How long should you stick with your positioning? When should you change it?

Once you have found the ideal positioning for your company or offering, you should stick with it for an extended period – at least 18 months and the longer the better – several years; perhaps forever. That’s because consistency and repetition are the keys to claiming a position in your market and giving it staying power.

Besides, once you’ve found the right positioning, why change? Follow the lead of one of the most successful B2B software company – Salesforce – which stuck with the same position – success – for more than 10 years.

Unfortunately, few B2B software and technology companies exhibit that kind of patience, discipline and focus. Interestingly they know that they should stick with a position for an extended period of time, but they don’t practice what they preach.

According to a survey I am conducting, 49% of respondents (138) think you should stick with a positioning for as long as possible, and 32% said you should stick with it for more than a year. Yet 72% have changed their positioning in the last year. Here are the complete results for the question: “When was the last time you changed your positioning?”:

  • One to three months ago – 29.84% (37)
  • Four to six months ago – 16.94% (21)
  • Seven months to a year ago – 25.0% (31)
  • Haven’t changed in more than a year – 19.35% (24)
  • Haven’t changed in several years – 8.87% (11)

When it’s time to consider changing your positioning

There are many valid reasons for changing your positioning. The quick-and-dirty way to determine if you should change is to answer two fundamental questions:

  • Is my positioning statement important? Does it state a benefit that solves a pressing customer problem?
  • Is my positioning statement unique? Does it differentiate and set you apart from the competition?

Answer “No” to either question and it may be time to consider changing your positioning. But it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper given the importance of getting your positioning right and determine how effective your positioning really is. Answer the following questions to determine your positioning effectiveness and if it’s time to consider changing your positioning:

  1. Is your positioning statement important? Does it solve a pressing customer problem?
  2. Is your positioning statement unique? Does it differentiate you from your competitors?
  3. Is your positioning statement believable? Does it seem to be inherently true? Can you prove it?
  4. Does your positioning statement adapt to all marketing communications and situations?
  5. Are you practicing buzzword positioning by using in-vogue words such “transform” and “empower” to name a few?
  6. Are you claiming that you are the industry leader or No. 1 in your market? Or any claim that touts your company’s prowess except those that focus on the customer.

What your answers to the questions are telling you and why

One way to improve marketing communications is to understand what does and doesn’t work and why. You’ll find the answers in a book I highly recommend: “Neuromarketing: Understanding the “Buy Buttons” in your customer’s brain.” Where appropriate I’ve referenced passages in Neuromarketing that explain why an answer indicates you may want to change your positioning:

  1. Your positioning statement is important if it expresses a benefit that solves a pressing customer/buyer problem. Test for importance by stack ranking customer problems – what causes them to be a buyer – to determine if your positioning statement aligns with a pressing problem. If it does not, go back to the drawing board and come up with something that solves a pressing customer problem. Neuromaketing explains why:

Since the brain is self-centered and concerned with its own survival above all else, it is highly interested in solutions that will alleviate any pain it is feeling. That is why humans spend more time and energy avoiding pain or looking to destroy pain than we devote to gaining higher levels of comfort. Focus on the pain your prospect is experiencing, not the features of your products or services. (Page 20)

  1. Your positioning statement is unique if no other competitor is using your positioning statement. Here’s why lack of differentiation works against effective positioning:

The decision-making portion of the brain responds favorably to clear, solid contrast. Powerful, unique claims attract prospects because they highlight the difference, gap, or disruption the brain is proactively looking for to justify a quick decision (Page 21). A sharp contrast is often needed to help the brain make a decision (Page 168). The brain is wired to pay attention to contrast. We are actually proactively scanning the environment to detect changes. (Page 170)

  1. An important assumption to consider when you start to brainstorm positioning statement options is that humans are remarkably cynical, and will reject anything that does not seem believable. Never-the-less, there are a lot of unbelievable claims being tossed out there by B2B software and technology companies. Make claims that seem inherently true and you can prove them.
  1. Once you have come up with what you think is the right positioning statement, you need to test to determine if it adapts to all marketing communications. You can claim a position by consistently executing it in all your marketing communications. This means that your positioning statement becomes the theme for everything you do in marketing. Repeat it over and over and over. Neuromarketing explains why:

Make your claims more memorable by repeating them again and again. Even the repetition of a few simple words sends a strong signal to the decision-making portion of the brain, prompting it to note, “I should remember that.” Repeat your claims so that the brain will bookmark them as important (Page 106). The most solid and logical message, though it may  interest your prospect, will not trigger a buying decision unless the decision-making portion of the brain understands and remembers it. (Page 66)

  1. The use of buzzwords like “transform” and “empower” is a sure way to fail to claim a position in your market. Using them does not differentiate you, but more importantly, the decision making part of the brain doesn’t understand them:

Since the old brain (which makes all decisions) can’t process language, the use of complicated words slows down the decoding of your message and automatically places the burden of information processing onto the new brain. Your audience will want to “think” about making the decision more than they will want to “act” on that decision. (Page 13)

The old brain can’t process concepts like “a flexible solution,” “an integrated approach,” or “scalable architecture” without a great deal of effort and skepticism. It appreciates simple, easy-to-grasp, concrete ideas like “more money,” “unbreakable,”and “24-hour turnaround time.”

  1. Positioning that focuses inwardly on the wonders of your company or product does not register with the decision-making part of your brain. Here’s why you should avoid the temptation to beat your chest and proclaim you are No. 1 or any other inwardly focused claim:

The decision-making portion of the brain has no patience or empathy for anything that does not immediately concern its own well-being and survival… 100 percent of your message should focus on your audience, not you… Your audience must hear what you can do for them before they will pay any kind of attention to you. (Page 12)

What do you do when you’ve owned a position for an extended period of time, and suddenly a competitor copies you? One option is to stick with it because you already own it. Your target market may actually give you the credit for your competitor’s marketing efforts. However, make sure your positioning really does matter to the market. If it doesn’t, it’s time to change.

You can learn more about positioning for the technology and software market by downloading my ebook “Positioning: How to talk so the market will listen.”