Put Your Story to Work With a Positioning and Messaging Framework

We've previously discussed value proposition as being the first step in creating your strategic messaging foundation. With this element, you define the "gives" and "gets" of your product – the cost to the customer for receiving the benefits of your offering.

But a value proposition alone won't yield an effective and compelling brand message. For that, you'll need to go much deeper. You need to look beyond the product itself and study the actual people who use it.

That's what a positioning and messaging framework is all about. It directly connects customer pain points with specific product benefits. This exercise brings you one step closer to being able to produce creative messaging that engages your audience and speaks to your customer's journey.

Learn about all seven elements of a strategic messaging foundation in our blog post on the topic.

What does a positioning framework accomplish?

A properly-executed positioning and messaging framework is designed to be a "one-stop shop" that you can refer back to across your future marketing campaigns for the life of the product, being refreshed as your product evolves over time. It takes an outside-in view, exploring the questions: "What challenges do our customers go through and what is it about our product or service that answers those particular challenges?"

From there, first-party research on your target customers (either conducted in-house or on your behalf by a reputable research firm, and yes we can help with that) ensures that your answers to those questions are rooted in fact. By studying the types of challenges your audience has, you demonstrate a deep respect for and understanding of the customer.

Here's how this works in the real world: You write a website landing page using your well-researched positioning and messaging framework. When a potential prospect visits the site, they'll read phrases and words that speak directly to challenges they know they have, which will really strike a chord with them. The narrative you create on your page will help them draw a connection between their pain points and your solution (i.e., your product's benefits), making your business the clear choice for them.

It is possible to create positioning for any number of potential purchasers of your product. We recommend choosing two to four target markets to prioritize, based on the customer contexts you considered when creating your value proposition. You should consider markets that are sufficiently unique, so you can explore the benefits of your product in a different way for each target. An important outcome of this process will be a convenient summary statement that clearly articulates your product in a way that resonates with each of your chosen targets.

We're going to assume that you've done some baseline market research for your product and for the customer context of those that could benefit from your product. If you haven't done that, now is the time to hit pause on this exercise and conduct that fundamental market research (feel free to book a complimentary consultation to talk through how to approach this).

How to develop your positioning and messaging framework

The process that you use in the following steps will be the same for each of your focus targets. Once you've completed one, simply rinse and repeat for the others, remembering to look at the exercise through the lens of each particular target.

1. Determine the customer issue solved by your product.

Think about the customer pains and issues that this specific target has which you know that you can help with. Now is a great time to run a workshop with your team. Get everybody sitting around a table discussing the points of pain that your customers experience. Consider the what and the how of the problems that they have, utilize your foundational research, and focus on the areas that you know you are best positioned to help with.

Have you ever whittled a piece of wood, or carved something out of stone or clay? These are exercises in reduction. When Michelangelo was asked about how he created the statue of David out of the magnificent large single piece of marble, he responded, "I just removed everything that wasn't David." It's time for you to do the same.

Now that you've got all the inputs on the table from your team and research, start whittling down. Look for duplication, similarities, and degrees of separation, which are small. Remove, reduce, and distill. Your objective is to come up with a list of half a dozen to a dozen key pains and problems that your customers have that you can help solve.

2. Identify your proof points.

Your next step is to identify the features and benefits that surround your product's capabilities and align them with the pain points, based on the results real customers have had using your product. Consider both qualitative and quantitative aspects of your product and write them down. If you had 10 pain points listed from the prior step, you should come up with 10 aspects of your product or service which solve each pain.

3. Name your points of differentiation.

Next, consider key points of differentiation for your product versus the competition. Returning to the initial customer challenges you listed, look both the points of parity and the points of differentiation. In other words, focus on how you can help customers meet their challenges better than your competition (or the customer's current status quo), and the things they struggle with within your overall category.

Don't over-focus on points of parity, though: While it's useful to frame the context of your product or service in the marketplace, you absolutely want to position yourself with this target market in a way that puts you head and shoulders above your competition.

A general rule of thumb to follow is three-quarters points of differentiation to one-quarter points of parity. Remember, you're focusing on the customers pains, challenges, and issues that they run into that you can help with.

3. Craft your key statement for each target.

Once you've got all of these elements in place, you're ready to write a key statement – a summary about how the customer's life can be better and improved because of your product.

Don't underestimate how long it can take to go through this process, especially if there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Your job is to keep the team on task, help them prioritize, and be the "outside-in" representative of the customer in this process.

4. Craft your umbrella statement and net takeway.

At this point in the exercise, you will have key statements for each of your chosen practices or markets. It's time to combine all of them into one umbrella message – another exercise in distillation.

We then take this one step further and come up with a net take away: a single-sentence statement that is emotional, inspirational, and engaging, and clearly demonstrates how you want people to feel about your product.

5. Write an overall positioning statement.

Last but not least, we also recommend crafting a positioning statement which helps surmise the aggregate of your positioning. It should look something like this:

For [target audience] who want to [target audience, perception, insight, need], [your brand or product name] is the [brackets [generic descriptor, category] that [single overarching benefit]. Unlike [the competition], [brand or product name] is [differentiating support pillars].

It is easy for these efforts to become bloated, feature-filled, inside-out views of your product or service that have little bearing on the specifics of how you help with your customers, specific and prioritized pain points. Remember, all of this is in service of a strategic messaging foundation that provides consistency clarity and inspiration for all of those on your team – your marketers, your salespeople, your partners, and your agencies – who need to provide a united front of communication to your customers.

Filtering your message

From a promotional perspective, there are certain things about your product that you shouldn't talk about because they're not directly related to pain points. Your positioning framework is a really powerful filter for your future creative messaging, and going through this exercise will help you get crystal-clear on why specific customer segments would choose your brand over the competition.

This all comes back to customer context. You need to be able to answer the question, "Why should I care about you?" for each of your chosen audience groups – and that answer is going to be different depending on the customer journey and circumstances.

Crossing the Chasm (HarperBusiness, 2006) by Geoffrey Moore explores this topic in the context of high-tech marketing. Within any product adoption cycle there are five customer groups that fall into two main categories. The "Early Market" is made up of consumers who want the newest things, even with a minimum feature set (the Innovators and Early adopters). Then there is the "Mainstream Market," the group of consumers who want a complete, convenient product solution (the Early Majority, the Late Majority, and the Laggards).

The "chasm" Moore speaks of exists between these two markets – between the early adopters and the early majority. Technology startups often fumble at this critical moment. As a Lean B2B blog post explains, these companies "fail to address the needs of these different groups and, as a result, are never able to cross the chasm between the Early and Mainstream markets to reach ... widespread adoption."

Developing a positioning and messaging framework helps you avoid that risk and achieve the goal of crossing that chasm. As you contemplate entering the mainstream market, think about the types of customers who exist there, and how their needs differ from those in the early market groups. The easiest way to properly address each market's needs is to create different versions of your positioning and messaging framework, one for early adopters, and another for the early majority.

What if my original messaging no longer reflects my current focus?

Sometimes your precise market positioning is going to change, and that's OK. You should constantly be revisiting your messaging to ensure that it still aligns with your target customers' needs. If you find that it doesn't, don't panic: You don't necessarily need to return to square one with positioning and messaging framework. Simply go back through the process and take the same intentional approach to clarifying your message.

For example, if you're releasing a product update or an addition to your existing product line, look at your original positioning and messaging framework and see what can be updated to include the key pain points your new release addresses. Make sure your marketing and product teams are working closely together to keep your marketing "bible" up to date on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.

Taking the next steps in your creative messaging

Your positioning and messaging framework is an all-important tool to get your brand storytelling right. The groundwork you do during this exercise will inform the stories you tell your customers, as well as the selection process for the customers you write case studies about.

It will also help you build out your story structure, based on the ancient human storytelling framework. Your positioning and messaging framework will help you clearly articulate the hero of your story (the specific customer you're targeting), the things they want, the problem standing in their way, their guide to solving that problem (your product), and the transformation they'll undergo by taking action and working with your business.

When your positioning and messaging framework is complete, it's time to begin thinking about the next step: your brand narrative. This element of your strategic messaging foundation will help you put your and your customers' stories to work by crafting a clear and consistent voice, character, and position for your brand, and help you find your place in the market.

Ready to set the stage for your future marketing campaigns with a positioning and messaging framework? Let's chat.

Go Narrative is a marketing consultancy that assists business leaders in technology firms to build and implement advanced marketing strategies. Get attention. Be heard. Sell more.

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