I just finished a series of blog posts explaining how to write a strong positioning statement. Yes, yes, good practice, that’s all very well and good…. SO WHAT? Once you have one, what good does it do? It’s just a buncha marketing hooey anyways, right?
Let’s take a look at two practical examples of a positioning statement in action.
The quintessential example I’ve often heard cited to illustrate how a positioning statement can be effective is Volvo’s.
For upscale American families, Volvo is the family automobile that offers maximum safety.
Note that this does not talk about the quality of their air bags, the optional collision warning with autobrake or the adaptive cruise control with distance alert. Nor does the statement mention the results of the tests that prove they offer maximum safety. Those are all nice features, but the benefit of all of them is maximum safety.
Note also that the positioning does not talk about great gas mileage, affordability, the sound system… all stuff that a customer (an upscale American one, with a family) will probably look at when he gets closer to making a buying decision.
And now… look how they execute. The first categories of their long list of features are “Preventive Safety, “Protective Safety,” “Child Safety,” and then “Security.” Only then do they start talking about other categories people might care about, like Comfort, Tech & Sound, Styling, and Performance. Now look at any brochure in their catalog. You’ll see safety mentioned as the constant refrain, along with other features to distinguish each of their models from each other. They probably have their own positioning statements too.
What’s that? You don’t work in the automotive industry? Perhaps a more hi-tech example will help. Here’s a positioning statement that I worked on about 2-1/2 years ago, for my current company.
For existing Nuance customers, Nuance Recognizer v9 is the best-of-breed speech recognition software that drives higher business performance by dramatically increasing the efficiency of your self-service solutions. By combining the natural conversational capabilities of OpenSpeech Recognizer with the administration and maintenance resources of the Nuance 8.5 engine, Nuance Recognizer v9 provides unparalleled levels of accuracy, reliability, and ease of use.
This v9 release occurred about a year after Nuance and ScanSoft merged. It represented the integration of both companies’ flagship product lines. But you can’t market a product as “now, on one unified code base to make our internal support and programming easier!” What’s in it for the customer? Lots of stuff, but with R&D focused on the integration work, it was up to product management and product marketing to pull a message out from the list of committed features. We focused on the three benefits of accuracy, reliability, and ease of use. And then we used it. Everywhere. The website blurb. Trade show signage. The datasheet. The whitepaper itself is called “Bringing New Levels of Accuracy, Reliability, and Ease of Use to Speech-Based Self-Service Applications.” The customer-facing presentation hits you over the head with it too. Accuracy. Reliability. Ease of Use. And those aren’t just marketing mantras – we had the lab tests and beta user evidence to prove the accuracy; new load balancing features and a resource manager that simply weren’t in both versions before; and an entire OA&M mechanism added with the Management Station. But by focusing on those higher level benefits, we could introduce all these features (consolidated logging, reporting and analytics, improved natural language support, yada yada yada) as evidence supporting those benefits, and provide a structure to the argument.
Get it? No? Then consider the alternative. What does all this marketing material look like when the engineering team doesn’t have a high level message in mind while they’re designing and building the product? It’s whatever the marketing people make up. If you’re lucky, it’s based on whatever features they can yank out of requirements documents. And then we’re writing about “one-of-a-kind unique capabilities that leverage our core strengths and enable us to utilize our vast experience to help you expand your investment and achieve an ROI.” Huh?