I’m regularly commenting on how companies are communicating their benefits. One thing I see seems often to be a scatter-shot approach to marketing. Some ideas are semi-formalized and then thrown out to whatever channels are handy. That usually doesn’t work.
You may have heard the term Integrated Marketing. It’s the idea that all your marketing messages should be consistent throughout all your communications channels.
Integrated marketing means more than marketing informally telling different people similar messages. It means formalizing your marketing message, distilling it to the core so that each channel group can work off of the same message to customize it appropriately for each channel. That’s where the positioning document comes in.
The Product Marketing Manager (PMM) is usually the owner for the message for each product, while corporate marketing can have a separate positioning document for the business. As I’m talking about how to better focus on marketing products, I’ll be referring to the PMM. Sadly, there’s not enough understanding of the need for a PMM in many small companies, so that’s one reason the messaging tends not to solidify, but this article will refer to the position.
The market positioning document should be a tool for consistency in all channels. That means it’s an internal tool as long as “internal” also means resellers or any partner who customizes messaging.
The Positioning Document
A positioning document for enterprise software solutions needs to address the following key issues:
- What is it: If you can’t describe the product simply, you don’t understand it.
- Why does it matter: What technical problems are you solving for the market?
- What’s the value: How does that solution benefit the business and the stakeholders?
- Target Audience: Speaking of stakeholders, who are they?
- Competition: What issues matter in the competitive landscape and how are they addressed?
While all the issues matter, it’s the middle one that, like any deli sandwich, is the meet. What you have and what the market wants meets at your value. Part of that value section can be the elevator pitch, but it has to make clear why it is somebody wants to write you a check.
There are a number of ways of creating the positioning documents, so there’s no single template to define. What I’ve seen are two typical directions depending on the size and focus of the company.
Startups and early stage companies are typically focused on their technology. They’ve built something they think is needed and that a couple of prospects, typically known personally by founders, think they want. They need to formalize their market positioning, so they should start with what they have. The ordered list of bullets above area a good flow for companies in the early stage to clarify what they have and then figure out the larger market that can boost sales.
However, mid-size and larger companies should have things turned around. They should have changed from finding a market for cool technology to building technology for a market they understand. That means starting with the target audience. What are their pain points? What about their business needs help. Then look at those and understand where you can add value. From there, adjust your products or create new ones. The positioning document should help define products, rather than describing them.
One critical item that should run throughout the positioning document though not mentioned explicitly is the simple fact that product marketing isn’t in a void. PMMs are part of a larger corporation. Do not create a positioning document within the product marketing group but ensure that messaging matches corporate strategy. While that might sound obvious, I’ve seen examples of different PMMs creating positioning documents that contradict each other because of a product focus that doesn’t take into effect corporate needs.
The PMM controls the product messaging for public relations, advertising, analyst briefings and more. To be involved in all of those tasks to a detailed level is a huge strain upon a busy job. If the positioning document can be for basic boilerplate, it can save the PMM time. Whether the corporate marketing team extracts information to combine with other information, then runs it by the PMM or the PMM uses it as a basis for multiple documents to quickly hand off to the team, everyone’s job is made easier and more effective.
An oft overlooked, use of the document is SEO/SEM. Keywords matter. Trying to sit and think those up in a void is often an experiment in randomness. However, if you can distill what you’re doing into a core value statement, your keywords arise naturally. Depending on the search engine and the campaign, terms for the specific target audience can help raise results, as can understanding competitive positioning. The SEO/SEM team can work with the positioning document test keywords and bring them back to the PMM for analysis and refinement.
Don’t forget channel partners. While smaller partners can directly access your collateral or simply add their logo and contact, larger partners have their own processes, standards and templates. The positioning document can provide consistency across organizations, and even more important task than within your own organization.
A final example for all PMM’s can be summed up on one word: Re-use. The PMM is the source of the product message and has to keep abreast of all the places where your products are mentioned. If you can clarify and distill your message into a single document, you not only help the company but yourself as well. You’re no longer remembering the multiple documents where pieces exist or managing a large folder of examples. You have the document. You can boilerplate lots of information. When you distribute it and the rest of the marketing or sales team calls with questions, you can have them refer to the standard usage and messages, then more quickly help them adjust the messages to any unique environment.
The market positioning document should be a key tool used by every product marketing manager. It will help you focus your product message and then improve the effectiveness of working with others to customize that message for each channel of distribution. Good use of product positioning documents can create powerful messages that repeatedly address the key needs of the market across all channels, providing a consistent front that helps your company show value to prospects.