How to Create a Strategic Positioning Statement
Once a large consulting firm hired me to help their client, a multinational environmental firm that needed to define the value their business delivered to clients. In a single daylong session with eight top executives, we uncovered an astounding, previously unrecognized asset: they were the only "pure play" provider able to deliver global solutions! That one session unlocked value that has greatly amplified their ability to close large multi-national projects with global clients and charge a premium for their services.
While the results of every positioning session won’t be that dramatic, every company gains significant clarity about their business, and the participants leave with significant alignment, clarity, ownership, and increased energy about their role.
“Strategic Positioning” is a highly effective process that I employ regularly. In corporate strategy consulting. Starting with a positioning session always produces significant positive outcomes. By sharing in detail how it’s done, I hope more organizations can benefit from a simple, proven process.
“Strategic Positioning” is a highly effective process that I’ve employed often in my corporate strategy consulting practice. Having conducted these sessions innumerable times with significantly positive outcomes, I’ll explain in enough detail how it’s done so you can lead a session yourself.
Here is the definition you’ll discover when you Google the term:
“Strategic positioning is concerned with the way in which a business as a whole distinguishes itself in a valuable way from its competitors and delivers value to specific customer segments.”
Wickham, P.A. (2001)
A Decision-Making Approach to New Venture Creation and Management.
2nd Edition, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, London
While the definition may seem underwhelming, the results of the process are always highly impactful. Every company stands to gain significantly more clarity about their business, and participants in the process emerge with increased clarity, sense of ownership, energy, and commitment to the company's direction.
Strategic Positioning Template
The positioning template below evolved over the years from the positioning statement introduced in Geoff Moore’s classic book, Crossing the Chasm. Here’s the version I use:
For <Primary Audience> at <Target Customers> who seek <Primary Need>,
<Company/ Product /Service> is a <Category> that has <Primary Benefit>.
Unlike <Competitor> that has <Primary Weakness>
<Company/ Product /Service> has <Primary Difference>.
The nine elements of the statement are in blue and are bracketed by “<” and “>” signs.
Prepare for the Session
Tell the participants that no advance preparation is necessary. Let them know that the purpose is to gain clarity, that their active participation is required, and that brainstorming and analysis will take place.
Understand what needs positioning. Generally, a smaller company will want to position the entire business, while a larger company may have has a product, service, or initiative about which they wish to gain clarity.
Think through the statement in advance. If you happen to find a rough spot (rare), feel free to adapt by deleting or modifying a portion of the statement.
Arrange a meeting with a minimum of 3 participants plus you as the facilitator. It’s best to have 6-10 people, but I recently conducted a successful session with 18 participants.
If possible, have everyone meet physically in a room. Higher bandwidth communication happens when people are together. Secure a very open room that allows participants to move around easily. When it’s not possible, online and hybrid meetings also work with great success using slides.
Create a large sticky note (or a slide) for each of the elements in advance of the session. The nine elements of the statement are in blue and bracketed by “<” and “>” signs in the template. as you complete an element, hang the sticky note on a wall (or move the slide to an area where participants can refer to it at will).
Conduct the Session
Make it clear to participants that “consensus is good, but alignment is mandatory.” In other words, give value to others' comments as well as yours (I never know where the best ideas will originate).
The session contains three distinct phases.
Phase 1: Brainstorm each element
Ask participants to propose a term or terms for each element. List all suggestions for an element on its sticky note or slide. The order in which elements are considered is entirely up to you. The key brainstorming rule is that no discussion or analysis is allowed in this phase. Enforce the rule by explaining that there will be plenty of time for discussion and evaluation later.
Phase 2: Prioritize terms for each element
Engage participants in reviewing the list of candidate terms they have generated. Sometimes a term proposed for one element (e.g., primary benefit) fits better with another element (e.g., primary need). Read through each suggested term and ask the group whether to decide where it belongs on the list. (Sometimes you'll end up with two “top” terms instead of one. You can deal with that in the next phase.)
Phase 3: Assemble full statement and refine it.
Assemble the positioning statement on a clean sticky note or slide by combining the top suggested term(s) for each element. Once the statement is assembled, have someone read it aloud and lead the group in discussing how it sounds: "Does it clearly capture what we have discussed and learned during this session?" If not, work together to iron out rough edges until the group converges.
Validate the Positioning Statement
After the session, work with your sponsor to determine a list of key non-participating stakeholders in the organization who can validate the statement, then conduct an interview with each one. If your sponsor has carefully chosen the participants beforehand, no problems will arise. On the other hand, if key influencers don't buy in, you can work it out. (I've never had this happen yet.)
Feel free to adopt this method internally for your organization or for paid consulting engagements. If you have questions, schedule a time on my Free Session page or send an email to Bob@PartneringSource.com.