iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable: Positioning and Messaging – Lot of it is common sense!

If your grandmother does not understand your message, then you might as well not communicate is the crux of what was discussed during this Roundtable facilitated by Shankar Maruwada and Nandita Sinha.

This roundtable discussed the ‘What’ of the positioning and messaging and not the ‘how’ of the positioning. There was very little theory except perhaps setting the context and the entire session was practical.

To illustrate the significance of positioning and messaging, one of the participating companies gave an elevator pitch thinking the rest of us are his prospective customers. Then people spoke about what stuck in their minds about the pitch. It varied from ‘I lost him’ to ‘I was thinking of a completely different business model’. The person who gave the pitch looked at all the responses to understand if there were any surprises and what needs to be the part of their messaging.

Discussion on the first pitch led to the understanding of the following:

  1. The curse of knowledge forms a part of all the messaging – what is easily understandable for us is not understandable for the market.
  2. Often times, people start to have internal chatters – they start to think even before the pitch is complete and the attention span is just about 30 seconds.
  3. Most messaging is at a conceptual level and addresses the left-brain of their audience, which does not persuade people to make decisions. Try addressing to their emotions, their right brain and the easiest way is to do these through stories.

Using the first pitch as an example, Shankar explained what goes into creating a tight message and it was

  • Identify the customer segment. You can have one overall messaging of your offering and can have multiple messages for multiple segments
  • Setup is the context of your offering. It can be some challenges that your customer segment faces or the industry faces. There can be multiple setups to your messaging
  • Explain the benefits of your solution. How your offering is unique to the customers need will be the persuasive part of your pitch. Setup combined with benefits is what would make the message that you communicate
  • Features and supporting credibility will have to come after this phase of setup and benefits

After this, one more exercise was carried out where all the participating companies were asked to write down 3 setups and 3 benefits while avoiding features. All the pitches were discussed at length and I am sure all those who attended the Roundtable went back a lot wiser about messaging.

Shankar emphasized on a very important fact that you may not crack your messaging in one sitting and it has to be an iterative process. He also asked people not to think in words and instead begin with stories, then move on to thoughts and then switch to words. This is the best way in which you will get to do your messaging right.

This Roundtable was attended by 9 companies with 12 participants and 2 facilitators. This roundtable kicked off to a hilarious start, during the introductions most people in the room claimed that their Saturday night favorite drink was either butter milk, tea or coffee.

I am looking forward to more such sessions.

8 Symptoms: You Know You Have A Positioning Problem When….

A change in strategy changes everything. It cannot be undertaken lightly.

Capitalizing on a change in strategy or inflection point often requires solving a new customer problem, selling and marketing to a different set of buyers and competing against a new group of competitors.

Yet all too often, the effort required to capture the minds and wallets of a new set of buyers is treated casually – but it is the underpinning that makes a brilliant strategy drive revenue growth.

What do all these successful, market-leading technology companies – IBMSalesForce,WorkdayRiverbedCisco – have in common?

They all have powerful, compelling, thought-provoking Stories. 

For these companies, Positioning has become a core competency and the road to market leadership and revenue growth.

Those technology companies that successfully capitalize on a new product, service or market inflection point have a compelling, thought provoking, engaging story. It’s that simple.

However, very few technology companies are effectively able to translate their product, service, IP and features into a message that resonates with buyers, clearly differentiates from the competition and captures the imagination of the market.

During past year, I have seen hundreds of technology positioning presentations. Over and over again, I continue to see the same positioning pitfalls – and common symptoms that point an underlying Positioning problem that is holding back the company and inhibiting revenue growth.

You know you have a positioning problem when:

1) Your Slide Deck is 30 Slides: your presentation takes too many slides to explain your solution before your buyer ‘gets-it”. Your presentation drags on in a vain attempt to sell and convince your potential buyer.

2) Long Sales Cycles and Lots of “No-Decision”: your message does not create a sense or urgency with your buyers – it’s not a “hair-on-fire” conversation – as a result, sales cycles drag out or the buyers don’t seen any difference between you and any of your competitors, so they don’t make a decision.

3) Ask 3 People What You Do and You Get 3 Different Answers: inconsistent messaging is the death-knell for any technology company. In the absence of a good story, everyone makes one up. The result is predictable. The market is confused and you don’t “own” a position in the minds of your buyer.

4) Blah, Blah, Blah – You Sound Like All Your Competitors: your message and positioning story sounds exactly like your competition – your buyer could take any of your competitor’s logo and put in on your web site and it would look the same. A glazed look has set in with your buyers – and if your buyer can’t see any discernable difference between you and your competitors, they will go with the bigger, “brand-name” competitor.

5.) Your Company is Not Considered a Player in the Market:  your blah, blah, message dissolves into the cacophony of noise in the market  – brand awareness has become brand annoyance – if your company is not considered in a every sales cycle or you are off the radar-screen with the analysts and buyers, your positioning strategy has failed and is broken.

6) You Spent a Lot of $ on PR and Got Nowhere: strategies fizzle when positioning is broken and the market is not responding to your message.  In response, you spend a lot of money on a PR campaign, thinking a drumbeat and flurry of social media posts, tweets, press releases, white papers and analyst meetings will bring you the attention and market awareness your solution rightly deserves. However, if you don’t have anything interesting to say or your “me-too” story is boring, stale and un-differentiated– no amount of PR $ or social media effort will make a hill-of-beans difference. A provocative, thoughtful, differentiated story is the underpinning essential to drive market awareness and ultimately revenue growth.

7) Your Sales People Call on Anything That Moves: long sales cycles, lots of no-decisions, high “loss” rates, deeply discounted pricing, suspect forecasts – are all symptoms of a positioning problem. Strong, effective positioning focuses the sales efforts by clearly identifying the ideal target buyer – and creating a differentiated, thought provoking story that resonates with this buyer and creates a sense of urgency for them toact. Powerful positioning is a catalyst, giving the field organization a rallying cry, strong qualifying direction and confidence they have a story that will win them deals.

8 ) You Don’t Have a Viewpoint: you don’t stand for anything – and you are contribution the same old “blah, blah, blah” to the noise in the market. Your buyers have turned off –     – do you have anything substantive to offer your buyers? What is your contribution to this industry? What new way of thinking do you contribute? Failed strategies “sell” products. Successful companies ENGAGE buyers. Engages them with new ideas, solve problems that make their lives better, provocative viewpoints that make buyers stand up and notice.