Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Marketing - Position before you communicate

Many marketing programs in large and small firms flounder, marketing plans change directions, go around in circles and often the message is lost before it reaches the customer. This is analogous to the situation in "Alice in Wonderland", where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which path to take? Cat asks "Where do you want to go?" Alice says "Anywhere, As long as I go somewhere.". Cheshire Cat responds "If you don't care where you're going, it doesn't make a difference which path you take."

The situation is similar to the marketing programs in many firms. Without direction or focus, an organization often goes around in circles - always working hard but going nowhere.

Importance of Positioning

From a management perspective, positioning is the center of an effective marketing plan. A well-crafted positioning statement defines your company's direction. A well defined positioning statement answers seven essential questions:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What business we are in?
  3. Whom do we serve?
  4. What is needed by the market we serve?
  5. Who are the competition? - (In specific who is the number-1 competition)
  6. What is unique in our business model?
  7. What are the unique benefits our customers derive from our products & services?

It is not surprising if one finds members of top management are not in total agreement to the answers to these questions. And that is the first signal of a bad market positioning.

Positioning Defined

A market position (or statement of position) is a cold-hearted, no-nonsense statement of how a company is perceived in the minds of your customers, prospective customers, stakeholders and employees.

Companies cannot declare a marketing position - it must be earned in the minds of the customers, potential customers and stakeholders. Marketing is a means to acheive that market position. When I say marketing, I mean a mix of marketing tools may have to be used to achieve the desired market position.

Getting that market position

The process for developing your company's positioning statement and path is discussed below. The purpose of a market position is to create a clear, consistent and a continious way the organization speaks to its market. This makes all forms of marketing communications less complex and easier to manage. But getting there takes patience, discipline, negotiation and above all an "outside-in" perspective, i.e., take an outsider view of the firm. Hiring an external agency or public relations agency can be of useful in creating a market position.

Step-1: The Right Information

To begin with, one must have the right information i.e., answers to the seven questions that a positioning statement must answer. For one reason or other many companies don't share business or marketing plans with all employees, external PR agency, and/or advertising agency. If the firm does not have the answers to the above questions, then there is lots more work in store.

Step-2: Use the Right People

Get the top managment buy in on the market position. The CEO, CFO, VP's and directors must be in agreement to the market position. Next, Enlist all those employees who are in contact with customers (direct or indirect). It is essential for all employees who interact with customers to be in agreement with the market position the firm wants to take.

Step-3: Train you folks

Work with and train all the employees and top managment to think and act in accordance with the market position. Outline the expected outcome and the benefits that communications consensus will bring and circulate in an e-mail or memo to all those involved. The most understandable benefit is that time and money will be saved in developing communications tactics. The most strategically valuable benefit is more effective communications resulting from consistent, cohesive and differentiated messages building market awareness, thus helping achieve the company's desired position.

Step-4: Generate Ideas

Concentrate on uncovering issues, competitive and internal differences of opinion. Get people talking and discussing the seven key positioning questions in turn. Customer or prospect survey questionnaires can provide the outside-in perspective and realistic answers about the company's present position. Also be sure to examine and be aware of what key competitors are claiming about themselves.

One of the most important aspects of the positioning statement exercise is that all affected managers see and hear each other's ideas. It is only though this face-to-face process that understanding and consensus occurs. Try ensuring that every manager's ideas and thoughts are noted.

Step-5: Challenge their thinking

Remind your people that the goal is uncovering direction by defining what is real as well as firm's ideal vision. This includes company and competitors' strengths, weaknesses, competitive threats, opportunities (SWOT analysis). What is being sought are reasonable and compelling supports (key messages) for a position verses competitors (But do not a position in a vacuum).

The hardest thing for many people to grasp is the concept of narrowing rather than broadening a company's focus. Differentiation is essential. If your people can't determine differences in the company, they need to look harder. Differentiating on price is usually a dead-end.

The desired result is a positioning statement and supporting messages that reflect today's reality and help move the company toward it's sought after, achievable, differentiated position. Remember, claiming to be "the leader" does not make it so.

Step-6: Playing it back

Once the first round of matket positioning is over, provide a summary and positioning statement as pervieved by an external agency. Craft your positioning statements and a set of key supporting statements for consideration during the next round.

The second round of market positioning should focus on refinement and agreement on one positioning statement and a limited set of key messages. If management output has been unfiltered, then the proposed statements and messages should be close to the final statement.

It is essential that during the entire exercise, a mission leader (external agency or marketing manager) should drive the process towards consensus and closure. Make careful note of agreements and modifications to the proposed statements and messages.

Publish the final position statement soon after the exercise ends to prevent an endless loop of iterations, changes, additions and more meetings.

Clear path Ahead

Finally, the firm begins actively applying its new positioning statement to all communications (internal and external) - from marketing collateral to sales material, Web sites to press releases. This means that if communications do not support the sought-after positioning or do not include, reflect, address or amplify the positioning statement and key messages, they are off strategy and are not acceptable.

Step-7: Get The Word Out

This is what's needed to initiate an effective position-driven communications program. Advertising or direct marketing must now follow the positioning statement. Their involvement ensures that they will support and implement the positioning statement and key messages.
Now it's up to the marketing communications, public relations and advertising managers to guide and control the consistent use of the statement and key messages by all those who are communicating. That takes some more work. But the payoff is communications success.

2 comments:

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