April 7, 2013

Messaging and positioning

To a first approximation, messaging is the expression of positioning; and the way you know whether positioning is good is whether good messaging naturally flows from it. So it’s natural to conflate the two. But let’s focus for once on positioning itself.

I think positioning boils down to:

When positioning is framed that way, we can say that the primary goals of messaging are to communicate, emphasize or try to change aspects of your positioning.

*I used to say “dimensions” instead of “attributes” — but most likely the attributes aren’t all orthogonal to each other and also aren’t each measured on a continuous scale.

The modern concept of “positioning” was formulated and popularized by Jack Trout, starting in the 1960s, and can be stated as (filling) a “location in the customer’s mind”. In practice, a Trout positioning combines a product category with a single-attribute orientation such as “safe”, “powerful”, or “fun”. But I think that’s too simple for B2B or technology contexts.

I like the Geoffrey Moore formulation better, in which he offers a positioning template:

For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability).
Unlike (reference competition)
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)

But while those are all good questions — compare them to my own strategy worksheet — Moore’s version is flawed too; in conflating positioning and messaging, he oversimplifies them both. 

What people — evidently including Trout and Moore — often overlook is that every product in a category is positioned along the same set of attributes, starting with those found on evaluation checklists. If any (sufficiently visible) competitor in a category claims to be strong in an attribute, then every other product in the category will be rated according to that attribute too.

For example, every analytic RDBMS is positioned by prospects and influencers, whether or not the vendor wishes it to be, according to whether it’s MPP (and in what sense), what kinds of concurrent workloads it handles, which SQL it does or doesn’t execute, how well it compresses, whether it has a true-columnar option and so on and so forth. Further and more important, each analytic RDBMS is positioned along summary attributes such as “enterprise-proven”, “handles large databases”, “ease of administration” and the like. B2B technology products are positioned not only by their strengths, but by their competitive weaknesses as well.

Specific principles I rely on when working with clients include:

Above all — don’t bother saying things nobody will care about. That principle — which gets violated many times each day — is central to messaging and positioning alike.


7 Responses to “Messaging and positioning”

  1. What matters in investigative analytics? | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on October 6th, 2013 7:10 am

    […] a general pontification on positioning, I wrote: every product in a category is positioned along the same set of […]

  2. Rules for names | Strategic Messaging on November 3rd, 2013 1:33 am

    […] covered positioning more generally last […]

  3. Strategy for IT vendors: a worksheet | Strategic Messaging on June 29th, 2014 7:39 am

    […] Notes on positioning (April, 2013) […]

  4. Marketing advice for young companies | Strategic Messaging on May 16th, 2015 2:37 pm

    […] everybody makes mistakes in positioning. (April, […]

  5. Elevator pitches and other self-introductions | Strategic Messaging on August 31st, 2015 3:19 am

    […] offer.”) I’ve written about this area quite a bit, for example in my posts on naming, positioning and messaging to multiple […]

  6. Telling multiple stories | Strategic Messaging on February 21st, 2016 10:05 pm

    […] are, unavoidably, positioned along many attributes each. If you’re trying to get a prospect or influencer to think well of a product, you may need to […]

  7. Modifying beliefs | Strategic Messaging on March 19th, 2018 12:53 am

    […] But that can’t be exactly right — for any given subject, people actually tend to have similar conceptual frames. […]

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