Positioning vs. Messaging
February 21, 2019

Positioning vs. Messaging

by Brian de Haaff

How do you tell an original story? There is usually a real-life event behind every fantastical tale. If you work in marketing, you know that for your work to ring true it must be grounded in the unique truth of your company’s product or service. This value should be the basis of every great story that you tell.

To bring value to your marketing story, you need to understand two important terms — positioning and messaging.

Let’s start with positioning. Positioning helps you articulate to the team the unique benefit of your product or service and why your solution is better than what your competitors have to offer. This is an internally-focused concept that often leads to the creation of a positioning document.

Messaging, on the other hand, is the foundation for what you consistently say about the product or service externally. It usually consists of a few statements that communicate and reinforce the positioning to customers. And no, this is not a pithy brand tagline like “Got milk?” or “Just do it.” Rather, messaging captures the key points that you plan on conveying about your product or service — the most pertinent information and what you want customers to remember.

It is easy to see how the two connect — positioning helps shape the messaging. Positioning should stay consistent over time while messaging is what you are saying right now. But there are more meaningful differences in terms of why and how you use each one.

Here are those core differences between positioning and messaging:

Why is it written? Positioning is a strategic exercise. It defines where your product or service fits in the marketplace and how you want it to be known long-term. It also defines your key customer segments and buyer persona. The goal is to understand how you can best communicate the value of your offering to your audience — based on who they are, what they need, and what they can (or cannot) get from the competition. But it does not dictate the exact words that are used in marketing or customer communications.

Messaging focuses on the main points that you want your audience to know about your offering, including its value and major selling points. Messaging is the expression of the positioning — where it comes to life. It is where those fundamental concepts of value are distilled into concise statements.

Who is the audience? Positioning is written for internal teams. It is meant to serve as a guide for all of your marketing activities — including the features you highlight, how your product or service will be priced compared to the competition, and of course, the messages you craft.

Messaging is written with an external audience in mind — your target market. This is not just the end user for your product or service, but also the decision makers with purchasing authority. For example, if your product is a B2B subscription software, you will want to consider messages that resonate with those who handle the billing or vetting products for security.

When is it written? The positioning will be written before the messaging. This work is often done by a product marketing team before the launch of a new product or service. By writing the positioning first, the team can lay a strong foundation for all of the activities supporting the launch — so that everyone clearly understands how the new offering fits into the market and the core benefits it will provide to customers. It should serve your business goals and it will provide a litmus test to ensure your messaging is on target.

Once that is defined, you can then craft the messaging. Depending on the size of the organization, a brand team might do this work for a specific program or campaign for example. But regardless, it should be shared with broader teams to guide the development of words and visuals. This includes website copy, advertising campaigns, social media posts, and press releases.

How do you put it together? Positioning can be put together using a simple formula like this: For [target customer] who [what they need], the [product/service] is a [category/type] that [key benefit]. Unlike [primary competitive alternative], our product [primary differentiation].

Example: For cycling enthusiasts who would like to connect with other exercise enthusiasts, Fredwin Cycling Software is a cycling application that makes it possible to engage directly with other cyclists. Unlike XYZ Cycling Software, our product promotes social interaction and healthy competition among friends.

To craft your messaging, first consider the core messages you want to share, as defined by your positioning. With this in mind, quickly draft as many messages as come to mind. Then, distill the list down to three to five statements that best tell your story and convey the truth of your offering. For example, for a new Fredwin Cycling Software campaign, the key messaging might start by describing that it is “the new way cyclists race best and connect with their friends.”

All of your marketing messages should be rooted in the truth of your product or service — the story of how it helps customers be better.

Positioning and messaging are how you describe the value you deliver. Positioning is the background to organize the team — the real-life reason you are telling your story in the first place — and messaging is the actual content served to customers. Both are used by marketers to be their best.

What do you think is important to telling compelling brand stories?

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Additional resources

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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