The Positioning Myth

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You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

What does it mean to “position” a product? According to Harry Beckwith, author of “Selling the Invisible,” it doesn’t mean a thing. He writes, “‘Position’ is a noun, not an active verb.”

So what is it  then that other marketing mavens the world over keep babbling about? No doubt, the process of establishing a product’s “positioning” matters big time for marketers. But, if you listen to Beckwith, there’s a misconception about how to go about that. The good news is, getting a product’s position right can mean doing LESS work rather than more.

But before we get to all that…

The Big Mistake Many “Branding” Pros Make

In the classic marketing book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” authors Trout and Ries made it clear. In any marketing challenge, you often get one shot at staking out your territory inside your customer’s cranium.

You’re done for after that.

Either you’ll get it right and have loyal customers lined up at your back door, ad infinitum… or you’ll blow it and spend a fortune trying to re-invent their perception of you, possibly for years to come.

It’s a sound insight.

And the so-called art of “branding” products claims to be built on that bedrock. But here’s where a lot of “branding” pros have gotten a wrong idea. A lot of brand-based marketers think their job is to build from the ground up. To force some idea on the customer where it never existed before.

But as Beckwith’s book points out, this is backward.

What you’re really doing, if you’re doing it right, is leveraging the mental positioning you’ve already got.

Four “Branded” Building Blocks

So what makes for unshakeable, effective positioning? Here’s how Beckwith boils it down…

1) To sell well, you need to decisively occupy a single position in your prospect’s mind

2) That single position must be stripped of complexity and ambiguity. Simple is best.

3) That single position has to be different from the position your competitors occupy.

4) You can’t be everything to everybody. You have to sacrifice claims on what lies outside the position you occupy.

You can see the thread that runs through this. When faced with the challenge of product positioning, what Beckwith says to start with is not so much to complicate customer perceptions by adding something new…

But to simplify your pitch so it focuses on what’s already there, defining what’s most fundamental and unique about it.

Isn’t it a relief to know that, when you want to sell more, sometimes doing LESS is actually best?

Why Simple Sells Best

Last weekend, I taught a writing class, as part of a seminar. We did one exercise where, in small groups, we critiqued each other’s writing. What was the one most common mistake, above all others? A failure to answer a single, simple question. And, by the way, it’s a question you have to ask yourself every time you sit down to write…

“What is this about?”

I had a similar experience a week earlier. An old friend and mentor sent me a promo written by another copywriter. The copy had many problems. But it’s primary weakness, above all others, was that it also failed to ask — and answer — the question: “What is this about?”

Don’t get this message wrong. By simplicity, I’m not saying “short copy works better.” Or anything even close to that.

 Rather, the key is relevance.

 You can say plenty — and often get better results doing it — as long as every syllable is relevant to what your prospect cares about.

Finding What Matters, Ignoring the Rest

Beckwith offered seven clarifying questions that help marketers define a product position. For the sake of space and — well — clarity, I narrowed that list even further.

In short…

Who are your customers?

What do they want?

And finally, how does that match a primary benefit only YOU can deliver?

Your “product position” depends on how well you answer those questions.

Miss the mark, and the gap between what they see and what you want them to see will run wide. Nail it and suddenly selling everything gets simpler. Easier said than done?

Two words: Look closer.

Often the difference between a creative and non-creative answer to a problem is simply exposure. The deeper you’ve got your arms in the details, the more you ‘get’ what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to.

 It’s really that simple.

Last modified: May 23, 2017

7 Responses to " The Positioning Myth "

  1. Jim Bender says:

    Look closer … yes. I wrote recently about digging deeper for the value proposition when current market conditions have rendered the old, aging value prop comatose. Same holds true when a product position is either absent or is failing to sell. It takes some creative thinking, which is sometimes hard to sell through a corporate review board, but whether we’re talking positioning or value propositions, it’s best to leave no stone uncovered. Under one of those stones will be a gem that will move product faster than it can be produced.

  2. Bob says:

    Great website. The only comment at this time would be that the header should be either dark green or dark blue rather than black. After much study of color psychology, we find that black often creates an immediate negative reflex, especially when there is a small red accent involved. it doesn’t have as strong an effect further down in the copy as it does in the header.

    Also, a few relevant graphics scattered in your borders would help response. In the websites we”ve taken over from other webmasters, response has dramatically improved when the long copy is either interspersed with a few graphics or the copy is staggered occasionally instead of being in a straight line down.

    Long copy with equal borders on both sides seems to hypnotize people and lessen the impact of the copy.

    Didn’t mean to ramble. Just a few ideas from our experience in improving wensite response.

  3. jackforde says:

    Thanks!

    I’ll be changing the header (part of the slow, steady progress on this new site) but I think the problem here is that it actually IS blue, but too dark maybe. The color I had originally wanted to approximate, incidentally, is called “reflex blue” and is a classic used in direct response. But that’s interesting to know about black and red combined.

    Thanks again for the insights. Any more, always welcome!

    JF

  4. […] John Forde has a great post today about The Positioning Myth. […]

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