Positioning action plan; 10 step process

Positioning action plan; 10 step process
How to develop a distinctive positioning? We realized that we had never provided an answer to this question in one article, despite receiving questions about it weekly; everyone wants a positioning plan. That had to change, and the result is now in front of you: 10 steps for a distinctive positioning.

The breadth or depth of each step naturally varies depending on the market, product, or company, but this article will certainly provide enough direction and enable you to make your own choices.

Plan of approach for positioning

In addition to the strictly necessary steps, we also pay attention to the reason for and what to do with the results of the positioning process. This will likely give you even more insight into the key elements of positioning and we can confidently state that all steps are essential.

A positioning process that does not pay attention to the reason, long-term goals, or culture and identity of the organization almost always leads to a suboptimal result with limited impact. While positioning is one of the most important tools for achieving differentiation.

1. Burning Platform: Why Positioning?

What is the necessity for (re)positioning? What happens if we do nothing? It may seem obvious, but there is a good chance that opinions on this matter will differ. If you don’t pay attention to this, it could become difficult to agree on a direction in the end.

Specifically, create a short briefing, memo, presentation or video in which you outline both the challenge and the intended solution. Discuss or share this with all stakeholders.

Read more: 7 reasons why your positioning is more important than ever.

2. (Market) Research

You need more information. Firstly, this information is essential to arrive at a distinctive positioning. It’s difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition if you don’t know how they position themselves. Secondly, this research provides an interesting insight into the market and the direction in which it is developing. This will probably make the burning platform even clearer.

Specifically, create an overview of the knowledge you need for a well-considered positioning and gather the necessary information.

The required information naturally differs per company, market and challenge, so first determine what needs to be researched. Here are some aspects that we often research:

  • Customers: Ideally, you conduct qualitative interviews with your customers. This provides valuable insights into the perception of your brand; the outcomes are almost always surprising. If this isn’t possible, a questionnaire or something similar can be an alternative.
  • Competitors: The existing image of the competition is often ‘colored,’ to put it mildly. It’s instructive to take a fresh look at the market and competition around the question: “How would a new customer see the market?” The competition may be ‘lying’ about being innovative, but the potential customer doesn’t have this insight.
  • Target audience: You can easily write a book on target audience segmentation, but we recommend focusing primarily on two essential questions: 1. Which target audience(s) do I want to reach? 2. What does the customer journey (purchase process) of these target audience(s) look like?
  • (Future) Market situation: An environment and trend analysis is essential. This may seem very broad, but one question provides a practical framework: What will your market look like in 10 years, and what will be valuable/important then? This way, you discuss the (future) reality of your brand.

Read more: Positioning research, in 5 steps mapping out the competition.

3. Strategic framework for positioning

A major pitfall when positioning, particularly when companies attempt to do it without an external, fresh perspective, is the presence of biases. For instance, “Yes, that competitor claims to be innovative, but they are not.” Even if this is true, it has no value in the positioning process. The goal is to choose the best possible positioning for your brand as objectively as possible. That is why you create a strategic framework.

stappenplan positioneringUse models and exercises to map out the playing field, such as the competition matrix. Once you have filled in the model, discuss what determines the clusters (of competitors) and where the potential for differentiation lies. What would it mean (behavior-wise) if your brand were to focus on that?

Specifically: Discuss where the opportunities lie and what the pros and cons of positioning in that space would be. But make sure that you first agree on how the market is structured!

4. Ambitions and (brand) values

The foundation of a successful positioning is always the brand’s own identity. If a brand positions itself as hip and transparent but is actually as conservative and closed as a bank, your customer will quickly become confused: “Am I in the right place?” That doubt is fatal, which is why it’s so important for you to determine who you are and what drives you before choosing your position.

Specifically: Answer the crucial questions; why do you exist, what is your higher purpose or ambition, what do you value.

Be careful not to get bogged down in listing buzzwords (often called core values) such as honesty, entrepreneurship, and results-oriented at this stage. It’s all about nuance, and you can attempt to distill these into core values much later in the process.

5. Differentiation factor

There are of course several ways to reach Rome, which one will you choose?

It would surprise me if the previous steps did not result in a whole list of (potential) distinguishing factors. Now the aim is to create a shortlist or wish list from this. Yes, that means that there will also be aspects that you will ignore, for example because the competition has already claimed it or simply because it doesn’t fit with factors that you consider essential.

Specifically: Agree on the factors on which your brand wants to differentiate itself from the competition.

6. Positioning pitches

Write different elevator pitches based on the elements of differentiation from step five. This should be short and powerful so that each idea can be told (and remembered) in a few minutes. At this stage, concept and differentiation come together, our own penguin story is a good example:

“Penguins are special animals but they have one annoying trait, they all look alike. They walk in a line, go into the water at the same time, and breed their eggs on the same rock. Penguins are not very distinctive. Companies are like penguins. They imitate each other and use the same ‘core values’, which means that the customer can only choose based on price. Distinctiveness works for companies that don’t want to be a penguin.”

Specifically: Create different positioning pitches in which you clearly explain why a customer should choose your brand based on a compelling ‘story’.

Present each pitch and as a team or organization, choose the pitch that best fits your ambition and worldview.

7. Elaboration of positioning

A pitch often only focuses on that one crucial aspect that the positioning should be about. That’s good, but we only speak of a positioning if the story actually offers actionable perspective. This means that employees or customers should be able to determine which behavior fits the positioning. Unfortunately, this rarely succeeds in a single pitch or slogan, CoolBlue’s ‘Everything for a smile’ is a nice exception to this.

Specifically: Develop the chosen positioning pitch into a complete positioning of 300-400 words that offers actionable perspective.

Try to apply the storyline that is central to the pitch to the most important aspects of your business. Think of personnel, sales, customer service, production, sustainability/CSR, and so on.

8. Extracting proposition and core values from positioning

Proposition and positioning are often confused. The proposition is the sales-oriented pitch that convinces the customer to buy on the spot, such as “buy one, get one free.” Many think this doesn’t apply to B2B or more complex markets, but it’s still worthwhile to formulate a proposition. In such cases, the proposition is often the core of the complete sales argument, where benefits and features are explained in more detail. But the basis remains the same: the proposition.

Specifically: extract from your positioning pitch the proposition that convinces your customer to buy on the spot and the core values that ensure your people remember the heart of your positioning.

Core values are a celebrated tool of both large corporations and small businesses. Often, they are three words that are supposed to apply to the entire organization, but they are so general or basic that they can be left out. What does a service desk employee gain from the core values of being results-oriented?

We see core values as a tool that brings important aspects of the positioning back to the forefront of people’s minds, like a mnemonic device. Use words or concepts from the positioning. They may not say much on their own, but if your people can recall the heart of the positioning through them, then your goal is achieved.

You could even consider different core values for each department or let each department determine its own core values (in line with the positioning). This makes the core values much more practically usable.

9. Creating a Positioning Document

In many companies, the positioning is a living document that is reviewed annually, for example. What is fresh in your mind now may be forgotten in a year’s time, leading to confusion: “Why did we decide on this again?” Avoid this confusion and summarize the positioning process and outcomes in one document.

Specifically: Summarize the research, outcomes, key considerations, decisions made, and positioning in one document. The goal of the document is future evaluation or adjustment.

With this document, it is child’s play to:

  1. determine what the result of the (re)positioning is
  2. make adjustments

Especially for making adjustments, this document is indispensable. It prevents double work and a lot of time loss. By briefly reflecting on each step and looking at the outcomes and conclusions in the light of the new situation, you can often quickly pinpoint where adjustments are necessary. Or decide that the core of the positioning remains in place, of course.

10. Implementation of positioning

The last step is actually more of a starting point: implementation. The positioning must be central in everything the brand does, from production to customer service. This is often a years-long process, as in practice a desired positioning is always chosen that is a departure from the current positioning. There is therefore quite a bit of work to be done to ensure that you really start doing things differently (in line with the positioning).

Getting the brand (and thus the organization) moving is a specialty in itself, but our first step is to establish goals for the short and long term for each department and then determine concrete actions. By first focusing on the desired goal, you increase the chance of a successful implementation.

Specifically: Determine the short and long-term goals for each department and determine which concrete actions will ensure that the positioning is applied.

Place positioning in marketing plan

What role does positioning play in the marketing plan? Do you position first and then do marketing later, or is it the other way around? Is positioning the same as strategy?

In practice, these types of questions are usually purely semantic. The place that positioning takes often says more about the type of organization. Financially driven organizations usually have established strategies and goals and then look for a positioning that enables them. Customer-oriented organizations often work the other way around and discover their business model and financial goals while the positioning is already in place.

Why a positioning process plan?

So there is no single answer. However, there is a clear process: the positioning process plan. By following the above steps, you will come up with a distinctive positioning that fits your identity and goals. A story that goes beyond financial goals or empty core values, but allows people to determine for themselves what behavior belongs to a brand and whether they feel at home as a customer or employee.

In short, a unique positioning is the foundation for distinctive capacity and sustainable success.

Do you want to learn more about positioning and how to get started with it yourself? Read our page on Positioning and find not only in-depth articles, but also dozens of examples and models for every possible positioning challenge.

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