In a mission-driven world, how your organization is positioned is the secret to creating the most dynamic, effective communications strategy. Positioning defines what makes your organization unique, and what BIG IDEA you hope to communicate about what you do.
Why how you are different is important now more than ever
Marketing had changed because the channels we now use to get our message out and connect with our audience have changed. Messaging on the Internet is everything. It is clear that as the Internet has advanced from a tool of information, to a mode of social connection, to a space of personal, curated content. We have way more messages coming at us than we ever have before.
Your audience will continue to receive more and more sophisticated messaging via many social networks and their mobile phones. They need to understand quickly what makes you unique and different. Demonstrating a simple and clear uniqueness will not only help your organization achieve its mission, but it is also what the new information age requires. In this third wave of curated content, social media is targeting content in increasingly precise ways. If you are not clear on what truly makes you unique, the technology that can and will help you reach your audience will not be able to do its job.
Strategic positioning at work
In order to express a clear position, you need to have a unique voice. City car-loan company Zipcar is a great example of a company with a clear perspective. If they wanted to design a campaign that could express their position, I might suggest the following few options:
- To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers [audience], when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car [framing the issue], you save money while reducing your carbon footprint [why they are different].
- To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment future generations will inherit [insight about audience], when you use Zipcar car-sharing service you make a responsible choice [connecting to audience’s value and Zipcar’s value] and demonstrate your commitment to protecting the environment [goal of both the audience and Zipcar].
- To urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers who worry about the environment future generations will inherit [insight about audience], Zipcar is the car-sharing service [how they are different] that lets you save money and reduce your carbon footprint [points of difference], which makes you feel you’ve made a smart, responsible choice that demonstrates your commitment to protecting the environment [goal of both audience and Zipcar].
Clear, strong positioning requires knowing how you stand out in your field
It’s how your audience sees and think of your organization that matters; your understanding of this is key. The truth is, your uniqueness rests in their perception, which doesn’t necessarily solely reflect the self-perception of your organization.
Having an outside perspective helps. From an audience’s viewpoint, being unique means that you stand out alongside similar mission-driven organizations. I have found in my work that this uniqueness tends to be clearer to leaders when an organization forms, but as it changes and grows leadership can disconnect from the way the evolution fits into the larger landscape. Positioning is not a one-and-done kind of activity; it needs to be revisited and refined many times along the way.
Owning your big idea is a strategic advantage
Positioning is a strategic advantage because carving out, defining, and owning your unique position means others need to work around you and claim something else. Having a clear position is the lens that you can use to test new ideas; it can be also a set of questions you have that allow you to say yes and no to the right projects, products, or initiatives.
It can be a guiding principle for everyone in the organization, as well as a way to ensure that you are achieving your goals and supporting and further developing your uniqueness. Your positioning can help keep communication focused. It can help you identify the communities, networks, and influencers you need to connect to—it can be your core strategic advantage.
In the example of Zipcar, they could use their position to keep themselves focused by answering a few questions:
- Are all company decisions/strategies focused on the urban-dwelling, educated, techno-savvy consumers?
- Are all company decisions/strategies focused on the positive impact on the environment as a core corporate value?
- How can the concept of sharing be promoted, considered, and improved?
- How can the concept of saving money be promoted, considered, and improved?
Some questions you can ask yourself as you work on refining your positioning:
- Does your position both attract and repel? Being unique means you are “for” some and not others. I realize this is a very uncomfortable concept for some people, but the true strength in a strong position is how you are different. Saying what something is not is often more important than saying what it is.
- Do you really own that uniqueness alongside others in your space?
- How does this uniqueness connect to achieving your goals?
- Is this uniqueness simple and easy to understand and convey?
- Can you build a community around your positioning?
- Does your positioning help you connect to other communities, individuals, and influencers?
- Is it easy to buy a list of the audience you are trying to reach based on your positioning?
The job of positioning is never done
Positioning is the key to connecting to your target audience in a way that has staying power and value. There will always be new organizations doing similar work, and that fact will cause you to have to refine your positioning. Always keep your brand essence (what makes you YOU), but refine as you go. Build a strong community around the work you do and rely on them to help you spread the word as you evolve.
Your positioning is why your audience supports your efforts and becomes a part of the solution in the first place. The big idea is the glue. Your uniqueness is your glue. How sticky is your glue? How strong is your glue?