Positioning vs. Messaging: How to Get There From Here
Over the more than 17 years I've spent in marketing, I can't count the number
of times I've heard these two concepts used interchangeably. But look closer
and you'll see that they are really two distinct steps in the marketing process.
They may seem the same, but they are actually dependent variables. As marketers,
we need to take care when using the "P" or the "M" word.
For example, I often hear, "I've got to put together the positioning for
this upcoming program we are running." This can mean different things to
different people. Nine times out of ten, they really mean that they must put
together the "messaging" for a program (the words to be said to the
customer and channel), not the "positioning" (the strategic program
elements that define how the company wants to be perceived in the market).
Let's take a look at these two pieces more directly to further clarify what
they are and what they are not.
1. Positioning is a strategy not a tactic.
Positioning covers a broad category of marketing activities that are designed
to carve out your target markets and define your approach to those markets.
It includes such issues as:
- Market segmentation
- Competitive positioning
- Market sizing and analysis
- Product marketing ... and ...
- Core messaging
A complete positioning project/document should address all of these elements
and more. Issues like pricing, potential partners, and distribution strategy
should also be considered. The key is to remember that when you are talking
about positioning, it is the big stuff, not the small stuff. This is especially
important when you are talking to your boss and your boss' boss. You do not
want to minimize the importance of positioning. In some cases, using it as a
verb can result in it being perceived as something less significant that what
it really is. Essentially, positioning encompasses all of those factors that
determine where and how your company's products and services "fit"
in a given market.
2. Core messaging is the last step in a positioning exercise.
Messaging is the final strategic step before entering the execution stage of
marketing. Messaging is the art of defining what you will say to the markets
you are targeting. I used the word "core" messaging here because there
are different levels of messaging. Core messaging helps you nail down the major
points that you want to make when you are talking to a key market or audience.
Program components like the 90 second elevator pitch fall into this category,
as well as general corporate messages. Core messaging serves as the foundation
for all the execution programs; more tailored messages are developed subsequently
to appeal to the specific audience you are reaching.
It is highly recommended that you test your core messages with friendly customers
or analysts before you begin to use them in marketing campaigns, programs, or
events. The cost of testing them is much cheaper than finding out they don't
work after you've made a major investment in a marketing campaign. Once you
begin to execute, you'll be entering the "rubber meets the road" phase;
if there are defects in your strategy or message, you'll soon find out, then
you'll have sunk costs to deal with. You want to insure the credibility of your
message before you begin program execution.
3. Messaging is a moving target.
There's no way around it. Your market changes, your competitors change, your
channel changes. As a result, messaging must constantly be refined and improved.
As you become smarter about the buying behavior in you target markets, you can
create stronger, more focused messages that have impact.
4. Good positioning is designed to grow roots.
A thorough positioning exercise will have your company ready to go to market.
It will address both short and long term considerations about barriers to entering
key markets. The good news it that, over the course of the year, the nature
of the information will not change dramatically. Updates should be made every
18 months or so because it takes that long just to begin to see results and
reactions in the market.
So, the next time you find yourself talking positioning and messaging, take
care when choosing your words. Don't say positioning when you mean messaging,
or vice versa.