Want to get more attention and mind share on LinkedIn? Consider using your message strategy for posts, comments, profiles and the overview on your company page. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to do and how much more effective your LinkedIn presence will be.
What is the difference between branding and positioning? Some think they are one and the same.
Others get them confused, thinking positioning is branding and vice versa. I will never forget the presentation I made many years ago to the new ad agency tasked with branding the company I was working for in Europe. I explained the framework the team used to position one of our products, including the position for it. After our agency team huddled for a few minutes, they came back and said we had already done branding.
Is there a disconnect between your marketing team and sales? Do sales team members love your presentations or do they complain about them? What about the leads you create? Do they jump all over them?
I have been asking sales consultants for the last month whether they have ever worked with a B2B software company that has alignment between sales and marketing. I have yet to get a “yes” answer but instead they say it’s a problem that does not have a solution until the structure of sales and marketing is blown apart. Then reconstructed in a way that sales and marketing become a cohesive team that works together rather than at odds with each other.
A big part of the problem is likely to be lack of differentiation, but it shouldn’t be. After all, marketing is done in public. All you have to do is evaluate competitors’ websites to determine how they are positioned.
Then create a positioning statement that sets you apart from the competition.
Easier said than done!
Lack of differentiation is a problem in every B2B software market I evaluate. For example, five midmarket accounting vendors have a “growth” position. It’s worse in the Business Intelligence market. Eleven vendors have an “insight” position. Here’s a link to my blog that explains why “insight” is so popular in the BI market. It includes perceptual maps that make it easy to see how the BI vendors are positioned.
If your message isn’t getting through to potential buyers and those you are trying to sell to, you need a new position that differentiates you from your competitors. Unique claims attract prospects and make buyers want to buy because they highlight the difference, gap, or disruption the brain is seeking to justify a quick decision.
According to “Neuromarketing,” the decision-making portion of the brain “responds favorably to clear, solid contrast. It is hard wired to pay attention to contrast which helps prospects make decisions more quickly and easily. Contrast is often needed to trigger our brain to make a decision.”
Differentiation made easy
How do you create a position that differentiates? A definition of positioning helps you get started in the right direction.
Positioning is the mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can occupy with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your solution to the target’s most pressing problem meet and form a meaningful relationship.
To position effectively, you need a list of target audience problems ranked by importance; a graphical depiction of how your competitors are positioned and an understanding of how our brains make decisions.
Once you have a list of problems ranked by importance, brainstorm positioning statements that express a benefit that solves the No. 1 problem. Then test your options for uniqueness to determine if your position will stand out from the crowd.
Your unique position is the foundation for marketing and sales success
The simple solution is to use your position as the foundation for everything you do in marketing. Use it as much as possible and repeat it often.
The radical solution is to change your position because it doesn’t meet four criteria I use to determine the potential effectiveness of a position. Your target audience will pay attention to your marketing when your position is unique, important, believable and usable.
Repetition is key to claiming a position in your market
But an effective position that meets the four criteria won’t improve your marketing unless you use it so often you get sick of it.
One of the biggest problems I encounter in B2B technology marketing is failure to effectively execute what has the potential to be a compelling position – that mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can occupy 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 form a meaningful relationship.
I can’t count the times that I’ve visited a website that had a strong position stated on its home page, and the position was never mentioned again, or at best on the “About us” page.
While the most thoughtful and logical position may interest your prospect, it won’t trigger a buying decision unless the portion of the brain that makes decisions understands and remembers it. You make your claims more memorable by repeating them. Even repetition of a few simple words sends a strong signal to the brain, prompting it to note, “I should remember that.”
Repeat your claims so that the decision-making portion of the brain will bookmark them as important. Donald Trump uses this technique to great effect all the time.
Test your position using four criteria
How much time will you spend debating what to say in your next marketing campaign or what your new position should be? Will you be confident it will resonate with your target audience?
Does sales complain about the leads it gets? Do you think effective positioning might stop the complaints, but it seems too complex, and time consuming? Do you have competing priorities and little or no time to do positioning?
If you can relate to any of these challenges, consider a short-cut that puts you on the fast track to positioning success. Whether you are in product management, product marketing or marketing, simply take the following steps that will take less time than it takes to debate what to say in the next marketing campaign:
1) Get a list of customer problems or create a list and rank them.
2) Create a positioning statement that is important; it states a benefit that solves the No. 1 problem of your target audience.
Then imagine that your new marketing campaign came together in two weeks, rather than six. Congratulations, you have imagined what it is like to be free from the “silo effect” which costs time, money and marketing effectiveness.
The “silo effect” is when each marketing collateral piece seems to be envisioned and created in isolation. There is no continuity and consistency in the message to the market. Every marketing piece is a one-off which is no way to do positioning as I pointed out in my last blog about the “silo effect,” one of the most common problems in B2B software and technology marketing.
The “silo effect” indicates that a company does not have a formal process for positioning, that 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 your target buyer’s most pressing problem meet and form a meaningful relationship.
How to eliminate the “silo effect”
The best way to eliminate the “silo effect” is to adopt a formal business process for positioning. A big part of the positioning process is to create your message strategy which includes a positioning statement and three to four support points.
A positioning statement is a short, declarative sentence that addresses the target market’s most pressing problem by stating a benefit. It makes it clear why the target market should care about your claim and take action.
Support points unfold your story in more detail and explains how you deliver on the promise made in the positioning statement. “That’s interesting, tell me more,” is how you want your target audience to respond to your positioning statement. Good support points – three to four of them – will pique their interest.
Your message strategy should be detailed enough to accommodate execution of it in every marketing piece you create. It becomes the foundation for everything you do in marketing, so rather than figure out what to say every time you need to create a new marketing piece, you simply execute the message strategy, adapting it to each situation.
Save time and money
How do you save money? First, you greatly reduce the time and manpower needed to create and review marketing materials. Since all your marketing communications use the same message strategy, every project begins with a head start and wraps up without a lot of micro-editing. That’s because your message strategy development process has involved key stakeholders who provided input throughout with the goal of building consensus and buy-in. Any debate that occurs while creating marketing materials focuses on the creative execution of the message strategy instead of having committee meetings to decide what to say.
If you use an advertising agency, your agency team doesn’t have to figure out what to say – at a cost of several days and thousands of dollars. The agency team focuses on what it does best – creative execution of your unique marketing message.
Your message strategy makes it easier to deliver the same message across all marketing activities, including advertising, e-mail campaigns, website content, brochures, product descriptions and presentations to investors, industry analysts and, of course, prospects and customers. It’s also easier to repeat the message. Remember repetition is one of the most important factors in claiming a position and giving it staying power. Believe me, you’ll get tired of your message strategy long before your target audience does. So stick with it.
Use your message strategy in every marketing communication. You’ll not just save money. Your marketing will be more effective, and if you stick with the same position for an extended period of time – like at least 18 months – you get what really counts – ownership of a unique position due to consistency and repetition.
Yet the “silo effect” is a common problem in B2B software and technology marketing. As a result, many fail in their quest to claim a position in their market. The good news is the solution is simple as it is to identify the problem. If you aren’t saying the same thing in all your marketing communications, then you’ve got a problem.
First signs of the “silo effect” might appear on your website. For example, many companies boldly claim they are transforming how business gets done on the home pages of their websites, yet few substantiate the claim or use it as the theme for the rest of their website.
Even fewer use their position as the theme for the rest of their marketing efforts. Instead of using the same idea for each marketing piece, perhaps executing it a little differently, they come up with something new each time.
Execute the same position in all your marketing communications
What’s wrong with trying a new message for every new marketing campaign? You’ll never own a position in your market. That’s because the key to successful positioning is consistency and repetition.
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 your target buyer’s most pressing problem meet and form a meaningful relationship.
You can claim a position by using it as the theme for everything you do in marketing for an extended period of time – at least 18 months and ideally much longer – and repeating your positioning statement over and over until you are sick of it. Then keep repeating it!
Before I dive into why the brain responds favorably to repetition and consistency, let’s make sure we have a common understanding of what they mean in marketing communications terms.
Which is more important? Consistency or repetition?
“…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.”
This lack of differentiation has been a significant problem since I started my annual BI evaluation three years ago. In 2014, seven vendors claimed “better decisions” as their position; in 2015 six claimed “insights” as their position. This past year’s assessment is another woeful example of positioning in a vacuum:
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:
- Is your positioning statement important? Does it solve a pressing customer problem?
- Is your positioning statement unique? Does it differentiate you from your competitors?
- Is your positioning statement believable? Does it seem to be inherently true? Can you prove it?
- Does your positioning statement adapt to all marketing communications and situations?
- Are you practicing buzzword positioning by using in-vogue words such “transform” and “empower” to name a few?
- 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:
- 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)
- 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)