Practical Examples of a Positioning Statement in Action


“Look, good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living? That’s something else.”

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?

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About Jeff Foley

Jeff Foley is a senior marketing manager at Bullhorn, with a focus on Bullhorn’s social recruiting software and its Professional Services team. Jeff started his career as an engineer at Dragon Systems, before moving over to “the Dark Side” of marketing as the product manager for Dragon NaturallySpeaking v5. Throughout product launches at enterprise and consumer companies like Dragon, edocs, Atari, Nuance, and now Bullhorn, Jeff has aligned sales, marketing, and product organizations around new technologies to deliver software his customers love to use. Jeff holds BS and MEng degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.
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4 Responses to Practical Examples of a Positioning Statement in Action

  1. Sania says:

    Thank you for the post I really needed a positioning statement example but the point in commenting is this:
    If there is one thing I’ve noticed that is common between all marketers it is their common dislike for engineers. I mean they all deny it but i can almost create a template for any marketing blog/class/article:
    1- Start with something totally useful include good examples
    2- End with humor at the expense of some poor engineer who couldn’t think beyond design specs
    I’m serious about this, i was one engineer in a class of about thirty-five business students in Mktg210 and every time the professor made an engineer joke (at least twice a week) all necks would pivot in my direction and zero on my face and i’d be all like “Don’t mind me i’m harmlessly sketching”

    • Jeff Foley says:

      Thanks, Sania, for your comment. One of the main points of me making this blog, as an engineer-turned-marketer, was to show engineers that marketing should not be something intimidating, and to empower them to call B.S. on their marketing counterparts if they’re not doing their job.

      From your comment, it sounds like you think I’m making fun of engineers, and that’s totally not the case. If anything, I poke fun at the healthy tension between engineering, marketing, and sales, and show what happens when any one side of that three-legged stool fails in its responsibilities to the others. For instance, I end this post making fun of marketing if they don’t communicate with engineering — they make up a bunch of stuff that doesn’t mean anything, and the engineers roll their eyes when they see the marketing material. That shouldn’t happen, but it does at many companies on a regular basis.

      • Sania says:

        Thank you for clarifying your point it seems i didn’t get exactly what you meant when you said “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 reminded me of what my prof kept saying “Engineers design for the sake of design, they fall so in love with their products that they forget about what the market wants or looks like thereby wasting millions on research an prototypes of things the customer would never use or afford”

        I think your comment here puts this whole blog in an entirely different light, i’m almost tempted to mail my prof the link to it because it balances out what he says and gives marketers, sales and engineers all equal responsibility. Marketers should not only be able to direct engineers towards developing a desired product but also define their finished designs and put them in a perspective/concept the customer would be able to understand and thus be interested in. If the marketer himself does not understand or find purpose or reason for the product the engineer might as well forget about the project and maybe his job.

      • Jeff Foley says:

        Yes! You get it now, Sania. Exactly.

        Your professor is right, though — if engineers focus solely on the technology then they won’t build things that customers want. It’s engineering’s job to be aware of the use cases — what does the customer actually need? But it’s also marketing’s job to provide some of that guidance and feedback by analyzing the market and collecting feedback, and it’s the sales team’s job to provide the from-the-field response from the customer so that engineering can iterate and improve their design. In addition to all the individual responsibilities each department has. It’s so easy for each group to focus on their own thing and do the worst of their stereotypes (engineers heads down on cool tech; marketers making pretty things no one wants; sales making up stories to get the sale) and then Bad Things Happen.

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