Everything you need to know about creating a positioning statement

Why do you need a positioning statement?

A positioning statement is a declaration of a brand’s unique value proposition and how it fulfills your customer’s need.

It is an expression of how a given product, service or brand fills a particular consumer need in a way that its competitors don’t. (source)

I found that operating based on a positioning statement, gave all the teams (product, design, marketing, operations, sales) a singular focus. All messaging, designs and campaigns surrounding the product came down to what the positioning statement was and this allowed us to operate at scale with multiple teams (vendors, consultants and remote teams too!) without diluting our core message.

But, why ‘collaboratively’?

While a positioning statement is infinitely useful to the Marketing team, it is best when it is created collaboratively rather than in a silo. If you’re part of the marketing team, you can run a positioning workshop for your stakeholders to help generate a positioning statement. The advantage of creating this collaboratively is that

  • it is created with combined context and
  • everyone has a stake in it.

Running the workshop

I’ll walk through the elements of a positioning statement and the ways to arrive at these in a group. This post is not about good or bad positioning statements, but about ways to come up with a ‘working’ statement. Make sure you have a mix of participants who understand

  • the product and its capabilities (the engineers/ product owner) &
  • how to message and control channels of communication (marketing and possible sales)

Elements of a strong positioning statement

Before we jump into it, let’s look at the elements of a strong positioning statement.

  • Who? — Or the Target Audience that your positioning statement applies to. These might not be the “buyers” of the product and really depend on the goal of your marketing strategy. For example, if you are selling to kids, your target audience will be kids, but they may not be the ones doing the purchasing. This distinction is important to make.
  • What? — or the Frame of Reference. This is essentially the market that your brand is competing in. Think of it as the most basic expectation by the customer — e.g Nike’s frame of reference might be athletic apparel.
  • Why? — or Point of Difference. This is your brand’s USP and what sets it apart from its competition. The important connection to make here is that it needs to be relevant to your Target Audience.
  • How? — Or Reasons to Believe. These are the features in your product that help you deliver on your promise. For example, if your point of difference is that you’re a bank that is going to put the ‘personal’ back in ‘personal loans’, the way you’re going to deliver this is by having highly trained staff. These could be the actual features/process that you have in place that your audience will use or see that will help them benefit the USP of your brand.

Now that we know what we are going to deliver, let’s look at ways to generate this. Do make sure that the workshop is limited to people who are accountable directly for the results of your product.

Step 1: User Research & Persona

The act of collecting this information begins before the workshop. The way to create a well informed persona of who to pitch to begins with Research. And this begins before the workshop. User Interviews can be a great source of research to understand who your target audience is and what motivates them.

The workshop can be a great way to share results from these interviews with the larger team.

A good way to create a persona collaboratively can be to divide your participants and get them to create a profile for the target. As part of this profile, they not only answer questions like, how old is my audience, where are they from etc etc. but also more personal questions like what is the biggest mistake that my target has made? Once the profiles are created (by different teams amongst participants), talk about elements that are common across profiles and why. Talk about differences. And in the end, you’ll end up with a common person that everyone understands at a deeper level.

Step 2: Give your persona some ‘persona’lity!

First, give your persona a relevant name (I like the name Gigi!). This will allow your team to talk about your customers as if they know them. And give them some personality. Imagine Gigi took a Myer-Briggs test or a Strengths Finder test. If you can’t imagine, try and get some of your target to do this. See what emerges — is Gigi an outgoing Campaigner or a serious Architect? The more you understand about their personality, the better equipped you’ll be to understand what they react to.

Step 3: Competitor Analysis

Get your workshop participants to prep in advance about competitors for your product. Use the workshop to share analysis of each competitor and what they offer. Allow each participant to present and this way, everyone gets a chance to express their ideas. Bonus points if there is a debate about what’s the best product from the mix (apart from yours, of course!). And here, you talk about the absolute basic expectation that your audience has from you. For example, if you thought that building high quality athletic wear was your USP, you might discover that ‘high quality’ is something your audience assumes you already offer and it doesn’t really set you apart from your competition.

Step 4: Walking with your customer

Everyone in your workshop imagines that they are walking with their target audience during a typical day in their lives. During the course of this time, they rate experiences in Gigi’s life (related to the domain of your product) from a scale of enjoyable to repulsive and important to unimportant. Workshop participants can draw this quadrant and start adding their inputs to it. Watch the space in the repulsive/important quadrant. This is where the magic happens.

Needs Quadrant

You’ll see your participants start focussing on the experiences that Gigi finds absolutely repulsive but are super important to them. Like for example — Gigi fancies a run in the morning, but hates having to wear tight apparel because they are uncomfortable. You’ll start seeing themes emerge from this quadrant. And here’s where you’ll find what need your product satisfies in Gigi’s life that they currently find super repulsive.

Once you have identified that one need (or theme) that most resonated with the participants (who by now know Gigi and know what their life looks like), talk about the features in your product that actually help satisfy that need. In my experience, giving the product engineers and/or product owner the ability to express themselves freely here will give everyone confidence that their product can truly help here.

Step 5: Pen to Paper

And then, you can start iterating your positioning statement. Get as many inputs from your participants for each of these. All the research and information that you’ve shared will no doubt equip you to have opinions on what your positioning statement should be. But by the end of this, the whole team has a single, conclusive positioning statement that will inform their communication!

Work In Progress Positioning Statement

I say this is iterative because it will be a work in progress. What you have may work for a time, but knowing that this isn’t set in stone will allow you to keep working at it.