Are survey respondents doing positioning as well as they think?

The evidence gathered from the survey I’m conducting indicates that B2B marketing professionals are struggling to position effectively. But that’s not the way they see it. Of the 136 respondents so far, 12 percent say their positioning is “very effective” and 56 percent say it is “effective.”

That means 68 percent of respondents think they are doing a pretty good job of positioning. Based on my evaluation of hundreds of websites, I question whether so many respondents are really doing positioning right. I find that most B2B software and technology companies don’t do it well. But the 68 percent positive rating made me curious. So I decided to evaluate the way respondent’s companies were positioned on their websites. I randomly selected 24 responses for evaluation.

Before I share my findings, let me present evidence that indicates it is improbable that so many respondents are doing positioning as well as they think. Consider that:

  1. 57% don’t have a formal process for positioning. That’s like closing the books at the end of each month any way you want.
  2. 54% learned positioning on the job; 13% through trial and error. Since positioning is the foundation for everything you do it marketing, you have to wonder why only seven of 136 respondents learned positioning in college.
  3. 53% don’t think they do enough research during the positioning process. Unless you have a thorough understanding of what I call the 3Cs – your customer, competition and channel (how you sell) – it’s challenging to do positioning right.
  4. 45% don’t think they spend enough time on positioning. To claim a position in your market, you need consensus on what the position should be so that everyone in your company repeats the same message. But getting everyone to buy into your positioning strategy takes time. It also takes time to converge on a positioning statement worthy of scrutiny by others in your company. Positioning is too important to rush, but most do, and a bad outcome is likely.

These results alone indicate that some of those who think they are doing positioning right are drinking their own Kool Aid. My evaluation confirms my suspicion that they aren’t doing positioning nearly as well as they think. At a high level, here are my conclusions:

  1. I agree with six respondents who judged their positioning to be “effective;” one I judged to be “very effective.”
  2. Fifteen respondents claimed their positioning to be “effective” but I judged the positioning on their websites to be ineffective; some have no position.
  3. Two respondents who said their positioning is “very effective” are way off base. One company uses rotating panels on its home page, and none of the panels state a benefit. Read my blog about why rotating panel works against effective positioning. The other company states no benefit on its home page.
  4. I judged another respondent’s positioning to be marginally “effective” instead of “very effective.”

Now let’s dig a little deeper and look at the specific positioning mistakes I found on some of the websites. If at all possible, avoid these mistakes that are common in B2B marketing:

  1. Failure to make a benefit claim; at least five and perhaps as many as 14 companies have no position on their websites. They aren’t stating a benefit that solves a key customer problem.
  2. Three companies apparently think positioning is explaining what they do rather than state a benefit. Positioning is the mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can own with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your solution to the target’s pressing problem meet and hopefully form a memorable relationship.
  3. Two companies can’t even explain what they do. They make it challenging for a website visitor to figure out what business they are in.
  4. Six companies use rotating panels on their home page. Multiple claims tossed at website visitors so quickly they can’t read them is no way to claim a position. What makes use of rotating panels even more ineffective is that there is no theme to the panels and many don’t state a benefit. They’re just a brain dump.
  5. Five companies either position around the notion of “transformation” or use it extensively. Using transformation as your positioning strategy is about the most “me too” approach to marketing there is today. I would say that at least 35% of the websites I evaluate make extensive use “transformation.” If you want to differentiate and stand out from the crowd, eliminate “transformation” from your vocabulary. There are many other buzzwords and industry jargon you should also stop using.
  6. At least three companies have a decent position on their home page but don’t use it as the theme for content throughout the website. In fact, they never mention their position again, and repetition is the most important factor in claiming a position. Your positioning statement should be the central theme for everything you do in marketing from your website to brochures to presentations to press releases.

My findings plus the survey results make it clear why marketing executives are often on the hot seat. Without effective positioning, their marketing efforts fail to create awareness and demand for their products. The fix is obvious. But not when there’s no recognition of the problem.