Winning your market with messaging that matters

Positioning Part 1: Putting a wet finger into the wind

There is nothing more important to the success of your venture than proper positioning—at every step of your marketing and sales process. I see positioning as not just a branding exercise, but a powerful tool in the nuts and bolts of campaign creation and process.

My own definition: “Positioning” is what you CHOOSE to say about anything—your product, service, sales call, or girlfriend.

Let's start with a background story:

Years ago, working in the creative department of a newspaper publisher in Edmonton, I was asked to help save a large account who was threatening to pull his advertising. “Make it work,” commanded the publisher. With that, his part in a familiar exercise was pretty much over. My part—saving an advertiser from himself—would be more difficult.

IT Marketing Guy - campaign performance

"Make it work, commanded the publisher"

A real estate developer had been running full page ads for a new housing development, just north of the city, and getting nowhere fast. Not wanting to lose this cash cow, the publisher took a personal interest in "helping" to get things moving in a better direction.

Old-school advertising

Back in 1982, we didn’t have ready access to reliable campaign or market data, or the option of copying stuff from the internet, no Photoshop, and a Marketing Sherpa might have been a guy with a mountain of industry brochures.

We read books on advertising, learned from trial and error, and regularly made marketing decisions by putting a wet finger into the wind. At the newspaper, we relied a lot on advertiser feedback. Did the ads get warm bodies through the door, or was it a bust? Anecdotal evidence was greatly appreciated.

"Go big! Get customers by osmosis"

The advertiser I was supposed to save didn’t seem to have any discernible marketing strategy—other than spending lots of money at our newspaper. Go big! Get customers by osmosis. They will be miraculously sucked through huge display ads and land in your sales offices—checkbooks primed for action!

Where do customers come from?

As ridiculous as this seems, it was relatively common for advertisers to spend huge sums of money on campaigns that were delightfully unsupported by anything resembling logic. Under these circumstances, failure on an epic scale was almost automatic. Luckily for those of us in the publishing business, these same customers rarely had a clue where their customers (or lack of customers) were coming from. Failures were seldom blamed on brilliant advertising.

"There are just too many opportunities to screw up"

An inescapable fact: most advertising fails—even today—which is ridiculous, considering the multitude of marketing tools and data available to any business with an internet connection. More than ever, true campaign success stories are pretty rare—a reality made more poignant by the avalanche of e-marketing shoveled into your inbox every day. There are just too many opportunities in the marketing process to screw up—if your definition of success is based on revenue generated. (Is there another definition?)

In the olden days, advertising agencies lined up to collect awards for campaigns for clients who were struggling to avoid bankruptcy. The same disconnect still happens today. You can get great campaign numbers for an audience that won’t buy your product—it’s easy.

Have some thoughts on positioning—or an interesting positioning success story? Post your comments below.

Stay tuned for my next post on positioning on the TEC Blog, June 2nd:

Positioning Part 2: Choosing what you want to say
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