Last updated on September 2nd, 2020. Posted in Marketing Fundamentals.
What is a positioning statement? A positioning statement, sometimes called a value proposition or USP, helps your business stand out in the marketplace and attract customers. But not crafted carefully, your positioning statement can do more harm than good. Here, you'll learn exactly what a positioning statement is and how to create a unique selling proposition for your business.
So what is a positioning statement? A positioning statement is simply a brief description that distinguishes a product, brand, or vendor in the marketplace. More simply said, a unique positioning statement, is how you stand out and attract customers in a noisy marketplace.
In many ways, I think of a positioning statement or value proposition as an elevator pitch...because you only have seconds to catch the attention of the people you're trying to serve.
But things can get a bit murky. For instance, does every business need a USP or positioning statement? And, how do you create a unique selling proposition for your business?
Let's dig deeper...
You might be wondering why you need a positioning statement. Well in truth, if there are no other vendors in your market, then in fact...you don't need a positioning statement!
Often in very new and emerging markets, or in very small markets, a USP isn't necessary at all.
For example, a lone bakery, plumber, or grocery store in a small town doesn't need to communicate a uniqueness to it's marketplace. There's no other option available, so the bakery or plumber effectively has a monopoly. And with no other options available, uniqueness is unnecessary.
However, as soon as competition begins creeping into a market, as soon as other options become available, businesses need to begin communicating to customers why they should choose them over other vendors. In other words, with increased competition, businesses have to start differentiating themselves more and more.
Because with more than one option available to them, potential customers consciously or unconsciously ask themselves, "Why should I buy from you?"
The purpose of your USP is to answer that exact question.
So if you're asking, "What is a positioning statement?" ...that's exactly what it is!
From the customer's perspective, when they look at potential businesses they can choose from, often all they see is a sea of beige. Rather than giving them more beige, we want to instead give them something different...like a bright splash of colour!
Said another way, in a world of same-ness, we want to give them something unique and special that they can't get anywhere else.
In a noisy, competitive world, a positioning statement helps you stand out. More specifically, your positioning statement does several things...
So that's what a positioning statement is.
Here's a few classic examples of unique positioning statements from the National Association Of Sales Professionals. These are often used as examples because they're so well known and so well done. I'll leave out the names of these very famous brands -- see if you can guess where they're from...
"When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."
"Fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or it's free."
"We're number two. We try harder."
Of course, these are from FedEx, Dominos Pizza, and Hertz car rental.
But these massive, worldwide brands had huge teams and budgets to write these value propositions. How can we, as small business owners do the same?
Let's talk about that next...
Now, how can you write a positioning statement for your business? I think it's pretty easy to over-think this stuff and over-complicate things. So let's keep things simple.
First, we should get the most obvious stuff out of the way...
Saying, "We're the best" or "We're number one" or "We won't be undersold" or even "Satisfaction guaranteed" just doesn't cut it. We see these sort of messages everywhere. Not only are these sorts of statements dull and over-used...but they're corny and cliché.
It's lazy, uninspiring, and doesn't get any asses moving!
Every business thinks they're the best and that they're number one. So if everyone's saying it, then it isn't unique. From the customer's perspective, it doesn't help differentiate you. Instead, it makes you look the same.
Besides, as customers we assume the business we're buying from is the best option we have...otherwise we wouldn't be buying from them!
It's kinda like a restaurant promising to not give you food poisoning. Isn't that kinda assumed?!
Another common form of messaging is using "lowest price" as a differentiator. Again, this is lame and cliché. What's worse, competing based on price is a terrible way to do business -- another vendor is always willing to cut their prices lower than you are. There's no shortage of competitors who'll engage you in a reckless game of head-on kamikaze chicken as you both race to the bottom of the pricing barrel.
(And I don't know about you...but this isn't the kind of business I want to run.)
And once again, this sort of "lowest price" messaging is more of the same. Boring! Typical! Sleep-inducing!
Remember, we don't want to give the market more of the same...want to give them something different! We want to give them something to get excited about!
Alright now, there are a number of different ways to write a brand positioning statement. But the most important thing to know is that you create your uniqueness out of thin air.
Yes...you make it up!
You begin developing your positioning statement by asking yourself questions like, "What do we specialize in?" "Who specifically do we serve?" and especially, "What kind of business do I want to run?"
Who do you want to be in the marketplace? What space or position do you want to fill? Do you want to be the fastest? The most detailed? The highest quality?
Essentially you're asking yourself, "If I could create any business in the world, what would it be?" Then go do some research and make sure there's enough demand -- more on this in a sec...but first, a side note: You'll find that specializing like this is very liberating. Think about this...
Instead, you're creating uniqueness!
So, start brainstorming ideas, then research the the strongest ones.
A great way to come up with your uniqueness is to analyse your market and look for gaps. What space in your marketplace is currently vacant? What's missing that people want? If you want to open a bakery but there's already twelve in your area, how can you specialize? How can you cater to a particular group of people who have specific needs? Is there a gap that isn't being served?
Maybe...maybe not. Go find out!
This is gonna require some research and maybe even <gasp!> talking to people! I know, I know...face to face! But as professional business owners, it's this foundational leg-work that sets us apart from all the other copy-cat businesses out there. It takes time. It takes effort. But it's worth it...because maybe after some hard work you come up dry and discover that you've gotta go back to the drawing board.
Or maybe you uncover a huge, untapped space that you'd love to fill.
So, start digging. Is there an existing vendor in your market that competes on speed of delivery? Is there a premium brand? Is there a vendor that specializes in a particular product or service? Is there a brand that offers the product in different colours? Shapes? Sizes? Styles?
And, it's important to note that this differentiator could literally be anything!
So long as there's enough market demand for it that's currently going unfulfilled, it's a viable differentiator to build your unique positioning around.
So find that thing...that ONE thing. Then, build your business, your brand, and your messaging around being that one exact thing.
Don't focus on two things, three things, or four things. Just one.
Sure, you can do other things...but only communicate one big, giant differentiator in your messaging.
Now, assuming you've found a viable gap, the next thing to do is to write a brand positioning statement (also sometimes called a value proposition or a unique selling proposition)...
Truthfully, how to write a value proposition doesn't need to be hard. In fact, there's a few ways to go about it.
First, remember all that market research you did earlier? You actually talked to people, right? Well no doubt you uncovered some very valuable information. Information like, what big problems and concerns people in your market have. What they want the most, what their big challenges are, and so on...right?
Hopefully, you uncovered this kinda stuff. If not, go back and ask them! It isn't rocket science. No MBA is required...just ask!
"Hey, when it comes to raising chickens in your back yard / looking for a web designer / learning more about painting with watercolours, what are some of your biggest challenges and problems?"
Take exactly what they say, and word-smith your way to something powerful. Maybe not quite as heavy-duty as those famous USP examples we saw earlier -- "30 minutes or it's free" -- but something that would get the people you seek to serve to sit up and take notice.
So perhaps something like, "Fresh, clean carpet installation in 2 hours or less with no mess," or "Make our fresh, locally-grown tea a part of every busy morning," or "Family fun self-defence and lifelong skills."
Another option is to use a simple unique selling proposition formula: "We help [target audience] to [product or service] so they can [get result]."
So for example, "We help dog lovers to train their pets at home so they can have a loyal, obedient friend!"
See how that works? Easy!
In fact, this is exactly how I created Ten Ton's positioning statement: "I teach small business owners how to build and grow their website themselves."
Short, clear, and direct.
Or you could even rearrange the [target audience], [product or service], and [get result] building blocks around a bit...
So maybe something like, "Lunch break workouts for busy professionals who want to slim down fast!"
See how lean, clear, and direct these examples are? Here, there's no ambiguity. There's no guessing who these businesses are targeting or what they're selling.
No matter how you write your brand positioning statement, it's gotta be clear, simple, and easy to understand. People are busy and are constantly bombarded with brand messaging all day long. People don't have the time or interest to stop and decipher every single message they see.
They need to "get it" in 5 seconds or less.
So what you need to do is say something to them that's clear, direct, and cuts through the noise. If they aren't interested or aren't in your target audience, they'll ignore you (and that's okay).
But for anyone who actually is in your target market, when they hear your USP, they'll say something like, "That sounds interesting. Tell me more..."
And that's your in.
That's your opportunity to say something like, "Busy professionals often don't have time to even think about data backups. Most don't know it, but they're just one bad day away from total data loss -- a crashed drive, a spilled drink, a lost device...or worse. Our system automates hourly secure backups to give busy people peace of mind so they can go about their schedule -- and get back up and running in minutes when they need to."
I'm totally digressing here...but notice how I structured that paragraph. It flows because I'm using three more building blocks: [product or service], [potential problem], [solution].
So, a statement related to the product or service, a huge potential problem, and the product or service as the solution.
Go ahead, re-read that paragraph. Or, here's another example...
"There's nothing like spending time with your furry companion. But many domestic pets are susceptible to parasites and pesky insects, which can lead to brain fungus, off-putting odours, and accidental leaks. Keep your furry friend healthy and safe with our once-a-week specially formulated bath soap."
Okay...I'm having some fun here (I could write a hundred of these)! But hopefully you get what I'm talking about. Now interestingly (and to further digress), usually the first part of a newspaper article or news report follows a similar structure...
"Police were called to a Newton Street residence early this morning. Four suspects were apprehended and taken for questioning. Officer Bacon assures residents that the incident is isolated and that there's no cause for alarm."
So, your positioning statement says something clear, simple, and direct that cuts through the noise and lands in your target market's ear...(again, structured using the [target audience], [product or service], and [get result] building blocks)...
"We guide major league hopefuls to optimize their performance regimen so they can quickly catch the eye of scouts, coaches and managers."
After hearing this, if your potential customer is interested, they'll say something like, "Huh...that sounds really interesting. Can you tell me more?"
Then you answer with a longer statement that gives more detail, using the [product or service], [potential problem], [solution] building blocks...
"A vegetable garden makes a wonderful addition to a home and is great fun for the whole family. But most home owners are unaware that their garden is under the deadly watch of unwanted visitors -- ninjas! Night time ninja attacks on root vegetables and cruciferous like cabbage and cauliflower cause up to 72% of garden losses. Our high-voltage, tamper-proof fencing helps keep the bad guys out...and the veggies in!"
See? Easy! (and lotsa fun...)
And if this second, more detailed statement further draws your potential customer in, then the interaction can continue from there (typically with some kind of call-to-action). But it all starts with a strong, clear USP that's intentionally designed to reach your target market.
Think of it this way: Your potential customer has no idea that something bad could potentially occur...unless you can somehow get their attention. But they're constantly bombarded by all sorts of advertising and messaging. How can you get through to them?
With a strong USP -- a USP that you can actually deliver on.
So after you've researched, found a gap that you want to fill, and have the ability to fill it...all ya gotta to is start telling people about the problem-solving product you've developed for them.
To do this, communicate your USP over and over. Put it in your email signature. Put it in your social media profile. Say it at the beginning of your videos. Say it on your website's home page. Say it when you introduce yourself.
Say it over and over and over...
Because ultimately whatcha wanna do is build your entire brand and story around the unique selling proposition that you've created for yourself.