One of the most important foundations you can build for your company is a strong, differentiated positioning. Similar to the famous expression, “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” you only get one chance to tell your company’s story for the first time. And if you don’t define your story from day one, someone else will do it for you, whether it be the press or an aggressive competitor looking to steal market share.
The key to a strong positioning is to be able to clearly answer in one sentence, what the product does, what its benefits are and who it’s meant for. Too often, companies use too many buzz words and marketing speak in these sentences, leaving the reader with no clue about what they just read. This ends up turning off many reporters as well, who are paid to write about companies in layman’s terms, so anyone who picks up their article can understand it.
But before you can create the magic sentence that succinctly captures what you’re all about, you need to be able to prioritize your most important offerings – in other words, you can probably create a list of 20 key product benefits, but what are the 3 or 4 most crucial offerings that set you apart from the competition? Another challenge is to provide a relevant context for the problem(s) you’re solving with those offerings and provide examples that prove out your solutions.
So if you’re about to launch a product/service, or just pivoted to a different business model and need to “re-launch”, you’ll want to follow these six steps to create clear, compelling messaging for your company:
1. Start with your brand
With an overwhelming number of options in the market today for everything from mobile phones to running shoes, one thing hasn’t changed: consumers/end users still gravitate toward a strong brand they can identify with. That’s why it’s imperative that you first build your brand, which will then serve as a “blueprint” for your messaging and, eventually, your marketing/PR plan.
Think of your brand as a person – how would you describe its personality? Is it fun, serious, altruistic, inspiring? Try to come up with 3-5 key descriptors of your brand that are simple, but meaningful enough to serve as organizing concepts for who you are as a company.
2. Articulate your most important offerings for each audience
Next, think about all of the different audiences that you need to communicate with. These usually include consumers/end users, potential partners, advertisers and investors, depending on your business model and marketing objectives. Now, if we go back to that list of key product benefits with these audiences in mind, it will become clear which ones will resonate more with consumers versus investors or advertisers. Start organizing all of your benefits by audience type, and then pick the 1-2 most important key offerings (remember, the key is prioritization!) for each audience to serve as the pillars that you can build the rest of your messaging on. Remember, we’re trying to create a differentiated position for your company so if your closest competitors can boast the same exact offerings, you’re doing it wrong.
3. Create narratives that provide context
The importance and power of stories can’t be overstated, especially in the relationship era of marketing. Sure, you can easily list a bunch of facts about your product, but when you wrap those facts in a more meaningful packaging (i.e. a story), the impact on your audience is much greater. As Daniel Pink discusses in his book, A Whole New Mind, the ability to create a compelling narrative has now become the essence of persuasive communication.
So take a moment to think about the overarching story that makes your product necessary and relevant to your audience at this point in time. What problems are you solving for them and why is that significant? What’s happening in the world or in your customers’ lives that make your product a must-have? Narratives can easily be captured in a few short sentences – start with those key offerings and build your stories around them. Once you’ve identified those key offerings and developed narratives that put them into context for each audience, you’re ready to come up with the proof points for how you deliver on those offerings.
4. Provide proof points
This is probably the easiest section to populate as it simply lists all of the facts about your product or service, such as your traffic numbers, product features, “firsts,” third-party endorsements, etc. For example, if you claim to deliver a high level of “engaged reach” (key offering) for advertisers, share details that prove it such as your site’s engagement metrics and number of monthly/daily active users (or whatever stats are most relevant for your industry). If you claim to be a “trusted resource” (key offering), list all of your third-party endorsements (e.g. you are the #1 source for X as voted on by X) and ways that you reinforce your credibility (i.e. founders are serial entrepreneurs or come from impressive backgrounds, etc.) as your proof points. It will be important to have these handy for media interviews, investor meetings and partnership discussions so make sure they’re compelling.
5. Develop examples and case studies
Now that you’ve created your message pillars which include your key offerings, narratives and proof points, the best way to solidify and reinforce them is through specific real-world examples or client/customer testimonials. Building an arsenal of case studies is crucial, not only for your business development/sales team, but also for your PR efforts. Both reporters and potential customers like specific examples, so brainstorm at least one case study for each audience you hope to reach. Oftentimes, you can secure a feature story on a strong case study, which can be helpful during times when you don’t have a lot of “breaking news” to generate coverage.
6. Create your “elevator pitch” or one-sentence positioning statement
This is by far the hardest part, but if you’ve followed the first five steps outlined above, you’ll find it a lot easier to tackle. Remember, your positioning statement answers the questions “What are you, what do you do and who benefits from it?” Your statement should also:
1. Be strategic, differentiated and sometimes, aspirational
2. Serve as the basis of your “boiler plate” in all press materials, collateral, web copy, etc.
In other words, make sure your positioning statement works as hard as possible for you because you’re going to use it over and over again.
Here are a few typical formulas for constructing a positioning statement:
[What it is] that [what it does] for [target audience]
[What it is] for [target audience] to [what the benefits are]
[What it is] that [lasting impact it will have on people/business]
Try filling in the relevant information into each of these formulas and play around with a few versions. You will likely go through a few rounds of edits (have a thesaurus handy) before you nail it. That’s ok – iterating is a valuable process. Back during my days on the YouTube business, we tweaked this statement dozens of times before settling on this:
YouTube is the world’s largest online video community that allows people to connect, inform and inspire others.
Which has now morphed into this, based on YouTube’s evolution as a company over the past three years:
YouTube is the world’s most popular online video community allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos.
This goes to show that by no means are you stuck with a positioning statement forever – it should always be updated to reflect new strategies, developments and overall direction for the company.
When you’ve finalized your statement, you should also circulate it among your employees – sales, HR, marketing, customer service, etc. – to make sure all external messages are consistent.
Once you’ve gone through these six steps, you will not only have a killer elevator pitch, you’ll have mapped out the most important points you need to communicate about your company to any audience you care about. So when that Wall Street Journal reporter calls you or you set up that important investor meeting, you’ll be prepared with the right thing to say to ensure you turn that opportunity into a success…the first time around.