What is positioning and how can it improve marketing?

When colleagues, peers or marketing consultants refer to positioning, what do you think they mean? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.

There is often a debate about what positioning is, and what it is not. Confusing matters further, there are two proper usages of “positioning:”

  1. How your company is situated relative to its competitors;
  2. How your offering is situated in the minds of customers and target audiences.

This discussion focuses exclusively on number two. In my workshop, “How to Position for B2B Marketing Success,” we define positioning as a 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 offering’s most important benefit and the customer’s most important need meet and form a meaningful relationship.

Positioning is like story telling. Done well it can engross you. Done poorly it can make you stop reading. An important, unique position executed properly improves B2B software and technology marketing because it is the foundation for all marketing communications. Effectively done, positioning quickly tells recipients of your marketing message what your offering is and why they should care.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore writes, “Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision.” Moore describes a position as a buyer’s shorthand for the best solution for a particular problem.

Effective positioning makes prospects want to know more

Good positioning entices a potential prospect to learn more about your offering. It also serves as the first level of qualification. Ideally you want a recipient to react to your message by thinking either “that’s me,” or “that’s not me.”

In order to get that reaction, and to gain access to that mental space in your target market’s mind, you need to know your customer and competition as well as you know your offering. Study and evaluate your competitors’ positioning strategies and then map them out. Interview lots of customers so you really understand them. You need to know what will get your prospects’ attention, and what’s keeping them awake at night.

Your target audience will listen when you speak their language by emphasizing that you can solve their pressing business problem. But they won’t listen – and your marketing will fail – if you sound just like everyone else in your market.

Differentiation is essential because your target audience is good at ignoring marketing messages, especially those that they have heard before from your competitors. They’ll also ignore meaningless positions and ones that are overused and common in many B2B software and technology markets today such as “transformation,” innovation,” “empowerment,” and “insight.” This link takes you to “Why differentiate and how to do it.”

Pay attention to how your competitors are positioned

In the marketing classic, “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind,” Ries and Trout lament that “… 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.”

Most B2B technology companies complain about long sales cycles. But failure to differentiate is the main reason prospects take so long to decide. They are confused. They can’t tell one option from others; everyone is saying the same thing.

In contrast, a differentiated position helps the brain make a fast decision, according to “Neuromarketing,” a book I highly recommend or you can read my two-part series on the topic. Unique claims highlight the difference, gap, or disruption our brain is seeking to justify a quick decision. Your target audience is attracted to powerful, unique claims and “responds favorably to clear, solid contrast. It is hard wired to pay attention to contrast.  Sharp contrast helps your prospects make decisions more quickly and easily, and contrast is often needed to trigger a decision.”

Good positioning never gets old

At Messages that Matter, we teach the importance of repetition. To claim a position requires patience and conviction while others in your company may want to try something new. Good positioning never gets old or stale. That’s because your positioning statement should be a conceptual idea and not necessarily copy. A good idea can be expressed in many different ways.

Your positioning statement becomes the central theme for all marketing from your web site to collateral materials to press releases. But no matter how clever or compelling your positioning statement is, it won’t stick unless is executed consistently, and repeatedly over a long period of time — like several years! Remember, the longer you stick with your positioning strategy, the more likely you will be to claim that mental space in your target audience’s mind.

I highly recommend my eBook “Positioning: How to talk so the market will listen” – in which I explain the positioning method that I teach in my workshops. Download it today and learn how to develop an effective, long-lasting position.