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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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Technology & Manufacturing: Marketing, Web Development, E-Business

Positioning vs. Messaging: How to Get There From Here

by Juliann Grant
Global Strategy & Analyst Relations

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.