perspectives and different relevance needs when it comes to messages. Alongthe other axis, message type, we include things like overview statement, soundbite, or competitive comparison statement. Once this matrix is completed, youhave a clear roadmap for exactly what to communicate to whom and in whatcircumstance.Since all of these various message permutations originate from the samecarefully chosen, highly differentiated and extremely relevant position and keymessage statements, you will be assured of consistency of message across alloutbound communications programs. But this is where the discipline comes in:You have to use the matrix, rigorously. Because all the differentiation andrelevancy in the world woven into your messages wont matter if you areinconsistent in your use of them.