How do people really get to know what your organisation is about? It could be by reading your About Us page. Or maybe your founding story. Maybe if they're really committed, they'll read a strategy document or your mission and vision.
All of these pieces of content have one thing in common. They set the scene for who you are and what you stand for. These bits of positioning are building blocks for how you present your day-to-day activities like the products you sell or the service you offer.
We’ve written positioning statements for universities, software developers, law firms, travel companies and upmarket ovens. Positioning is an essential part of a modern brand, but smaller businesses (and some big ones too), often don’t know where to begin when it comes to putting that into words. Or whether they should even bother.
Here’s our take on what makes a good positioning statement and why it’s worth investing.
What is it?
There’s a very blurry line between brand propositions, brand positioning statements, value propositions, brand story and other jargony terms. While there might technically be differences, we think it’s better to focus on the end product of this sort of work. It’s often a short statement summarising why you believe your product or service deserves a place in the world, what benefit it brings to people, and why they should choose you over other options. It could apply to your organisation as a whole, or perhaps one specific component or initiative.
Do I need one?
Yes. Maybe before the internet, it was possible to get by on word of mouth or passing trade. But today, people can find out everything about you – including who your competitors are, what they offer and how much they charge. To show potential customers why you’re the best choice, you need to put your value in words.
Just as importantly, positioning work can help everyone in the company agree on what you stand for. People will be able to talk and write on brand, and your strategy going forward will be clearer in their minds.
Remember, too, that positioning copy doesn't need to be just another brand exercise that will sit on the intranet being ignored. If it's a straightforward and inspiring summary of your organisation or initiative, it could have all sorts of applications. People might use it at the beginning of presentations, on the backs of publications, or as your social media bio.
You’re unlikely to see a website or brochure with “brand positioning statement” as a headline and a neat paragraph that fits the marketing textbook definition. But read around – the about us page, the homepage strapline, the introduction to a printed piece – and well-thought-out positioning makes itself clear.
Here are a few examples:
From the very outset Volvo Cars has been a brand for people who care about the world we live in and the people around us. We have made it our mission to make life easier, better and safer for everyone.
With Spotify, it’s easy to find the right music or podcast for every moment – on your phone, your computer, your tablet and more.
Trains, but nicer.
Where do I start?
Get to know yourself
A brand positioning statement can be summed up in this handy diagram:
If you're unsure about any of these, you have some introspection to do. You can’t put your position into words if you’re not 100% certain what that position is.
Get outside opinions
We’ve often found that businesses have quite a strong sense of identity internally, but they could never put it into words. Working with us has made them reflect on that identity in a new way and think about the brand from an external point of view.
Sometimes this means things you thought were important aren’t. Or something you might have overlooked could reveal itself as a real differentiator in your sector.
Identify what you need
While brand work is useful in itself, it’s much easier to justify the time and cost if you get something out of it.
What areas of your business would benefit? Perhaps your website doesn’t explain the benefits of your product. Or maybe your staff culture needs a boost. You might need a written narrative for funders or other stakeholders. Or a flashy brochure to take to trade stands. A positioning statement can inform a huge amount of your marketing going forwards.
Consult people early
If you present people with one or two finished options, they’ll feel left out. But if you explain the project and ask for opinions early, you’ll get lots of potentially useful content. People will feel involved and more accepting of the final piece if they’ve had their say.
Get an outline together
Without some sort of plan, the final piece could end up as a confusing jumble of disconnected thoughts. Your outline could be a simple list of bullet points or a mind map. Whatever form it takes, thinking about the content without worrying about the words you'll use will help you refine the messages that are most important.
OK, we're ready to begin. What's next?
Get it on paper
Many businesses we’ve worked with on positioning don’t really know what they want until they see it. So it’s important to get something, anything, written early on for people to react to.
If you have lots of people involved, emphasise that it’s the content that matters, not individual words. Everyone has their own writing style, but in the early stages, you don’t want to be having a debate about word choices.
Look at multiple versions
It will never be right first time. But if you can reflect on multiple versions – short, very short, and minuscule for example – you’ll find it easier to get closer to your ideal.
There will be feedback. Lots of feedback. Some of it useful, some not. Some people’s feedback will contradict other people’s feedback. Just do your best.
If you prepared properly and identified what this work will be used for, it will be easier to make decisions about what to take on board and what to ignore. If it doesn’t fit the brief, it’s out.
Remember to set a time limit on the feedback process. Projects like this could go on forever otherwise.
Put it in your tone of voice
Hopefully you have a clearly defined tone of voice. Now you have the content sorted, the wording should come naturally.
As an added benefit, it’s a great way to cut short the long debate that’s bound to happen. After all, the brand voice takes priority over anyone’s individual opinion about this word or that phrase!
If you’ve got it right, your positioning copy will be useful straight away. And variations of it will appear on everything from social media company pages to the annual report.
Brand narrative, value proposition – forget the jargon, focus on the end product. Aim for a short statement summarising what makes your organisation special.
Involve everyone early so they feel involved and more enthusiastic about the final output.
Be ruthless with the content. Don’t try to cover everything. If it doesn’t fit the brief or doesn’t feel authentic to your brand, cut it out.
Get an outside perspective. You’re probably too close to the brand to get it spot on – sometimes it takes an external eye to notice something you haven’t thought of.