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.
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:
- Is your positioning statement important? That is, does it solve a pressing customer problem?
- 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.
- 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.
- Is your positioning statement believable? Does it seem to be inherently true? Can you prove it?
- 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.?
- Are you using buzzwords or industry jargon such as "transform," "empower," "leverage," "quote to cash," "single version of the truth," etc.?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.")
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.