I have heard many CEOs say, “I do not know how to explain what we do." Positioning your company in the marketplace and differentiating it from its competition are absolutely critical to survival. But what steps do you take to turn a murky corporate image into a firm message that communicates quickly and opens wallets?
Take the time to conduct the necessary industry analyses to get a clear view of your competitive landscape. Also, sit down with your senior officers and trusted advisors to get their perception of what the company is. Then directly solicit your customers' perceptions as well (don't rely on customer support or sales to provide this). Revisit the terms you use to describe who you are and the benefits your customers derive. Once you have reviewed all this refreshed information, you can construct a positioning strategy statement, the way in which you will talk about your business.
Your positioning strategy defines your company just as a blueprint sets the pattern for constructing a building. It’s the direction you will use to communicate about yourself; it is not simply a slogan, or may not even include a slogan. Don't miss the opportunity to be consistent in your messaging: avoid talking about yourself differently on your web site than you do in your press releases, than you do in your sales material. You'll want to be deliberate in how you execute your positioning strategy. Avoid a patched-together generic strategy that fails to differentiate your company. An acid test: could you simply scratch your company's name out and write your competitor's name in? Generic marketing is no marketing at all, so your new positioning strategy statement needs to define the company's unique place within its industry in sharp detail.
Once you have a strategy, it's time to apply it. You'll want to use the new message everywhere, across all communications channels, and it is often necessary to create new materials. It's a lot of work, but at least now you have a clear, well-designed blueprint to follow.
I recently worked with an online advertising company that was in the middle of the pack in their market. Much larger players had established themselves in the minds of the marketplace, and this company was having difficulty being included in RFPs and getting appointments with key buyers. After carefully reviewing their products, and those of their competitors, we discovered that they had a clear competitive advantage with one of their offerings. By talking to key buyers, we learned that this product had pent-up demand in the market, and would allow them to separate themselves. We decided to use it as the basis of the company’s position and this ultimately led to improved perception for them with buyers, and an increase in awareness of all products and services they offered.
If you want a real-eye-opener on differentiation, I recommend a book that I've used as a teaching text with my students at NYU called Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Killer Era of Competition. And please let us know if we can help.