Determine Your Message: Product Positioning Statements

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Bill Howard, PC Magazine’s executive editor, stood at the podium of a panel at the Software Publishers Association and held a dollar bill in front of his face. He let it slip from his fingers. It floated gracefully to the floor in about ten seconds.

“That is how much time you have to catch an editor’s attention,” he said. Although ten seconds is not much time, it is enough time to catch the favorable attention of an editor or reporter. After you have their attention, you can tell them about other interesting benefits of your product.

You can gain a reporter’s attention using brief, focused messages called Product Positioning Statements. (Marketing gurus call these statements the Unique Selling Propositions.) You should develop both a short (“ten-second”) positioning statement and a longer, more comprehensive statement for your product. Developing your product positioning statements is a key element to any successful PR effort because these statements are the basis for your verbal and print contact with the press. You will use these statements when you talk to the press on the phone and in person. You will use them when you write press releases and other publicity materials. Therefore, it is important to refine the message so it reflects your product’s prime benefits. It may be your only opportunity to attract a reporter’s attention.

Here are several examples (each of which can be spoken in less than ten seconds) of short product positioning statements:
The ABC television set presents a clearer picture with less distortion than other sets.
The DEF watch is for athletes who need to see lap times.
The GHI legal service specializes in accident cases.
The JKL pet company has boarding quarters for animals whose owners are away.

If you have a background in management, you can think of the positioning statement as an “executive summary” of your product. It describes the product in the shortest amount of words so even the busiest reporters will read or listen to it and be able to determine if they need or want more information.

Because these positioning statements are so important to the success of your product and therefore to your company, you should give serious consideration to involving others (e.g. the marketing, sales, research and development or engineering departments) in creating the message. By inviting representatives from each major department to voice their opinions, you’ll see your product from a variety of perspectives. Also, the message you decide on will have more support within your company because each department participated in the process.

Brevity is the Key

The great Broadway showman Flo Ziegfeld told an aspiring writer that if his idea couldn’t fit onto a business card, then he hadn’t fully developed the idea. Speech writers have long heard the anecdote that it takes two hours to write a half-hour speech, four hours to write a 15-minute speech, and a day to write a five-minute speech. Many readers have heard the earthier message “KISS” (Keep It Short and Simple). Sometimes the less we say, the more clearly we are understood. That’s because most people can’t absorb long strings of information.

Rather than trying to immediately write down your product positioning statement, start by identifying the prime benefits of your product. Next, identify the types of customers who would use your product, and then consider the main benefits they’d receive from your product. From this information, you can condense and refine the wording into a succinct and informative product positioning statement.

For example, if you were promoting a service such as tax preparation, you may go through the following thought process:

Customers will know they need my service because:
I specialize in tax preparation for self-employed people.

Customers will benefit from my service because:
1. I am an expert in this area and know all the tax-saving possibilities available to self-employed people.
2. My fees are lower than other preparers (who have to do extensive research on self-employment tax laws).
3. Client’s returns are filed sooner (and refunds can be received sooner) because my expertise allows me to complete these types of returns faster.

My service will meet the needs of these types of customers:
1. Business consultants
2. Freelance writers/photographers
3. Artists/musicians

The resulting short and full positioning statements may read:

Short
Chet Smith Tax Services is a tax preparation service that helps self-employed people such as business consultants, freelance writers, musicians and artists file their tax forms quickly and correctly to save as much money as possible.

Full
Chet Smith Tax Services (CSTS) meets the needs of self-employed people such as business consultants, freelance writers, musicians and artists. Customers will benefit from using CSTS because Mr. Smith is an expert in this area and knows all the tax saving possibilities available to self-employed people. Also, customers will enjoy lower fees and have their returns filed sooner because Mr. Smith’s expertise allows him to complete these types of returns faster than other preparers.

Here’s an example for a product

Customers will know they need my product because:
The Juice/Blender is the only product on the market to combine the functions of a juicer and blender in one appliance.

Customers will benefit from my product because:
1. They will need only one appliance, thus saving precious counter space.
2. They will be able to buy it for less than the cost of a blender and a juicer.
3. They will be able to create delicious juice drinks and blended drinks.

My product will meet the needs of these types of customers:
1. Health-conscious consumers
2. Restaurants
3. Home users

The resulting short and full positioning statements may read:

Short
The Juice/Blender is a kitchen appliance that helps health-conscious people, restaurateurs and others make delicious and healthy drinks quickly and inexpensively.

Full
The Juice/Blender is the only product on the market that combines the benefits of a blender and a juicer. Designed for health-conscious people, restaurants and home users, the Juice/Blender helps users make delicious juice drinks or blended drinks quickly and easily. Consumers will be able to save precious counter space while spending less money than they’d pay to buy a blender and a juicer separately.