The Importance of a Positioning Statement


When we speak with new clients and prospects about “positioning statements,” they usually say they have one.

Then they point us to the “Mission,” “Vision” or “Values” statements on their website. (As an aside, it’s almost always a reference to the website. Rare is the client who can recite any of those from memory).

Have you read a bunch of mission statements lately? They almost always share at least a couple of things in common. One, they inevitably have a really bad case of group-write, clearly written by a committee of people tasked with crafting a compelling (but instead usually very beige) mission statement. And two, they’re made up of ideas, words and phrases that are so trite they should ALWAYS be avoided. For example:

  • Ethics (um, I would hope so. But if you have to point it out, do you really have them?)
  • Integrity (of course you have integrity; nobody will do business with a company that lacks integrity)
  • Accountability (nobody really knows what this means outside the organization)
  • Quality (again, this isn’t inspirational. Isn’t this a given?)

These drive me crazy. Shouldn’t your organization have ALL of these? Aren’t they table stakes for any successful business? Ok. Sorry. Rant over. Where was I? Positioning statements. Right.

In our view, a Positioning Statement must do three vital things:

  1. Firstly, and most simply, it must be true to the company itself. Positioning statements that are disconnected from what the company actually is/does simply don’t work.
    • Important in this part of the discovery is asking “why?” Knowing why your company does what it does is critical.
    • “To make money” is NOT a valid answer.)
  2. It must be distinct from the competition.
  3. It must be relevant to your company’s target consumer.
    • Relatedly, it should also, in a succinct fashion, identify that consumer.

See how easy? Also how hard.

To get to a positioning statement, you have to look at your organization dispassionately and completely. Ask all the tough questions; nothing should remain unasked, no matter how politically sensitive. Going back far into company history, to the founding of it and what those people were thinking, is particularly rich ground.

Next, find out how the company sits in the marketplace. Knocking a competitor off a particular positioning is difficult; finding out what their weaknesses are and taking advantage of them is far more fertile. What gaps have they left? This takes a lot of sleuthing and research.

And then there’s the customer. The positioning needs to ring true for them, and solve an issue they have. This is a bottomless pit of opportunity in terms of how much there is to find out and the myriad ways there are to get at it, particularly for consumer goods.

Most critically, we have found that all this is virtually impossible for a company to do for itself. Particularly a smaller company. There is simply not enough time for senior-level people to engage with these topics deeply and successfully AND run the business simultaneously; beyond that, however, they are simply not objective enough. Doing this successfully requires a certain amount of distance. One commonality we hear frequently from our clients is “we couldn’t have done this without you”. Yep. We knew that.

Call us if we should talk…

Posted in Branding