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What is Positioning and Why is it Important?

Although many business intelligence (BI) managers see themselves as technologists first, unless they understand the soft skills of sales, marketing, and communication, they won't succeed professionally or make good on their organization's investments in BI. One skill BI managers need to perfect is how to position their BI programs to their core audiences of executive sponsors and business users.

Somewhat ironically, BI marketers at companies like Microsoft, SAS and SAP aren’t doing a good job of positioning their products in the minds of their target audience – you. In a future blog, I will show you how all the vendors in the BI market are positioned. While my blogs are written for the B2B software marketer because that’s what I know, most of the advice is directly applicable to your situation. When it’s not, I’ll point that out to you.

Positioning is a mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can own with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your service, product, solution or company’s most important benefit and the customer’s most important need meet, and hopefully form a meaningful relationship.

Positioning is like story telling. Done well it can engross you. Done poorly and you stop reading. It is the most important aspect of B2B software marketing because it is the foundation for everything you do in marketing. Effectively done, positioning quickly tells the recipient of your marketing message why they should care about your service, product, solution, technology or company.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore writes, "Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision." Moore describes a position as a buyer's shorthand for the best solution for a particular problem.

Effective positioning makes prospects want to know more

Good positioning entices a potential prospect to learn more about your offering. It also serves as the first level of qualification. Ideally you want a recipient to react to your message by thinking either “that’s me,” or “that’s not me.”

In order to get that reaction, and to gain access to that mental space in your target market’s mind, you need a thorough understanding of what I call the 3Cs – your customer, channel (how you sell) and competition. For more information about the research you need to do to position effectively, read my blog about the 3Cs of Successful Positioning.

BI directors who market their programs internally don’t need to spend much time – if any – on researching the channel or the competition. You do need to understand user problems, and explain to them how you solve one of their pressing business problems.

Once you have done your research, you need to document your findings in a “Rational document” which is used as a reference by stakeholders providing input and feedback during the positioning process. Later your rationale document will be used by writers who will execute your message strategy in marketing communications.

I have used terminology that I will be using regularly in future blogs about positioning in the analytics and business intelligence market. Here’s what I mean when I refer to:

Positioning: a mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can own with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your solution to the recipient’s problem meet and form a meaningful relationship. This means you need to know your customers and their problems as well as you know your own product.

Positioning statement: a short, declarative sentence that addresses the target market’s most pressing problem by stating a benefit. In 12 words or less, not counting your company or product name, a positioning statement makes it clear why the target market should care about your claim and take action. Your positioning statement becomes the central theme for all your marketing communications.

Support points: three or four sentences that unfold your story in more detail and explain how you deliver on the promise made in the positioning statement. “That’s interesting, tell me more,” is how you want your target audience to respond to your positioning statement. Good support points will pique their interest.

Support points provide a structure for product or service demonstrations. While the positioning statement articulates a high-level, abstract benefit, the claims made in the support points should be readily demonstrable; that is, in just a few steps, you should be able to show how the product or your service delivers concrete benefits. Under each support point, you can drill down into as much detail as needed to prove your claims.

Message strategy: a positioning statement and three to four support points. The combination can be extremely detailed and is like a recipe for all marketing communications. Follow the recipe and you get a good dish…. a story! Your message strategy makes it easier to deliver the same message in all your marketing communications, which is one of the keys to claiming a position in your market.

Rationale document: summarizes the research you’ve gathered about the 3C’s – your customer, competition and channel. Your rationale document summarizes the evidence that supports your proposed message strategy. It documents customer problems, how competitors are positioned, and any challenges in the channel.

Positioning strategy: includes your message strategy and a rationale document that presents the research that helped you converge on your message strategy. Your understanding of the 3C’s leads you to a message strategy that is unique, important and believable.

Good positioning never gets old or stale

To claim a position requires patience and conviction while others in your company may want to try something new. Stay the course! You need to stick with your positioning statement for at least 18 months, and ideally several years, if not longer.

Your positioning statement becomes the central theme for all marketing from your web site to collateral materials to press releases. But no matter how clever or compelling your positioning statement is, it won’t stick unless is executed consistently, and repeatedly over a long period of time. Remember, the longer you stick with your positioning strategy, the more likely you will be to claim that mental space in your target audience’s mind.

Lawson Abinanti

Lawson Abinanti is a positioning and message strategy consultant with extensive hands-on experience in B2B software. He was on the management team of TM1 Software long before it was acquired...

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