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The Value of Positioning

Before deploying a successful public relations campaign, certain groundwork must be done.  Planning must occur, but even before tactical planning, strategic planning should take place.  Essential to the  strategic planning process is the positioning exercise.  Public relations programs are based on messages and those messages emerge from an understanding of one’s position in the marketplace.  Solid positioning is the very foundation of the campaign.  Frankly, a public relations program is an awful lot of work to go through if the underlying messages are not sound and relevant to the market.


Positioning is the act of defining your place among your peers and identifying the unique value you offer within that competitive landscape.  It is both a goal and a process.  It is ongoing and above all, it is proactive. If you don’t position yourself, the competition and other market factors will do it for you.  Good positioning is the heart and soul of an effective public relations campaign.  If done properly, it begets effective messaging — messaging that makes sense within the larger context of the marketplace, addresses important issues within that market, and demonstrates a vision for the future.  Thus, through its relevance to a given market, good positioning helps build credibility with press, analysts, investors, channel partners and customers. 

Too many people think that public relations is simply a matter of pumping out news releases and hounding the press.  Ill-prepared, they wage an uphill battle, trying to penetrate a press corp already defending itself against such tactics.  In fact, effective PR occurs through having a credible, newsworthy story to tell in the first place and convincing the press of that story’s significance.  Positioning is about sorting through everything you know about yourself and unearthing that newsworthy story.  Companies who take the time to engage in the positioning process — evaluating their competitive landscape, putting a fine point on the unique value their product offers, and thoughtfully establishing how that capability is critical for their market’s future — will reap the benefits of more coherent messaging, greater credibility with the press, and improved authority in the marketplace.

Speaking With One Voice

Completing a formal positioning exercise not only leads to effective messaging — it also assures consistency in messaging.  A company has multiple audiences and one of the most important of these is its own employees.  Involving employees in the positioning process fuels the exercise with rich input and helps the organization to speak in unison.

This means bringing to the table a panel of key employees from across the organization and working with that group to build consensus on questions of what your place in the market really is, what it should be, and how to get there.  Enlisting the opinions of this group assures the creation of a positioning that your own people will accept and articulate, thus empowering the organization to speak with one voice.  This is essential if the organization is to successfully relay its messages to customers and the press.

The Need for Consensus

When representatives of a company sit down with an objective strategist and take up the task of defining who they are, what their product is, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and how it stacks up against the competition, they often witness a surprising array of responses.  In fact, the extent to which representatives of the same company disagree on key positioning issues is not so surprising.  In all likelihood, they have probably never been assembled for the specific purpose of discussing and evaluating the company’s positioning.  For this reason, the positioning exercise is often a groundbreaking event, where participants disclose their opinions on positioning issues for the first time.  Even though companies get product out the door every day while disagreeing on big-picture issues, doing so incurs certain risks.  Without consensus, you risk deploying an ill-founded communications program.  You risk alienating an already skeptical and unapproachable media.  You risk the fragmentation of your marketing and communications efforts, as departments undermine each other with conflicting strategies.  Fortunately, a positioning exercise is a great way to build consensus and gain valuable feedback in the process.

Leveraging Feedback

One of the most valuable benefits of the formal positioning exercise is feedback, specifically incongruous feedback.  Once at the positioning table, companies often realize that their marketing and communications efforts have been hobbled for too long by internal disagreement on critical issues.  The positioning exercise creates the opportunity to examine these disagreements and the underlying issues that cause them.

The idea is not to silence these voices, but to leverage what they reveal to address problems and build better, stronger positioning.  In their direct dealings with customers and channel partners, rank and file employees are often privy to candid feedback about product performance that higher level executives are not.  Enlisting a diverse panel of company representatives allows decision-makers to elicit this feedback in an organized setting in order to help evaluate the company’s present position, establish its desired position, and chart the course to get there.

Insight for Hire

Companies can and often do have these discussions internally, but many fail to convert those discussions into formal positioning.  Many even establish positioning yet fail to effectively incorporate it into their corporate communications efforts. This is where an experienced strategist comes in.  A strategist who understands your market and is experienced with the positioning process and public relations can provide you with several things: an objective ear; a clear perspective on the market; inside knowledge of what makes positioning fail or succeed; the ability to build and implement communications plans around your positioning; and the ability to guide you through the process of testing your positioning on press and analysts.

It is no mistake that the most successful public relations campaigns begin with a formal positioning exercise.   The benefits are numerous; a proactive positioning process creates the foundation for successful communications and public relations efforts; it helps establish credibility with press and analysts; it engenders constructive dialogue, and helps achieve a shared vision across the organization; it helps companies identify the unique value their products offer and communicate that message effectively to the right audience.  Good positioning also needs upkeep.  Market influencers, your competitors, and product features change over time; so too your positioning needs to be revisited and modified along with the changing market. 

Have you taken a look at your positioning lately? 

If not, position yourself before someone else does it for you. 

Park Bench shot on location at Coney Island / NY (c) 2010 – by Alan Weinkrantz

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