For many B2B marketing teams, positioning is the big, awkward elephant in the room that nobody really knows how to talk about. “Is it our vision? Is it our messaging? Is it our branding? Let’s just write 10 different positioning statements and see what sticks. “
Sound familiar? No judgement here. We get it. Positioning is hard. But once you wrap your head around what it is, how to do it, and who needs to be involved, you’ll be positioned to win. (Pun very much intended).
On the latest episode of The Marchitect, my guest co-host, Jenn Steele, CMO at Reprise, and I chatted with legendary positioning expert, consultant and author, April Dunford.
April dropped some serious knowledge on what positioning is and—more importantly—how to position your product so customers (and internal stakeholders) get it and get on board with it.
Listen to the full episode here, or skim the highlights below.
What is positioning, really?
Sometimes, to define what something is, you need to start with defining what it is not. Positioning is one such thing.
According to April Dunford, positioning is:
- Not messaging
- Not a tagline
- Not branding or brand positioning
“Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world and delivers some value that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about. [...] It's like context setting for products. Context is important because it's how we make sense of things, particularly new things that we haven't encountered before.”
“You can think of it a bit like the opening scene of a movie where you walk into the movie theater with all these big questions like: Where are we? Who are these people? What timeframe is this? What's going on? How should I feel? The first couple of minutes in the movie establishes that context. ‘Here’s where we are. This is the timeframe. This is what's going on.’ And then once you get those big questions answered, you can relax and settle into the details of the story.”
Now that you know what positioning is (and what it is not) how do you tie your positioning into your vision and strategy? April breaks it down like this:
“The strategy is the steps we're going to go through to get from where we are right now to the ultimate vision of where we want to be. And then, at each of those steps, we have distinct positioning which is the positioning of how we're going to market and sell.”
I need to improve my business’ positioning. Where do I start?
You’ve got the Mad Libs style “fill-in-the-blanks” positioning statement template (“We are a [blank] that does [blank]”), but how do you know what to fill the blanks in with?
“I actually came to a point where I decided not only was the positioning statement not good for anything, it was also potentially harmful because it tricked you into thinking that this was easy. [...] If we recognize that positioning is important, and we recognize that maybe our positioning is bad, how do we actually work through it and get to something better?”
Here’s April’s tried-and-true methodology for developing your positioning:
First, identify your five key positioning components:
- Competitors or competitive alternatives
- Differentiated capabilities or features
- Differentiated value
- Target customers
- Market category
Next, as April puts it, we “figure out how to get the best answer for the five things. And then we’re going to smash it together. And voila, positioning.”
But, which positioning component do you start with? According to April: Competitive alternatives.
“We have to start with competitive alternatives. If we don't start there, we run the risk of having positioning that sounds good in the office but doesn't work in the market because it's inefficiently differentiated from the other options that customers have. Ask yourself: If I didn't exist, what would a customer do?”
Once you’ve thought through your competitive alternatives, you can find your differentiated capabilities, which lead to your differentiated value, and so on. Work your way through the circle and ask the ever-important “So what?” at every step. Always keep your customers and prospects top of mind so you’re developing positioning that actually speaks to them.
How do I get internal buy-in for new positioning?
Getting your customers on board with your positioning is one thing, but getting internal buy-in from your sales teams, product and engineering teams, and C-suite can be a whole new can of worms…
The best way to get early, and whole-hearted buy-in from your internal advocates? Give them a seat at the table.
“I really strongly believe that positioning is a team sport. This is not a little exercise that happens in the confines of the marketing department. If it does, it will never get accepted in the company. [...] It’s really hard to convince a sales team to adopt positioning that they don't really understand and they will not understand it if they were not involved in creating it.”
Involve your sales teams, product and engineering teams, and CEO and/or founders from the beginning. Ask for their feedback at every stage of your positioning journey. When it comes time to launch your new positioning to the outside world, you’ll have a whole army of internal advocates behind you.
Ready to dive deeper into the wonderful, not-so-mysterious-now world of positioning?
Listen to the full interview.