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Write a winning positioning statement for your business

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about creating a winning positioning statement.

21 November 2019 · 16 min read

Have an idea for a new product or service? Before you even think about sketching a prototype, you need to create a positioning statement. Writing a positioning statement will provide your product with an identity and give your team a clear vision.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about creating a winning positioning statement.

What is a positioning statement?

In simple terms, a positioning statement is like your company’s mission statement, but it only relates to one product. It describes your product, why you offer it, who you’re offering it to, and what separates it from the rest on the market. For example, if you sold donuts, a simple positioning statement might look like this:

“We’re Tasty Donuts, and we offer the best donuts for connoisseurs of breakfast sweets. Unlike the competition, we ignore health codes to create a dangerously delicious donut. Consumers looking for a risky snack will enjoy our unique offering.”

Your positioning statement is just a tool to be used internally, so there’s no need to make it into an ad or slogan. It’s just there to give your team a clear idea of a particular product’s goals. By writing out your positioning statement, you carve out a place in the market for your company.

Creating a positioning statement isn’t an easy task. Every new product and service struggles to make a place for itself in the world, but with a positioning statement, you can guide that struggle in the right direction.

Why writing a positioning statement is crucial

Without a positioning statement, you risk creating a product or service that flounders as soon as it hits the market. Not knowing where your product stands is like trying to get your finances straight without a budget or attempting to lose weight without a scale.

In other words, your positioning statement is your road map. Your statement will help when you’re making decisions about the future of your product, creating the marketing that supports the product, or coming up with tertiary products to go along with the product.

Creating a positioning statement forces you to ask questions about your product that you might not have considered yet. You may already intuitively know why you created your product or who your service is going to benefit. But your positioning statement will pin down exactly why your product exists, why it’s going to succeed, and what it’s going to take to make it succeed.

How is a positioning statement different from a value proposition?

Though the two are closely related, there are key differences between a value proposition and your positioning statement. A value proposition is much broader and focuses more on what your product has to offer. If someone asked why they should purchase your product or service, your answer would be your value proposition.

While a positioning statement answers this question as well, it does so more concisely. Your statement focuses on your product’s value as a way to establish its place in the market rather than as a way to explain why that value is needed.

Value propositions also cover the value of an entire brand or company as opposed to a specific product. As a result, a value proposition will likely overlap with the positioning statements your various products without delving too deep into any. For example, Amazon’s value proposition would describe why customers value the Amazon brand, while a positioning statement would describe the value and market for the Amazon Marketplace, Echo, and Kindle.

How to write a positioning statement

Writing your positioning statement should be a collaborative experience between key members of your team. It should also be done early in a product/service’s development so that you make clear and informed decisions about your product right from the start. Keep in mind, though, that your positioning statement may grow or change as your product takes shape.

Your positioning statement should be just a few sentences long and made up of the following information:

  • Your target market
  • Your brand
  • Your product/service
  • Your promise to your customers

Going through each of these elements in order will help you determine what to include in your positioning statement. Particularly important is your brand. This is what unites your products and services to one another, which means it should be the cornerstone of your positioning statement. When putting your brand onto paper, start by looking at the past.

Explore your industry’s history

Whether you’re new to your industry or a seasoned professional, reflecting on your industry’s history is vital. It’s easy to become so caught up in your work that you forget how your company looks from the outside. By examining your history (and the history of your competitors), you’ll have a more specific idea of how you are perceived.

If you’ve already released other products and services in the past, reexamine them. Think about how you expected these products and services to be used and compare them to how they were really used. Do people use your product every day, or only when they need it? Do you have a family of products, or does your company target unrelated markets?

This kind of brainstorming may be more difficult for companies offering innovative products, since the product you’re creating might not have an industry yet. In these situations, look at the history of the problem you are trying to solve for inspiration.

Explore your company’s future

Once you’ve put together a history of your industry, apply it to your company as it is today. What is your company doing that hasn’t been done before? Where do you stand in comparison with other leaders in your industry? What need is your company fulfilling?

From there, start to determine your company’s future. How will this product or service play a role in that future? How will your customers change after you bring your product to market? Asking these kinds of questions will facilitate the process of creating your positioning statement. You’ll know where you stand, where you want to stand, and why.

Four questions to ask before writing a positioning statement

1. Who is your audience?

The most direct question answered by your positioning statement is who your target audience is. When you picture the people using your product, who do you imagine? Why? It may feel tempting to say, “Everyone, of course!” especially if you’re passionate about your product. However, your audience should be much narrower than this.

Once you have a clear idea of your target audience (videographers, people on their way to work, new couples, etc.), begin envisioning your product from their perspective. What kinds of questions would they have about your product? How would they use it? Which features would they ask for?

The better you understand your audience, the more your product will make sense. Rather than it just being a clever idea, it’ll become a tool for your customers. Once you know who wants your product, you’ll know why they want it.

2. Who are you to your audience?

After you’ve defined your target audience and answered questions about their relationship with your product, it’s time to do some soul searching. What does your business represent to your customers? Is your product something they’ll hold onto forever, experience just once, or buy out of necessity?

The simplest way to approach this question is to place your product into a category. You can start by picking your product’s industry and then the area of the industry it falls under.

For instance, the iPhone has very little in common with a traditional cell phone, aside from the fact that it can make calls. But, by placing it under the “phone” umbrella, consumers have a frame of reference for what the device is. Positioning it as a “smarter” phone lets consumers know that it does everything a normal phone can do and more. Try to come up with a similar frame of reference for your product.

3. What do you have to offer your audience?

Or, put another way, what separates you from your competitors? Why should your target audience choose your product over others? This is the part where you come up with your differentiator, which is a core component of your positioning statement.

Now, off the top of your head, you can probably come up with several things that are separating your product from its competitors on the market. Maybe it’s faster, shinier, more reliable, has an extra arm, etc. However, you should only pick one differentiator to separate your product from the rest.

This unique quality should be simple, direct, and relevant to consumers. Being an industry leader is a bad qualifier, even if it’s true because it doesn’t speak to the consumer. Instead, choose just one thing that sets you apart and incorporate it into your positioning statement.

4. Why should they believe you?

Finally, why should your audience believe that you are better than the rest? Why is your product the one for them? This is your promise to the consumer. Without making some kind of promise, there’s no way for your audience to know if there’s any substance behind your marketing claims.

Back your promise with tangible evidence. Whole Foods promises to offer high-standard groceries to its customers, which it backs up by working with local farmers and ethical suppliers. It’s this promise that justifies Whole Foods’ high prices and gives their customers faith in what they’re buying.

If you’re selling a physical product, look to the manufacturing process for inspiration, how it was designed, and how it’s made. For digital or abstract products and services, look at the results produced by your product. Statistics are a great point to bring up in these situations.

A simple positioning statement template

If you’re not sure how to put all of these different elements together into a positioning statement, try using this simple template:

“Our {product] is for [the target audience] that [needs it for this reason]. [your company/brand] created [your product] to provide customers with [the thing that separates your product from the rest] because [your promise to your audience].”

You don’t have to follow this template exactly, though it’s a great place to start. Once you’ve filled in the blanks with your information, you can refine it to match your brand’s personality. Remember that this isn’t meant for advertising your product. Write it for your team to understand your product’s goals, not as a way to sell your product.

Positioning statement samples

To help get your creativity going, we’ve put together a few sample positioning statements. These are just examples, not actual positioning statements from these companies.

Google: The internet company

“Our search engine is for anyone that needs a question answered right now. We created the Google search engine to provide people with the most accurate answer to their online requests. No matter what you’re looking for, our sophisticated algorithm will find it for you in seconds.”

This positioning statement focuses on what the Google search engine does for its users. It explains why users would need to use Google and the advantages it has over other search engines (it’s fast and accurate).

Google’s branding is centered around making information as accessible as possible. Even their other services, like YouTube, Google Docs, and Android, bring tools and resources to others. This is what ties Google’s products together and establishes its position in the tech industry. That kind of continuity is made possible with a positioning statement.

Apple: The hardware company

“For the creative professional pushing the boundaries, there’s the boundary-pushing MacBook Pro. Apple created the MacBook Pro to give professionals a powerful device that doesn’t overcomplicate your workflow. Apple makes the hardware and software behind every MacBook so that everything meets our high standards.”

Apple is unique in not only its industry but the marketplace as a whole for having a clear audience in mind right from the start. They create high-end, fashionable tech in an industry that traditionally focused on features and specs. By controlling every aspect of their production process, they’re able to offer uniquely efficient devices.

This level of control, however, is directly related to the audience Apple has in mind. Their products aren’t intended to be used by everyone. Apple notoriously makes some of the least compatible products in the industry. Unlike Google, who stresses accessibility for all, Apple’s positioning statement is about quality - even if it means alienating potential customers.

Starbucks: The coffee company

“Here at Starbucks, we create high-quality coffee products for those who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. At any one of our coffee shops, you can fuel your next big idea with a cup of our signature coffee, made from the best ingredients available.”

In this positioning statement, you can see that Starbucks is tying itself to the idea of change. “Starbucks is for those trying to make a difference.” This statement focuses on the relationship someone has with Starbucks’s products rather than the products themselves. It’s not about the coffee, but about what the coffee represents.

A positioning statement like this takes advantage of the fact that people stay at Starbucks while they drink their coffee, spending time at their computer or with their friends. The coffee is only there to bring people together and “fuel great ideas,” and it does this by using the highest quality ingredients available.

Home Depot: The DIY company

“For those who prefer to work with their hands, Home Depot has the supplies you need. Whether it’s finding the right tool for the job or the parts for your next project, our Home Depot associates have the expertise you’re looking for. We have the tools you need to get the job done.”

Similar to Google, Home Depot’s positioning statement is about helping people find an answer to their problem. However, in this instance, the “problem” is a DIY project and the “answer” is Home Depot’s vast catalog of hardware supplies. This positions Home Depot as the go-to solution for DIY needs.

In this positioning statement, Home Depot separates itself from the rest by marketing directly to DIYers as opposed to anyone looking for a screwdriver. This is backed up by its claim about Home Depot associates, who are there to offer advice to DIYers. This positioning statement is a great example of one that is focused solely on the target audience’s needs.

Snapchat: The social media company

“For social media users that want to protect their privacy, there’s Snapchat. We created Snapchat as a way to take the permanence out of social media so that you can focus on sharing content, stress-free. All of your Snapchat conversations are deleted after they’re viewed, so you’ll know that your privacy is protected.”

Snapchat is a great example of a company in a crowded market doing something drastically different. Rather than creating a feed of your posts, Snapchat deletes everything you do within the app after you’ve shared it with your selected audience. This addresses concerns people have about privacy in social media.

In its positioning statement, Snapchat uses this unique feature to outline their product’s place in the industry. This statement also highlights the importance of creating a promise. If Snapchat doesn’t make any clear demonstrations or claims about deleting their users’ conversations, there’s no incentive for people to use the platform. By promising that conversations are deleted, customers can trust Snapchat over its competitors.

10 tips for writing a positioning statement

1. Write a value proposition first

Even though your value proposition and positioning statement are different, they’re closely tied to one another. Specifically, your positioning statement is a subset of ideas from your value proposition. So, to help give you an idea of what you should include in your positioning statement, start by writing your value proposition.

This will give you time to explore the benefits, features, and solutions offered by your product. You can then take these ideas and trim them down into a positioning statement. Creating a value proposition first is especially helpful when you have a family of products. Rather than writing each positioning statement from scratch, you can draw from your value proposition for inspiration.

2. Showcase your strengths

Specifically, your positioning statement should showcase your strongest strengths. Pick the one or two things that your brand/product/service is exceptional at, and use it to your advantage. These strengths should be the thing that helps you stand out against the competition.

Focusing on just a few strengths is vital. No company is capable of performing every aspect of their business better than all of its competitors. So, rather than trying to convince your customers that you are the best at everything you do, narrow down and showcase the one or two things that you’re actually the best at.

3. Be transparent

We’ve mentioned it already, but your positioning statement is not an advertising piece. Its sole purpose is to give your team a guideline to follow in creating and marketing your product. This means that any extra fluff or misleading statements are going to damage your product, not help it.

Instead, be as clear about your product as possible when creating a positioning statement. It also helps to get specific where you can. The more exact your positioning statement is, the easier it will be to understand it months down the line.

4. Write to your customers’ needs

The best way to keep your customers’ needs in mind is to empathize with them as much as possible. Try to see your product from their perspective and figure out what they would want from your product. If you’re struggling to answer these sorts of questions, you can try conducting a little market research. Create mockups of your product, bring in people who you envision using the product, and ask them for their honest feedback.

5. Include your brand’s promise to the customer

Even though it’s one of the core components of a positioning statement, it’s often overlooked. Your brand’s promise is critical. It’s what gives your audience confidence in your claims about your product. Without some kind of promise backing these claims up, your audience is likely to disregard your product altogether.

Promises in business can be tricky for a few reasons. One, they’re often implicit. You may have a vague idea of what you’re promising your customers, but writing it down as a clear sentence isn’t so easy. Two, you have to stick to your promise once you make it. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep or you risk alienating customers later on.

6. Address your company’s values

If you’re having a hard time coming up with your promise, think back on your company’s values. These values are all promises in their own way. They tell your audience who your brand is beyond being a logo on a product. Apple values privacy, Amazon values convenience, and Disney values imagination.

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) address all of your company’s values in a positioning statement. However, you should pick one or two that directly speak to the product you’re writing the statement for. Incorporating your values into a product right from the start will shape its development dramatically. This way, when it’s time to share it with customers, it’s more than just another product on a shelf.

7. Set yourself apart

Using your positioning statement as an opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition is crucial. You should be creating your positioning statement early on in a project’s development and using it as a guide for the rest of the product’s journey. If you don’t establish what sets your product apart in the beginning, you risk creating a generic product that has nothing new to offer.

If you’re not sure why your product is different from or better than the rest, think about your experiences with competing products. What would you like to have seen done differently? What would your target audience like to see done differently? What values does your company have that you can use to create a unique product? Address these kinds of questions when coming up with your positioning statement.

8. Keep it short

It can be tempting to cram everything that makes your product special into your positioning statement, especially when you’re in the exciting early stages. However, all this will do is muddy the clear picture you’re trying to paint for your product. You want to get your exact points across in your positioning statement and nothing else.

You can avoid writing a bloated positioning statement by only including the elements previously outlined: your target market, market’s needs, how you’ll meet those needs, why your product is unique, and your promise to customers. Only add to this if it’s absolutely necessary. If your statement gets to be longer than five sentences, you probably need to edit it back down.

9. Write multiple positioning statements

If you only offer one product at the moment, then you only need to create one positioning statement for now. For companies that have a variety of products and services, though, you should create a positioning statement for each of these products. This will help you keep the different projects organized and clear in their goals.

A great example of the importance of creating separate positioning statements is Apple’s lineup of mobile devices. When looking at the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, it would be easy to say that they’re just the same device in different sizes. While these devices have a lot in common, it’s the positioning that sets them apart - not their varying sizes.

The iPhone is marketed as a companion device for your daily needs; the iPad is a tool for creatives; and the Apple Watch is a fitness device. Creating unique positioning statements for each of your products will help you establish clarity for your company.

10. Keep things current

Finally, don’t forget to keep your positioning statement up to date. Your vision for a particular product could change dramatically by the end of the project. This is a normal part of the development process - as things begin to take shape, your original ideas will change.

If you don’t update your positioning statement to reflect these changes, however, you risk losing sight of your goals completely. This inevitably leads to an unfocused end product. During the development phase, periodically check your positioning statement to see if it needs to be updated. Or, on the other side of things, to see if your project is moving in the wrong direction.

How NOT to write a positioning statement

The most important trap to avoid falling into is turning your positioning statement into an advertisement. This is not a slogan for your product or an elevator pitch. It’s the guideline for your team to refer to during your product’s development to ensure it’s hitting its goals. Don’t try to make it anything more than that. Secondly, don’t create your positioning statement in a vacuum. If you disappear into a conference room for a few hours and emerge with a positioning statement clutched in hand, you’ve approached the whole thing backward. Gather around with your team, spend a few days or weeks thinking about your goals, talk to potential customers, and shape a positioning statement that reflects what you and your audience value.

Get writing!

Writing a positioning statement is easier said than done. Even though it’s just a few sentences, those sentences have to encompass your product, brand, and audience in a meaningful, concise way.

We hope this guide has given you the confidence to create a winning positioning statement! For more marketing ideas and business advice, check out the rest of our blog at B12.

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