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Positioning and Messaging: How to Unlock Accelerated Growth

Posted January 11, 2023
Positioning and Messaging: How to Unlock Accelerated Growth

Doug Bell, Serial CMO and host of The Revenue Generator Podcast, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Doug shares the 2 keys to accelerate growth, the rubric for perfecting messaging and positioning, the messaging value chain, and how to measure the impact of your messaging and positioning.

When we were talking about topics for this episode, you mentioned that you’ve unlocked the two keys to accelerated growth: positioning and messaging. Why are these so foundational for organizations?

“Well, be careful when somebody promises you the world. Be careful not to fall into the trap of messaging and positioning. Your ability to really take positioning and make it a tool and foundation for future growth are important. Some companies are perfectly positioned, but often large companies sort of miss the boat. They want to be different and they do this feature-function thing where they outline all the areas that they are really good at as opposed to telling a story about the brand as it applies to the needs of the customer. So when you can do that well, you tend to have more growth.”

I’ve seen a lot of people in tech struggle with this. One of these things is proximity to context. If we have all the context, we have to keep in mind that our messaging has to appeal to somebody who has never heard of us before. Then, the other piece of that is it’s so hard as a startup not to try to be all things to everybody. Doug agrees.

“I think there are some categories, maybe buckets, regarding startups. Bucket one is when you are entering a known category, and I’m entering it because I feel like I have got a better mousetrap. Then, you have those that are really starting with something so new that there’s no category. And for the folks that start without a category, they’re forced to be better storytellers. They are forced to be in a situation where they really have to do a great job of framing the problem and how the brand solves it because otherwise, they go away.

“Either that or their product is so good; it sells itself, which is rare. And then you have those organizations that have entered into existing categories and as bold, as beautiful as they think their product is, quite often what they will tend to do is to go towards the middle in terms of describing the product. In other words, they will take on the category, but our features or services are better. I would say that ends up being a trap. So if you can, as a startup, do a better job of giving that narrative. But most importantly, giving the narrative from the perspective of how you help that customer.”

What is your rubric for perfecting messaging and positioning?

Doug talked at length about his rubric for perfecting messaging and positioning.

“Let’s start with a job to be done here when we think about positioning. Let’s take the idea of positioning before we get to the rubric. What’s positioning? And this isn’t marketing 101. It really is an honest question to those listening in and viewing today. Do you really know what positioning is? I would say that the simplest definition is when people are busy and lazy, how do they know to pick your product or where to find it? Therefore, positioning comes from this idea of supermarket shelves or general store shelving. Where do you position your product vis-a-vis other products?

“Is it in the hardware section? Is it next to the grits? That’s positioning. As you’re thinking about it, think from that perspective. How does somebody who has never heard of my product, my company, or my service before, how do they create that quick association where all patterns match? So starting there, the rubric is really one that says how do I start thinking about someone who is busy, stressed, and has a certain amount of career risk going on, how do I put them in the spot where they feel comfortable enough that they can engage with the brand? For me, that rubric has three sides.  There are three parts to it. The first is who the audience is. Who is it we are talking to? Two, what’s the fundamental problem that we solve? And three, how does the brand solve that problem? So that’s really the rubric. At the end of the day, what’s your market? What’s the product? Then, how does that product really solve the problem?

“You and I talked about the Hero’s Journey a bit. The Hero’s Journey is very simply a story arc that puts a figure at the center of the story and their journey through to the story’s conclusion. The mistake marketers make quite often is they put the company as the hero. It’s the product that’s the hero, right? No! So if you’re familiar with the Hero’s Journey, you can make the consumer’s problem, the consumer as the hero, and that’s the Hero’s Journey. Dead simple. If you can do that, you’re really on your way.

“I think unless you are an established category, and often if you are an established category, you’ve got to get to the point where you can describe the problem you solve. This is the starting point I would recommend. Can you describe the problem you solve to your parents, who have nothing to do with what you do? Can you describe it to your neighbor? So that’s the starting point. Hey, we solve this problem of dirty socks better than anyone else! 

What it boils down to is being able to answer these key questions: 

  • Can you describe the problem concisely? 
  • Can you describe that problem in the context of what the person that owns the problem is experiencing? 
  • Can you weave it into a story? 

The key thing is being able to understand and communicate positioning. I would say there are lots of folks listening in right now that have this problem. Therefore, begin with what is your value proposition.” 

Do we have time to touch on the messaging value chain?

Doug took time to explain what the messaging value chain really is.

“You are talking about the messaging value chain. I think that helps set a lot of the context for my many failures and one or two of my successes. The messaging value chain effectively says there’s a progressive arc of how your product serves a given market. In this case, that product is represented by a message. At the bottom of the chain (it’s not a bad place to be) is efficiency. I can do things better. At the top of the value chain is I can help my customers do things better. So what we aspire to is the product instead of services that help my customers do things better. You go from efficiency (I can do more things or to I can do things I wasn’t able to do before). Next up in the value chain is ‘I actually can reduce the risk of doing business.’ Then, next up is ‘I can actually increase revenue.’ We all tend to chase that revenue thing. Finally, ‘I help my customers or my customers’ customers.’ That’s at the top of the value chain.

“Therefore, you can’t position yourself in the wrong place in the value chain because your product only does what it does, right? We, as marketers, can claim more,  but ultimately the sales team will come and eat our lunch since we are saying things we can’t do. That’s the messaging value chain.”

How do you even measure the impact of messaging? What are the indicators people can use to figure out whether or not they are moving in the right direction?

Doug gave a few examples of indicators you can use to determine whether your messaging and positioning strategy is successful.

“That’s a tough one. The reason I am saying that is quite often, the success of a change of positioning and messaging results is a trailing indicator that is increased, say, performance. Let’s call that pipeline. What ends up happening is It’s a little bit like breaking up with your partner and moving out of the house. It takes time to disentangle yourself from that and move on to the next thing. Well, when you radically overhaul your positioning and messaging, you’re breaking up with a part of your category, and you’re moving onto a new category. So what will see and this is just the most concrete tip I can give you:

“Look at your website’s direct traffic vs. organic traffic. What will happen is you will see big declines in your direct traffic in terms of performance, open rates, CTRs, or even linger time. All the things we are used to in the context of website health. It’s going to go down; ignore it. Those are people that are familiar with your brand.  By the way, that is so hard to do since, guess what? It’s the highest converting traffic! And again, we are thinking about our rubric right now.  

Let’s just think about the best evidence we have through Google Analytics on our website to say whether we are going in the right direction that direct traffic will suffer. But what you should also see simultaneously is a change in the behavior, your organic traffic. What you will find is you start seeing your organic traffic matching the health of your direct traffic over time. That’s an early indicator you’re doing well.

“Now, guess what? That is a passive action. That is a passive motion that marketers and sales leaders don’t have time for. So then your other sets of metrics are how well are you doing in terms of my ability to outbound in the conversion rates that are occurring there. Therefore, what you’re doing at that point is almost a similar exercise to organic vs. direct, which is to say, what are my persona-specific target rates?”

Another qualitative thing: You may want to listen to your sales team. They tend to have a better sense of what's landing and what isn't. Are any other qualitative markers out there that we can use to test messaging?

You’ve gotta ask yourself, is the sales team rejecting the new messaging because they’re using it with the wrong persona? So I would be careful when taking feedback from the sales team. Make sure their targeting is appropriate before you assume that your messaging is poor.

“We don’t always have ways of testing the messaging scientifically. My sister’s a food scientist, and that’s her livelihood. She tests things with large focus groups. We don’t have that. But guess what? We have shortcuts to that. So there are two things I would recommend. 

“Number one is you can always post a landing page with messaging and direct people to that page. Put an offer on it. Get a reaction to it, right? Direct enough traffic. Don’t count on organic; it takes too long. Direct enough traffic to it that you can understand whether or not the prospect is reacting to that message. 

“Two, get a group. You talked about salespeople. Guess what, folks? They know what the heck they’re talking about. They have all these experiences in their head. Put them together as a focus group for that messaging. However, please balance them out with a real cross-section, not of your customers but of your intended future prospects. Ask your salespeople to round up those intended prospects and run ’em through the messaging!”

For more content on product and brand positioning, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

For more expert interviews and advice, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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