Positioning and Messaging: From Start to Finish
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Too often, the concepts of positioning and messaging are treated as essentially the same thing, with possibly some nuanced differences, but without a sense of why clarification matters. When this is the case — and it often is — critical opportunities are missed for optimizing internal alignment and building upon market distinctions.
Positioning and messaging are related, but wholly separate and distinct exercises. An understanding of the clear differences between the two means, among many things, a solid foundation for greater market engagement, fueled by a feedback loop that powers ongoing insights and intelligence gathering.
What’s the Difference Between Positioning and Messaging?
What is Positioning?
Positioning is the prep work.
Generally speaking, positioning can be viewed as the internal strategy and all that factors into getting stakeholders into alignment. This is true for the organization’s overarching mission and vision, as well for separate strategies concerning products, services, and new organizational initiatives.
Positioning is foundational.
It incorporates an understanding of the personas you serve or who you intend to target. It factors in their pain points and motivations, the competitive landscape, and most importantly, an explanation of how your offering fits within that structure.
What is a Positioning Statement?
Well-crafted positioning statements appear rather simple, but that does not mean they are created quickly without considerable thought and input from key stakeholders. Their simplicity is the result of significant fine-tuning and distillation within marketing departments where there is a depth of understanding that in order for positioning statements to have staying power, they need to be internalized by stakeholders, resonate as true, and be simple to understand.
Essential questions covered by a positioning statement:
- How is what you have to offer unique?
- How is it better than what the competition has to offer?
- What are the most important benefits to highlight?
- What are the pain points that it addresses for your targeted persona group?
The following fill-in-the-blank formula can serve as a guide for creating a positioning statement once the above questions have been answered.
For [brief description of persona / target audience] who [focus on a specific desire or pain point], our [name of product or service] is a [brief description of product/service category] that [define key benefits]. Unlike [competitive alternative(s)], [name of product or service] offers [key differentiation].
Need an example? Here’s a positioning statement for a hypothetical service.
For at-home entertaining enthusiasts who are looking for tools and techniques to take their culinary and hosting skills to the next level, the Intentional Entertainer provides a subscription service of weekly interviews, ideas, and how-to’s, along with an online catalog of top-of-the-line products, that provide inspiration, education, and community. Unlike other publications, subscriptions, programs, catalogs, or retail outlets, the Intentional Entertainer pulls together a cohesive collection of information and products targeted specifically toward a specific persona audience that is passionate about raising the bar for culinary experiences.
A paragraph such as this provides essential clarification and serves as a springboard for a consistent, convincing messaging strategy — from generating awareness, to developing sales support materials, to website content, social media, targeted marketing campaigns, and everything in between.
What is Messaging?
Messaging, on the other hand, is focused on external audiences. It refers to the full scope and ongoing strategy for outward-facing communication. It’s the output that occurs when you take your positioning statement and reconfigure it into something that will resonate with your target audience.
Let’s also acknowledge what a messaging statement is not. It is not a tagline. Nor is it your long-term strategy.
It is your opportunity to connect with your audience. Your messaging statement is what you end up with when you take your positioning statement and boil it down to something that will resonate with your target audience.
Viewed holistically, your messaging is your story, and like all good stories, it needs to be credible, it needs to connect with your audience, and it needs to have an impact. That’s a tall order for one message, and that’s why a coordinated messaging strategy needs to be in place.
At the heart of that strategy, is a laser-sharp focus on context and connection. Your target audience lives in a hyper-saturated media and messaging world. Gaining mindshare that’s effective enough to hold attention and ultimately drive conversions requires extreme relevance to your target’s specific pain points within consistent reinforcements designed to stay on their radar screens.
“What’s in it for Me?” Messaging
“Benefits not Features” is the perennial rallying cry that separates the right messaging from messaging that misses the mark. In other words, what’s in it for me? or the shorthand of WIIFM within many marketing departments. Even though this distinction — the need to emphasize benefits that are meaningful to the customer vs. the features that the company is proud of — is Marketing 101, the possible grey area between the two often fuels a tendency for exceptional features to dominate the messaging. That’s why questions such as these need to remain at the center of messaging strategies and execution:
- “What does this mean to our target?
- Who does this benefit?
- How can we reword this so that the benefit clearly resonates with our audience?
The messaging pendulum also tends to swing toward features, due to the fact that internal stakeholders’ inherent expertise about a product can lead to oversights about the constant need to unpack the benefits in a manner that is a reflection of the original positioning and centers on customer needs.
When well-conceived and thoughtfully executed, positioning and messaging strategies serve as powerful touchstones to the marketing mix. Their effectiveness calls for a sharp focus on customer needs and diligent efforts to keep them top of mind.
Connecting the Dots of Positioning and Messaging
Blurring the lines between the two or side-stepping the positioning process, ultimately undermines the validity and staying power of your messaging strategy, which could then end up as more of a collection of good-sounding words and phrases than a reflection of reality that’s backed by the conviction of your company.
On the other hand, diligent and well-defined positioning serves as a solid foundation for messaging strategies that consistently drive results and reveal new opportunities. Thorough attention to both is essential.
While positioning and messaging are two distinct disciplines, they are, of course, inherently intertwined. Positioning that is deeply ingrained and thoroughly integrated serves as a starting point from which the right messaging gets formulated and strategically dispersed to the right channels at the right time.
Messaging is what breathes life into your positioning, to connect with your target audience and encourage engagement and conversions. Defining both – in relation to one another – is essential for optimal results.