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How the positioning statement exercise saved a company’s reputation May 20, 2011

Posted by Mike Gospe in Positioning.
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One of my personal “Aha!” moments about the importance of having a clear product positioning statement came about during my tenure as a press relations manager with HP’s Test & Measurement group (prior to HP’s spinoff that would become Agilent).One of the divisions had just developed a next-generation signal generator and was eager to introduce it. The engineering team quickly drafted a press release with the following headline:

HP introduces High-performance Signal Generator with New Low Price

Upon first glance, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable headline. Yet, my spider-sense” tingles when I see primary benefits linked to pricing. I wanted to be doubly sure that I understood exactly what this meant. So, I pulled the engineering team together to talk about their draft.

Their first reaction was something like, “Oh great, you’re one of those guys” — meaning that I was an outsider with the sole purpose of upsetting their applecart by asking a lot of nonsense questions. With great diplomacy, I admitted that it was my job to work with them in order to confirm and communicate the product’s truest value related to the claims they were making.

I asked if they had produced a positioning statement for their product.

They handed me a five-page, feature-rich datasheet that only confused me. Not to be put off, I suggested we take 30 minutes to build a positioning statement for the product. I explained that this would help us confirm the primary benefit and focus our message.

In the course of our discussion, we filled out the positioning statement template

The Positioning Statement Template

and learned a few key things, especially when we dug into the primary benefit and the differentiator:

  1. This new signal generator was actually more expensive than competitive alternatives! However . . .
  2. This one box could perform multiple tests without the need for additional pieces of expensive equipment.
  3. The upshot: this was really a total cost of ownership (TCO) story, not a component box story.

With newfound clarity we wrote a new headline based on the positioning statement:

HP’s New High-performance Signal Generator Reduces Test Costs

So what? Did this exercise really matter? You bet! Had we proceeded with the original headline, editors (not to mention customers) would have quickly cried “foul!” HP’s reputation would have been hurt by the misleading claim made in the original headline. Instead, this clarified positioning statement wove its way through the press release, print advertising, collateral, and other customer pieces. Following the product announcement, articles appearing in trade journals echoed the positioning statement correctly and completely. As a result, this product found huge success with new and current customers alike. And all it took was 30 minutes!

For more on positioning statements, please see The Marketing High Ground, available on Amazon.com.

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