When colleagues or peers or marketing consultants refer to positioning, what do you think they mean? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.
Have you been thinking about changing your position because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Much has been written about the need to adjust your marketing to take into the account the crisis.
In the early days of B2B software, it was common for companies to have functionality no one else had in their market. Differentiation was relatively easy. Just identify the benefit of a really important piece of unique functionality and you had a potential positioning statement.
If there is a valid reason to change your position, this is the best time to do it while there is a lull in the action. Your target audience is thinking about vacation, not buying software. You’re probably juggling less balls in the air and have a little time to think about positioning.
What happens when you aren’t using your position enough? By using it enough I mean consistently executing your position as the theme for all marketing communications. And repeating your position as much as possible in every marketing communication, and especially throughout your website.
What happens when your position doesn’t differentiate you from the competition? What affect does it have on marketing? And what about sales?
Kerry then quickly asks what I meant by being ruthless. Hear my response when the podcast goes live Wednesday at 9 am Central. In the broad ranging interview, Kerry asks a number of penetrating questions about my approach to positioning. Ruthlessness is one example. There are others as we discuss the value of positioning and factors that affect it.
Being ruthless helps you uncover the unvarnished truth about your product, and nothing sells better than the truth. However expect resistance to your ruthlessness when seeking input and feedback during the effort to converge on the ideal position. It can get bloody especially when dealing with egos, biases and unfounded beliefs about the wonders of your product.
Here’s how to be ruthless and the bloody battles that could negatively impact the effectiveness of your positioning and message strategy development:
Focus like a laser on your ideal prospect profile: Expect the battle to get bloody with those who want to go after anyone with a wallet. But just because your sales team is resourceful enough to win a few one-off deals does not mean they should affect your positioning strategy. By being ruthless about your ideal prospect, and realizing you can’t sell to everyone, your marketing will generate more ideal leads that are easier to sell to because they are made for your product. Plus even this ruthless approach attracts an occasional one-off sale. It’s the best of both worlds!
Select one target buyer:
The best way to converge on the ideal message strategy is through an iterative process that results in thorough consideration of all options, opinions and ideas. An inclusive approach to the positioning process fosters consensus and buy-in necessary to get everyone to embrace and use the final message strategy in all external communications. Instead of winging it like sales and management usually do, they will use the message strategy because they had a say in it.
Lack of consensus a big problem
Lack of consensus about the marketing message is one of the most common problems in B2B software and technology. Here’s a typical scenario I’ve encountered when working for B2B software companies in a marketing capacity and as a consultant:
A president will tell you his or her sales and marketing teams just don’t get it. If only they’d listen to the president’s story and use it. Ask the VP of Sales and the VP of Marketing why someone should care about the company’s products or services, and you’ll get two different stories.
The top sales person has another great pitch, and so it goes. Sales and marketing efforts are diluted, and far less effective than they could be. That’s why getting organizational buy-in to your message strategies is a key contributor to successful positioning.
What is positioning?
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 audience’s most pressing problem meet, and form a meaningful relationship.
The only way to claim a position is to consistently execute your positioning statement in all marketing communications over an extended period of time, and repeat it over and over. That’s why you want everyone in your organization telling the same story, and especially sales and management.
You start the positioning process by doing the research that I call the 3Cs of successful positioning. This blog explains that to position effectively, you need a thorough understanding of customer problems, competitors’ positioning and channel issues and challenges. Once you’ve documented your research in a rationale document, start by brainstorming positioning statement options.
A positioning statement expresses a benefit that solves your target audience’s most pressing problem. A stack-ranked list of customer problems helps everyone involved in providing input and feedback to focus on proposing positioning statement options that solve the No. 1 problem.
Get as much input and feedback from stakeholders as possible
Due to lack of repetition, just one vendor evaluated in this annual assessment of the midmarket accounting and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) market is positioning effectively. Epicor stands out as a text book example of how to claim a position by repeating the same positioning concept – “grow your business” – over and over in all marketing communications, not just its website.
Repetition is probably the most important factor in claiming a position, that mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can own with an idea that has compelling meaning to your buyers. It’s in this mental space where your solution to the target audience’s most pressing problem meet and form a meaningful relationship. You can claim a position by executing your positioning statement consistently and repetitively over an extended period of time – at least 18 months and ideally for several years. While the “growth” position is a “no duh” position, Epicor owns due to repetition and consistent execution for several years.
Why everyone else is failing to claim a position
Epicor is the only vendor in this evaluation that truly has a position. Everyone else fails to claim a position either because they make multiple claims (which compete against each other) or state their position on the home page of their website and rarely mention it again. Intacct, which was bought by Sage after this blog was originally published, still makes an interesting claim – “elevate your ERP experience” – but uses it only once more on its website, and doesn’t prove its claim.
With the combination of Intacct and Sage, which has the potential to make SageIntacct (the new name) the No. 1 player in the midmarket, Sage and Intacct quickly posted this statement:
“The combination that delivers the first and last cloud Financial Management Solution your business will ever need.”
Acumatica is another example of failure to claim a position due to lack of repetition. “Accelerate your business” is clearly Acumatica’s position on its home page, however, it is not the theme of the website content, and rarely, if ever mentioned again.
Microsoft is a classic example of ineffective, conflicting positioning due to lack of repetition. Microsoft changes positions right on the home page of the Dynamics 365 website. “Work smarter together” is what you see at the top of the home page. A pretty good position gets sabotaged just below by the most “me-too” claim there is in B2B software marketing: “Drive your digital transformation with Dynamics 365.”
Without repetition, you have no position
The goal of positioning is to facilitate your target audience’s association of a significant benefit with your product or company. By consistently communicating an idea that has meaning and importance to the target audience, you stake your claim to the position you desire.
But you can’t claim a position in your market if you are making the same claim as one of your competitors. That’s because prospects are attracted to powerful, unique claims, according “Neuromarketing,” a must-read book for marketers and sales professionals.
Differentiation helps the brain make decisions faster