January 10, 2014
When it comes to positioning and messaging, there’s a fundamental distinction between “the idea” and “the message.”
We sometimes work with clients who come to us for positioning help, but then ask us to tell them what to say as their message. This typically happens after we’ve worked together to drill down what their complex organization does into a single, compelling idea. We’ve helped them articulate who they are, what they do and why they matter to their critical audiences, and it’s at this point where they run into trouble. We hear comments such as, “this positioning statement doesn’t just roll off the tongue.” Our clients are hoping they can take the positioning statement we’ve given them and simply drop it as messaging language into communication material. It doesn’t work like that.
Positioning vs. Copy
The position of your company sets you apart from everyone else. Used strategically, positioning should be the foundation for the messaging and communication that comes next, such as taglines and tactical advertising slogans. Positioning is internal and timeless—it is what you want to convey holistically, not what you literally say in each communication piece.
The message you then put forth should reflect your position and target the key opportunities and audiences you want to address. If every message comes from a common conceptual foundation and engages with its target audience in relevant ways, the effect of the brand will be greater than just the sum of its parts.
A good example of this is when Volvo Trucks wanted to highlight the precision and dynamics of Volvo Dynamic Steering in 2013. Volvo produced a memorable commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving semitrailer trucks. Volvo is famously positioned around safety; the ad effectively conveyed both the company’s positioning and the key point they wanted their customers to understand using inspired, memorable imagery.
Tips for a successful positioning/messaging relationship
- Treat your positioning as your galvanizing idea. Once you’ve identified what you want to convey, you can take creative latitude to express it based on specific communication needs.
- Don’t use positioning as your communication boilerplate. You should always be thinking of what you want your audience to understand, instead of simply looking for language you can plug in.
When used effectively, positioning and messaging takeaways are the litmus test for brand communications. They help guide communications—they are the key ideas, not the literal words.