Positioning is a process that focuses on conveying product value to buyers, resulting in a family of documents which drive all outbound communications. Yet in recent years, it seems as if positioning has 'devolved' into a document of vague superlatives that convey nothing as they attempt to trick the customer into buying the product. The best positioning clearly states how the product will solve specific customer problems.
Agencies report that companies who have completed positioning documents will save 30% to 50% of their agency costs. Just as your local video store profits from late fees, the hidden costs of agency work come from all the re-work. Agencies often include an up-front cost allocated for discerning positioning from executive interviews. They interview the VP of Development and learn about company innovation; they interview the VP of Sales and learn about customer intimacy; they interview the company president and learn about stock performance; they interview the product managers and get product specifications. From these varying viewpoints, they attempt to write a campaign theme. On seeing the campaign, the executives say, 'That's not it. I don't know what I want but I'll know it when I see it.'
Does this sound familiar?
Positioning results in a series of well-crafted documents that focus on the buyer and how our solutions improve his life.
The trick to positioning is to understand the value of the product to the buyer. In other words, what problems can you solve for the buyer? Do you know the benefits your customers achieve with your products and services? Not sure? Ask.
'The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.'
--George Orwell in 1984
Much of the writing we see in marketing materials seems obscure due to insincerity. It's as if the writer wants to fool the reader into thinking the product is more important than it is, or that the product solves problems better than the competitor's when it doesn't really. If your product is clearly inferior, you cannot fix it with positioning. A product must be adequate for the market need to succeed; no amount of marketing can overcome it. (I can hear some of you thinking about Microsoft. Remember, Microsoft products are not inadequate; they are wonderfully adequate, and backed by strong marketing.)
For those who are stuck in writing jargon and buzzwords, check out Bullfighter, an add-in to Microsoft Office that rates your writing for its 'bull.' It's particularly handy as a non-partisan comment on the writing of others. Run your company and product messages through Bullfighter to see how much is content and how much is nonsense.
Many organizations create cute or clever taglines that don't convey meaning. But cute doesn't work in B2B (and maybe not in B2C either). What does General Electric Company (GE) expect us to think about their 'Innovation at Work' tagline? Can we use GE products to be innovative while working? Are their products only good in the workplace? Or perhaps are they working to be innovative in the future? A Google search for this phrase generates over 5,000,000 pages. How meaningful is the phrase to consumers of GE products?
Does anyone believe an enterprise solution will 'make your dreams come true?' A Google search for this phrase generates over 3,490,000 pages.
For what it's worth, I think that SAP does messaging pretty well: 'The Best-Run Businesses Run SAP' and 'Innovative Solutions to Innovate Business.' The latter phrase results in fewer than 5000 Google hits, all related to SAP.
As an industry, we wallow in technical jargon and assume that the reader can connect the specs to their problems. Or we hope that our sales people can connect the dots. How unfair to both buyer and seller! The positioning, and thus the marketing materials and sales tools, should explain the value and use specifications to support our promises (if necessary for the buyer).
Compare these two product descriptions posted on eBay for the same product:
First the specification-oriented listing:
This is a trailer mounted z-boom model # is TMZ-34/19. This is a 2000 model Genie. This is a great value and innovation in the trailer mounted boom market. It is all electric, which is economical, it has 4 new batteries and new tires. It has a spare tire. The working height is 40 feet. 19 ft horizontal reach, articulating jib has 130 degree working range, Compact 34 inch width, 500 lb lift capacity, Large 8 in outrigger footpads, Junction box, shelf and tie down attachment points to accommodate generators up to 2500 W, Non-marking footpad covers, AC outlet in platform. It also has Surge Brakes, Parking Brake, Horn.
I am the original owner and this has only been used about 40-50 times It is in excellent working conditions. I own a sign shop and have used it when working on billboards. If you have any additional questions you can call me during the day or email me and I will get back to you. I will also be willing to meet someone within a 300 mile radius of [my hometown] if purchasing with either cash or cashiers check.
Now a problem-oriented listing (for the same product):
This is a great lift because you don't have to maintain a gas or electric engine. You just hook it up to your vehicle and tow it into position, drop the four outriggers and up you go. Great for trimming trees, construction, or any job where you need a 40-foot reach!
This unit is a 1999 model that was factory refurbished (including new batteries) in 2002 and has been stored inside a hangar since then. It has been used about 10 hours since it was overhauled. The tires have about 300 miles on them including a new spare tire. It looks and operates like new.
This lift has a 500-pound capacity but is narrow enough to fit through many man doors. Plug it in, charge it up, and you are ready for a full day of power lifting!
You can pick it up or I am willing to tow the lift to one of the shipping firms in [town name] who can flat bed it to your location. All shipping arrangements and fees are the responsibility of the buyer.
For more details and specifications go to <link to manufacturer's product page>.
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