This is a guest post by Sherril Small, ChangeMarketer. Her firm works with businesses to better position them for growth. Find her at www.ChangeMarketer.com
Clear Positioning is Crucial
Communicating ideas is a complex endeavor. It is particularly challenging when launching new products and services as a startup. Frequently, the new technology being offered is so different that startup marketers communicate the idea of value by focusing on how the technology works. That often leads to lengthy explanations and misses what the customer needs to hear first.
Combine that with the fact that the time and space we have to communicate is constantly being compressed:
– 30 seconds for an introductory “elevator pitch”
– 25 words for a company description in listings
– 140 characters for a tweet
– 150 characters for an online search description
With fixed limits like these, the days of fitting in extra words by making the point size smaller or speaking faster are long gone. Today, every word has to pull its weight. Clear positioning can minimize the word count while delivering a powerful message. So how do we squeeze the important information in and optimize its impact?
When describing your product or service, a key factor to pay attention to is word weight. We’ve all experienced the lunchtime stampede that happens when an email goes out with ‘Free Food’ in the subject line. With just two words and 10 characters (with space and punctuation) — that’s word power. Just as a “picture is worth a thousand words,” the right words are worth a thousand characters.
The “Big” Idea
Choosing the optimal words requires having a clear idea of what you want to communicate and to whom. There is a well-known saying, most often attributed to Mark Twain, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote this long one.” It is an approach still used by many people.
So, how can we fast-track communication more effectively? The answer is clear positioning. Positioning is how you differentiate yourself in the mind of the prospect or user; a concept first expressed by Jack Trout and later developed into a formula by Geoffrey Moore. It is one of the hardest things any company needs to do, and it is what makes a team excel in achieving its communications goals.
Four Powerful Directions
Failure to define and communicate your unique position clearly in the marketplace leaves people guessing about what it is you do and what you are offering them. Uncertainty chews up valuable time and money. While the number of words used to communicate company and product positioning are almost infinite, the core idea can be distilled into one of four powerful directions.
Only: Is a powerful idea that gets attention. People listen more closely expecting to hear something they have not heard before. “Only” is a positioning direction that emerging technology and patent-holding companies can claim. Gist is one example.
First: Is a choice a “serial” innovator can claim. Pixar Animation Studios is an example. Their position is communicated clearly in the following description.
Best: Is often a specialty, luxury or niche player’s choice. Best is accompanied by an attribute description. BMW is an example with “German Engineering” as the attribute.
Most: Is a choice many growth companies can claim, with Amazon being a prime example. Amazon’s logo communicates this idea with the arrow going from “a” to “z”
These four choices are depicted in this way because a simultaneous claim of Best and Most is simply not credible with consumers. Neither is claiming all four.
Three Important Perspectives
Successful positioning takes into account three different perspectives – those of the Company, Customer and Competition (3-Cs). It is very important to see the company perspective as the starting point.
- Company: Brainstorming the four choices helps to formulate positioning statements which can be tested with customers and prospects.
- Customers: In my proprietary positioning research, I have found customers’ perspectives often differ from company perspectives. It is better to discover this early to avoid churn on the message and waste in the communications budget.
- Competition: Understanding the competitive landscape, including the positioning and messaging of others, ensures that the words you choose truly differentiate.
Good positioning is like a solid step stool that allows you to stand safely above the rest. In the week ahead, look to see which companies are successful at getting ideas expressed effectively in the various character count formats you encounter. Then, look at your own communications and think about how these examples can help you navigate The Big Squeeze on getting ideas into as few words as possible.