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Six Reasons Why Your Positioning and Messaging Probably Isn’t Working

By Jake Sorofman | November 29, 2016 | 7 Comments

digital marketing

I spend a fair amount of time talking to companies about positioning and messaging, which appears to be an endemic challenge for pretty much everyone. This is particularly true for technology vendors, who face the headwinds of the tyranny of words and convergence of everything.

Try as we might, these days, it can feel downright impossible to get a meaningful point across. While these challenges are certainly real, I’d argue that many marketers aren’t helping themselves.

Here are the six ways I see positioning and messaging efforts going off the rails:

  1. Buzzword bingo—perhaps the most common affliction for technology marketers is the much-maligned tendency to stuff sentences chockablock with throwaway words and phrases. Buzzwords are the artificial sweetener of language. They create the illusion that you’re making sense or saying something of value when you’re actually just filling the air with meaningless jargon.
  1. Verbosity and smart talk—a pathology ranking a close second to buzzword bingo is the use of language that’s overwritten and overwrought, long flowery prose littered with bold-face SAT words that acts as a smokescreen to true understanding. When in doubt, say more. In positioning and messaging—and perhaps also in life—the more you say, the less you probably understand. Leave the verbosity to Faulkner and the smarty pants talk to the nattering nabobs on cable news (and never say “nattering nabobs”).
  1. Special snowflake syndrome—particularly in engineering-driven cultures, I see companies that grow, a-hem, rather fond of their own secret sauce. Passion is critical, to be sure, but this is its mutation. These special snowflakes feel they owe the world a full-throated holler from the hilltops of the goodness they’ve gifted upon thee. Sometimes it’s warranted, but more often, it’s a form of self-deception that comes from too much time in front of the mirror, not the market.
  1. Hoarder complex—positioning is an exercise in sacrifice. Increasingly, who you are is defined by who you aren’t. What you become depends on what you’ve left behind. These hoarders leave behind nothing. Their messaging becomes a catchall of everything that was ever uttered or thought, a potpourri of ideas present and past. The result? Quite simply: A dog’s breakfast.
  1. FOMO—fear of missing out has been popularized by the addictive qualities of social media, but it’s also quite evident in how we market. Marketers often attach their wares to whatever trend is drawing heat and light, diluting its meaning for themselves and others. Worse, this affinity to the trend du jour often leads to thrashing, as marketers cycle through an unending series of new new things.
  1. Me-too—Gartner analyst Hank Barnes will tell you that failure to differentiate is the curse of the technology marketer. I agree. The source of this issue is more than just a failure of imagination, although that’s certainly part of it. The trickier issue is that this struggle to differentiate is an artifact of the world we live in. Things that are hard to do are still easy to say. Thus, everything converges. Everything sounds the same. What made you different suddenly isn’t. Which is why the customer experience is now the new battlefield. Words matter, for sure, but not nearly as much as deeds.

What did I miss?

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  • All very endemic messaging issues here, Jake. I would add “No pictures” as one of them. A picture is still worth a thousand words, but too often companies fail to articulate their solutions and positioning visually as well as verbally. Conceptualizing a message visually is too often seen as a risky endeavor for the creator, and one that is hard to reach consensus on (“I’ll know what I don’t like when I see it.”) Many marketers follow generic industry examples or show nothing at all beyond words that would aid the outside world in understanding their unique value proposition.

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  • John Meyer says:

    I’d also add that all too often the positioning work is done in silos and does not have adequate representation across marketing, sales, and product. There’s a big opportunity there…

  • Eric Burgess says:

    Thanks for the wise words succinctly expressed. This is perfect timing as we’re looking at how we talk about products that contain new ideas for content and influencer marketing.

  • Andy Vaidya says:

    It is very sad that such Marketers get in by using strong repetitive buzz words winning some serious business where as actual technologist who everyday make a difference for Customers they support don’t get much appreciated. Technologists are not marketers and they do not bluff. They are armed with technical skills on what works, what does not work and how to bridge the gap.

    Hope someone agrees! 🙂

  • ken rutsky says:

    Good list. To me you left out reason #1!

    The messaging is vendor-centric instead of customer centric. The customers world is the beginning and end of your story, you are the middle. Get the context right and you are 90% home!