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A 12-Point B2B Positioning Health-Check

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Editor's note: This article is based on a post on the author's blog.

A positioning health-check will tell you how effective your B2B positioning really is—and B2B marketers desperately need a realistic way to judge their positioning effectiveness.

Although 69% of 137 respondents to a survey I'm conducting think they are doing a good job of positioning, many are kidding themselves. I did health-checks on 24 websites of respondents who judged their positioning to be "effective" or "very effective," and found that only six are doing it effectively. The other 18 websites are doing a marginal or poor job of positioning.

Why the disconnect? One reason may be that there has been no objective, standardized way of evaluating positioning effectiveness.

But now you can conduct your own positioning health-check by answering the questions listed below. The health-check overcomes preconceived notions about positioning effectiveness and gives you a proven way to realistically perform an assessment.

First, though, let's dig a little to see what else might be at the root of the problem.

Why B2B Marketers Might Not Be Positioning Effectively

Another reason survey respondents might think they are doing a good job of positioning is that they don't realize it's not something done seat-of-the-pants. Only 44% of respondents have a formal process for positioning; 68% either learned positioning on the job or by trial and error. Very few learned it in college.

In short, B2B marketers are winging it, whereas doing positioning right requires process, structure, and discipline.

Here's why…

What positioning is: I define positioning as the mental space—specifically, in your target audience's mind—that you can "own" with an idea that has compelling meaning to your audience. And it's in that mental space where your solution to the target audience's most pressing problem meet—and form a meaningful relationship.

Research is vital: For that relationship to form, you need first to understand your customers and their problems as well as you know your own product. In turn, that means research is critical. Yet, 51% of respondents admit they don't do enough research; only 33% say they spend enough time on all aspects of positioning.

Benefit claim: Good positioning states a benefit that solves a pressing customer problem. No matter how much time you spend on positioning, you'll fail to do it right unless your positioning statement makes a benefit claim that solves an important customer problem.

You can claim a position by using your positioning statement as the central theme for everything you do in marketing. But only if you repeat your position so often that you get sick of it. Your audience, however, won't. First, because they won't see/hear every instance of repetition, but mainly because the decision-making part of the human brain tends to consider as important—and remembers—claims if they are frequently repeated.

Lack of repetition—common to many of the 24 websites I examined—is one of the biggest positioning mistakes B2B software and technology marketers make. They come up with a compelling claim on their homepage, but never use it again or repeat it anywhere else on the website.

Differentiation: The other major problem prevalent in B2B positioning is a lack of differentiation. Just about every market I follow has at least two companies—and often more—making identical claims. It's what I call "me-too" positioning, and it's relatively easy to avoid.

12 Questions for Your Positioning Health-Check

Find out how effective your positioning really is by answering the following 12 sets of questions; you'll find some answers and tips within the list, and the answer key at the end will help you discover how well you did:

  1. Is your positioning statement important? That is, does it solve a pressing customer problem?
  2. Does your positioning statement express a benefit that aligns with a pressing customer problem? If you haven't stack-ranked customer problems, with the most pressing problem ranked first, then you need to.
  3. Is your positioning statement unique? Does it differentiate you from your competitors? Answer "yes" only if you are certain you are the only company in your market claiming the position you are claiming.
  4. Is your positioning statement believable? Does it seem to be inherently true? Can you prove it?
  5. Is your positioning statement adapted to all marketing communications and situations? Your positioning statement should be the theme for everything you do in marketing. Is it? Does it work on your website and in email marketing, public relations, social media, etc.?
  6. Are you using buzzwords or industry jargon such as "transform," "empower," "leverage," "quote to cash," "single version of the truth," etc.?
  7. Are you claiming that you are the industry leader or No. 1 in your market? Or making any claim that touts your company's prowess rather than focusing on the customer?
  8. Do you make more than one compelling benefit claim on your home page? If more than one, pick the one that solves the most important problem. Use it—and kill the others.
  9. Do your competitors' website, along with yours, use common language to describe what they do, and the benefits and advantages of their offerings? In other words, does your content read like some of your competitors'? (An example from the CRM space: "gain the insight you need to close more deals.")
  10. Do you use rotating panels on your home page? Using rotating panels improperly is a sure way to fail to claim a position in your market. Few do it right.
  11. Is your positioning statement the theme for your website content? For example, if your main claim is that you help companies make better decisions, then you should be repeating it often throughout your site. You don't have to repeat the same words, just the same idea. For example, the position "accelerate decision-making throughout the enterprise" was executed in a campaign as "see how fast your business can run."
  12. Do you prove the claim you make in your positioning statement? For example, if you claim to transform the way work gets done, you need to substantiate it by presenting supporting evidence.

What Your Positioning Health-Check Tells You

If you answered "No" to any of the first five questions, and "Yes" to questions six and seven, it's time to change your positioning.

If you answered "Yes" to questions eight through ten, and "No" to the remainder, it's time to learn how to more effectively execute your positioning. Also consider finding a skilled writer who knows how to tell a good story and understands the importance of focus and repetition.

Check Your Positioning Regularly

I recommend that you perform a positioning health-check at the end of each quarter. Why? Most websites—including yours—are continually changing. Typically, new content is added regularly, so make sure it is on message.

Equally important, pay close attention to your competitors' websites. If one changes its positioning, it may be encroaching on yours. What you do in response depends on the health of your positioning and the health of your competitor's.

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Lawson Abinanti is the founder of Messages That Matter. For 15+ years he has helped mid-market and enterprise software companies stand out with messages that matter to B2B buyers.

LinkedIn: Lawson Abinanti

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  • by Peter Altschuler Mon Dec 5, 2016 via web

    Positioning is multi-faceted. It functions for the company on one level and for its products on another (and each product may be positioned separately and differently, depending on the market and the competition). A chemical that's sold to one industry as an ingredient might be sold to another for its stand-alone properties. A business that sells supplies to restaurants using one set of attributes might sell to cruise ships using a different set.

    In both cases, the company's brand -- it's positioning, promise, and characteristics -- might be consistent, but it's presence in marketing might be modified. A company that's selling a complete product may give its brand identification more dominance while one selling a component part in a price-driven environment may give theirs less.

    I've used product-specific positioning statements for decades, outlining what the product is, who it's for, and how it provides a unique benefit (or set of benefits) that distinguish it from competitive offerings. Often, the same product will have multiple positioning statements because the target and the benefits for that target are different. And I've even had to re-work those statements if they veered from the attributes associated with the brand.

    So positioning is a moving target, and it's not the statement that's important, unique, or beneficial. It's the product or service it describes in the context of the target buyer's needs, expectations, and perceptions.

  • by Ford Kanzler Mon Dec 5, 2016 via web

    Excellent! I'd add:
    - When you survey customers, competitors or others in your market and they begin identifying your brand with language that sounds very similar to your positioning statement, its a good indication that you've begun nailing your desired position vs. competitors. (The position lives in the mind of the market." Thank you Al Ries & Jack Trout!)
    - Develop no more than three key messages (customer value points) supporting your positioning claim and use them consistently either separately or together in all your outbound messages. Don't keep inventing additional key messages. People can' remember more than three things.
    - Police your positioning (your communications strategy) to assure that its not being reinvented by others. This requires on-going effort. There is a strong tendency for people in other departments, office locations or your communications agencies to go "off-road" and dream up quire different, off-strategy communications. Creativity should be governed by the strategy.
    - When developing new tactics, first ask, "Does this align with, reinforce our strategy and support how we want to be known in the market?"
    - Most importantly, is the business "walking the talk?" Is the company being and doing what it says it wants people to perceive and value about the brand? A great example of this is the outdoor equipment supplier Patagonia

  • by Neil Mahoney Mon Dec 5, 2016 via web

    Excellent analysis. My "15 Commandments for a truly aligned Social Media, Marketing, Sales Process" provides a similar solution.

  • by Peter Altschuler Mon Dec 5, 2016 via web

    Ford, those are all valuable considerations. They provide useful reference points that (should) help keep everyone focused on what's most important.

    Yet companies need to take a r-e-a-l-l-y long view to develop a position that will last. That takes, I admit, a degree of clarivoyance that a revenue-by-quarter world doesn't always appreciate, but it's essential. A brand has to consider potential changes in the market, in the emergence of competing new products or services, and in people's behavior and endeavor to create an over-riding idea that can survive them all.

    Alternatively, companies have to be ready to re-position themselves. Apple had done that brilliantly when Jobs was at the helm, either hammering home the notion of simplicity and reliable functionality or introducing technology that no one realized they needed until it was unveiled. That remained from the introduction of the iMac through the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, the last three intuiting what consumers would want to do if they had the tools to do it. That's a synthesis that not every company can accomplish (and Apple seems to have lost the skill, jettisoning product categories that could have been consolidated into a unified entertainment/information/IoT management system).

    It's not easy. Not everyone has a single, enduring product like DeBeers ("A diamond is forever"). Mercedes Benz went from "The best engineered car in the world" to the competitor to "The ultimate driving machine," never coming up with a durable alternative. Nike triumphed with a simple, three-word concept that encompassed all forms of activity, and no one else in the category has come close to matching it.

    Yet if those firms have to adapt to new trends that hint at needing new technologies, they'll have to make changes, and "the ultimate self-driving machine" just ain't gonna work.

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