Sunday, November 14, 2004

Beyond Positioning

In my previous article, I discussed the importance of a positioning statement and how it can accelerate market success. I also explained how to build a positioning statement using the following template:

To (target market), XYZ Company is the (frame of reference) that (point of difference) because (justification).

An example of an excellent positioning statement is that of Federal Express:

To deadline-oriented business people, Federal Express is the overnight package delivery service that is the most reliable because of its sophisticated package tracking system.

Another example is when started; it sold only books and its positioning statement was:

To people who like to read, is the online bookstore that is the best place to purchase books because of its selection.

Once you develop a positioning statement, have checked it against competitive messaging to determine that yours is unique and defensible, it’s time to “operationalize” it across the 4 P’s of marketing:
  • Product
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place

Let’s take a look at each.


Having a good product or service is the core of your business. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the best product to win, however. Sometimes products win because of great marketing and sales, lower pricing, and greater access to customers. However, the product must deliver on its promise in a new, better, faster, or cheaper way to succeed.

Let’s say that your positioning statement says that your product is the “fastest and easiest” way to do something. For example, QuickBooks claims to be “The fastest, easiest way to manage your business. Guaranteed.”

With this promise there are dramatic implications for your product development. If you claim it’s the “fastest,” it better be. It should be benchmarked against the competition. If you claim that it’s the “easiest,” this has an impact on the user interface, how intuitive the product is, the extent of the help system, etc.

In the Federal Express example, its justification for being the “most reliable” was its “sophisticated package tracking system.” This meant that Federal Express needed to ensure it had an automated way to track a package every step of the way, capture proof of delivery and the signature of the person receiving the package, and provide a way for customers to check on this progress. Customers could initially check over the phone. Then, Federal Express got even more sophisticated by allowing people to check on the Internet.


Many components of a positioning statement can have an impact on price. If your differentiation is “the most cost effective” or the “least expensive,” you need to ensure that this statement is true by looking at competitive pricing. Since a positioning statement has a 12 to 18 month life, you will need to constantly monitor competitive pricing to ensure you are the most cost effective. For most companies, this is not an enviable position to be in.

Even the frame of reference in a positioning statement can impact your price. In’s case, it chose not to play the “least expensive” game. Nevertheless, because it’s frame of reference was “online bookstore,” knew its pricing had to be at least equal to brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Sometimes companies choose to position their products and services as being “the safest choice.” This can have a positive effect on price. Many customers are willing to pay a premium for something that is safe and reliable.


The positioning statement probably has most dramatic impact on promotion – the messages, programs, and vehicles through which you will promote your products or services to prospective customers.

Each promotion through every vehicle – advertising, public relations, direct mail, email, trade shows, Web sites, etc. – needs to address the four components of the positioning statement in a creative, concise, or memorable way.

For the target audience, make sure you’re allowing people to see themselves in your promotion and, in essence, raise their hands and say, “Yes, that’s me. I have that problem or pain.” In Lincoln-Mercury’s Lincoln LS print advertising campaign, the headline reads, “It chews up narrow twisty roads and spits them out. In a refined elegant way, of course.”

This is a creative way of basically saying in the target audience section of their positioning statement, “To drivers who want the luxury of a sedan with the performance of a sports car . . .” The point is that although you do have to identify your target audience in your promotion, you can be clever in how you do it.

For the frame of reference, make sure your promotions let prospective customers know what category your product or service is in so that they have a framework within which they can understand your differentiation. Some companies do this by simply showing a photograph of the product. Others are even more explicit. For example, Sales Logix says, “All CRM implementations are not alike. Some of them actually succeed.” Here, in the second word of its promotion, Sales Logix identifies its frame of reference, and actually addresses the customer pain in the next sentence.

Differentiation is key in your promotions. This is not an area where you should be overly creative – just be blatant about it. If you’re “the fastest,” “the easiest,” “the safest,” etc., just come out and say it. For example, Microsoft promotes its Office suite as “Simplifying Productivity,” and then justifies it by listing all the reasons how and why. This leads us to justification.

Your promotions need to justify your differentiation. This, too, is not a time to be subtle or overly creative. Tell your prospective customers exactly how you justify your differentiation. For example, today sells everything from books and videos to CDs and electronics. It has trademarked its justification with the phrase, “Earth’s Biggest Selection™.” Not much gets more blatant than that.


Place is where you actually sell your products and services. Places may include through a direct sales force; on the Web; as an ASP model; through systems integrators, VARs, specialty resellers; or through retail. Your positioning statement impacts place in a number of ways. First, wherever that place is, you need to ensure that you continue to communicate the four elements of the positioning statement at the point of purchase.

In addition, your positioning statement can help you in the acquisition of resellers and partners because your differentiation also helps to differentiate them. In addition, your target audience may very well be the same ones they can or would like to reach.

Internalize as well as Externalize

The above discussion focuses on externalizing your positioning. It is just as important, if not more so, to internalize your positioning within your organization. Many of our clients have taken the positioning statements we helped them develop and print them on laminated cards for every employee. Others have created posters to place around the office. Some have created positioning statement screen savers. And others have had us conduct focus groups within their organizations to explain how and why the positioning statement was developed, to get their comments, and confirm their buy-in.

The key is that everyone in your organization should know your four elements of the positioning statement:

  • Target audience
  • Frame of reference
  • Differentiation
  • Justification

In doing so, they will better understand where the company is headed, why it’s headed there, and what their role is in the company’s success.

About the Author

Jeff Wiss is founder of Jeff Wiss Companies. As a 20-year marketing veteran, he has successfully launched new companies and re-positioned existing companies in both consumer and business-to-business markets. Jeff’s expertise in the areas of company and product positioning, messaging, branding, and launch strategies has been recognized and utilized among some of the most successful companies worldwide.

You can contact me at 303-494-0682 or Or visit my web site at


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