A winning positioning statement formula to clear up muddy marketing

Confusing, chaotic, disjointed marketing strategies not only cost you customers, they also cost your bottom line. Today’s consumers have hundreds, even thousands, of choices about how to spend their dollars. Why would they spend them with you? Are you providing a clear understanding of why your product or service is better than your competitors’? Are you talking to the right customers to begin with? Are you helping your product or service stand out?  You need that single, defining sentence to evaluate every marketing initiative; you need a positioning statement.

“So how do you come up with a positioning statement,” you ask. Luckily the creative types at Philosophy have been carving out and writing positioning statements for clients for years. We have a process that evaluates all your company communication and precisely defines your market position. This article gives you a peek under the surface and takes you through the key components to developing your own positioning statement.

First, what is a positioning statement?

A positioning statement is not a mission statement. I was conducting a brand audit recently (a brand audit is our process that leads us to positioning statements), and I realized our client thought a positioning statement and a mission statement were the same thing. A mission statement is a loftier notion that guides how you conduct business – in this case, a nonprofit. A positioning statement defines an organization’s place in the market and differentiaties a business from its competition.

Because my client was a nonprofit that helps people in need, they had a hard time understanding why they needed to be competitive. I explained that everyone has choices—including the people they help, the organizations and individuals that provide donations, and the employees and volunteers who donate their time. This particular organization had a 60-year history, so naturally they had different ideas about who they are, whom they serve and how they talk about themselves as a group and as individuals.

The situation reminded me of Ford Kanzler’s remark where he says, “Without direction or focus, a business or organization often acts like a multi-headed creature—speaking from many mouths, saying nothing and going nowhere.”

A survey that went out before the audit revealed that no two people on the leadership team had the same way of describing their roles, values, assets or history. They had more than 50 core areas of strength and wanted to list them all in their positioning statement.

We worked through the following steps over a few hours and walked away with an approved positioning statement. The resulting document was stronger and the team was more likely to adopt it because they worked as a group to create it. 

A typical positioning statement has four key elements:

  • Target Market (the group of consumers at which your product or service is aimed)
  • Your Category (the specific market you conduct business in)
  • Brand Promise (the promise you make to your consumer)
  • The Reason to Believe (the reason to believe your brand promise. Usually, it’s your core values and brand attributes that either individually or as a group form a unique selling proposition for your Target Market to choose you over your competition.)


What to expect

Plan on lots of discussion throughout the process. You must leave room on the table for a few philosophical side discussions about topics related to the exercise. Sometimes, a seemingly unrelated side-note becomes fodder for a greater understanding of the organization’s purpose.

Healthy debates often occur. Foster whatever conversation leads you to the strongest list of core values, end consumer benefits and competitive differentiators. But be sure to wrangle your group to get to the session’s primary outcome: the positioning statement.

How long should it take?

Typically, a four to five hour session will get you through the process of discovery and craft a preliminary positioning statement. Mornings are always best to conduct your thinking sessions—we tend to think faster and are more alert in in the mornings, so everyone contributes more.

Remember, a good positioning statement gives your brand clear direction on how to lead your future marketing activities. It’s not a mission statement to be shared on your website for consumers but rather a guiding statement about how to get through to your customers.

The Value

There’s great value in this approach because the entire team is in agreement by the end of the process and the company has a newfound focus that can offer a fresh business perspective. In addition to walking away with a solid positioning statement, all participants have greater alignment and a renewed sense of team and community.

You’re actually bringing your team closer together with a greater sense of purpose. And we all know that with the right product mix, team and communication, your bottom line will reap the reward.

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve undergone a thorough and rigorous positioning exercise, you are ready to plow full steam ahead. A great next step is to define messages. Your positioning statement is your foundation—the trunk of your company tree—now you can create branches (key messages) that further elaborate and define your core values, beliefs and differentiators. Read all about how to define key messages here.

If all of this sounds daunting, it’s okay—it’s because it is—and it’s hard work. Luckily, the Philosophy team is ready to roll up their sleeves and lend a hand. Give us a call at 303-394-2366 to learn how we can help you with your company positioning.


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