Why positioning is hard and how to make it easier

There are three reasons many B2B software and technology companies fail to claim a position in their market:

  • They don’t have a formal process for positioning and message strategy development.
  • They don’t spend enough time doing research about what I call the 3Cs of successful positioning. You need a thorough knowledge and understanding of your customer, channel (how you sell) and competition or you can’t position effectively.
  • They don’t pay attention to the way their competitors are positioned.

The third reason is contrary to the results from a survey I’m conducting about positioning and message strategy development. So far, 85 B2B marketers have participated in the survey. There’s still time to take the survey, and I urge you to do so.

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they monitor their competitors’ positioning. Yet every B2B software market I follow – and I follow most of them – has several vendors making the same claim. For example, I’ve evaluated the Business Intelligence (BI) market for the last three years. In 2014 seven BI vendors were all positioned around the notion of helping you make better decisions. A year later, six were delivering more insight and three better decisions. In February of this year, four claimed insight and four claimed better decisions.

How to differentiate

Lack of differentiation was first noted to be a problem by Ries and Trout in their ground-breaking 1981 book, “Positioning:”

“Yet too many companies embark on marketing and advertising as if the competitor’s position did not exist. They advertise their products in a vacuum and are disappointed when their messages fail to get through.”

How to differentiate will be one of the topics I’ll cover in a webinar on Thursday, August 11th at 10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern. Here’s a link to the webinar titled “Message strategy development made easier.”

Once I determine how competitors are positioned in a market like BI, I use a technique called perceptual mapping which makes it easy to see how everyone in the market is positioned.  A perceptual map is essential during message strategy development. Use it to test proposed positioning statements for uniqueness. Or use it to determine if you need to change your position because a competitor has crept in and copied you.

It’s not surprising that there’s a lot of “me-too” marketing going on in B2B technology. That’s because most marketers are winging it when it comes to positioning. Only 40 percent have a formal process for positioning according to responses to my survey. That’s like a large company closing the books each month without a formal process for doing it. Some steps – like perceptual mapping – may get overlooked.

Indicators that tell you it’s time to adopt a positioning process

If you can relate to any of these problems, it’s time to establish a company-wide positioning process:

  • You and your competitor claim the same or similar position
  • Management dictates positioning and messaging
  • Sales ignores your positioning and messaging and comes up with their own
  • There’s no internal belief in your current messaging
  • There no message any two people in your company can agree upon

A business process for positioning can help overcome these problems. You can download my eBook that summaries the business process for positioning that Messages that Matter has taught for the last 20 years and will be presented during the webinar.

Lack of time probably contributes to ineffective positioning. It does take time to do positioning right. Research is the first victim of lack of time according to my survey – 47 percent said they aren’t spending enough time on research.

How to do your 3Cs research fast

There’s a way to speed up the 3Cs research by starting with your channel or your sales team if you sell direct. Read this blog about the 3Cs. From your channel, you can gather most of the information you need to position effectively including:

  • Customer problems
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Ideal customer profile
  • The purchase process
  • Why you win and lose

The channel helps you identify challenges in the sales cycle that may impact your message strategy. Channel intelligence also helps you zero in on competitive strengths and weaknesses. Learn what’s really happening in the channel, and you gain insights into the details of purchase processes, demographics, psychographics, sales strategies, and customer concerns.

If you don’t have a formal process for positioning, it’s time to implement one. Two simple steps after you have done your research will get you a positioning statement you can be proud of:

  • Create a positioning statement that is important – it states a benefit that solves your target audience’s No. 1 business problem.
  • Then test it for uniqueness.

You’ll be doing positioning right when your positioning statement is both important and unique.