Welcome to the most controversial phase of a product positioning. (Ok, it really is the second most controversial - naming is the most controversial.) There will always be a pull from two different extremes when you are talking about positioning. There are those who want/need the company/product to sound like "the next big thing". This type of positioning will be broad and complex. Then there are those who actually have to sell the product or service. They want a positioning that is narrow and clear. If you are a small boot-strapped company, the narrow and clear positioning is critical to your success. If you are a venture-funded or very large organization, the broad and complex positioning may be required to get the attention of the right people. This document only deals with the narrow and clear positioning due to the personal bias of the author.
Positioning should be a formal exercise, no matter how large or small the organization. If you are discussing company positioning, it should involve all senior management. If it is product positioning, it should involve representatives from Sales, Field Engineering, and both product marketing and marketing communications.
A meeting or conference call with all parties involved is critical. Ideally, everyone should be in one room with a white board or large tablet to keep track of ideas and thoughts. It is also important that everyone have a say and that the highest-ranking person does not dominate the meeting.
Everyone should attend the meeting prepared to discuss your customers. If you don't have enough data on the customers, who they are and why they bought, then discussions with the customer must take place first. If you don't yet have customers for the product then you need to come prepared with market research and market validationinterviews with potential customers. If you haven't talked to your customers (existing or potential) then the meeting is a wasted exercise. If there is a current positioning for the company and/or the product, you ideally want to forget your existing positioning during this exercise. However, that positioning was probably developed through trial and error, so the background for the positioning should be used, but it is important for people to try to think beyond the current positioning.
The objective of the meeting is to reach agreement on the following definitions. In all cases, it is easy to start broad and then narrow the focus through elimination.
Start the meeting by sharing the most current discussions with customers and potential customers. Anyone who has had these conversations, whether they are formal market research, or casual conversations, should share that information with the rest of the group so that everyone has an equal understanding of the target market.
Walk through the nine objectives above, in the order they are listed. Again, start broad and narrow the objective down by the process of elimination.
Generally, by then end of the meeting, everyone should feel like the exercise was worth while and that they have a new focus for their job. If this is not the case then additional market validation should be done and the group should reconvene.
The elevator pitch should be distributed to the entire company and everyone should use it when discussing the offering. If this is a company positioning, the message should be incorporated into the home page of the website, datasheets, and the corporate background collateral. Strengths over the competitors should be emphasized in the product literature and on the website.
After several months of using the new positioning, review it with management and customer facing individuals. Find out what works and what doesn't work. Decide if it needs to be updated with new competitive information or new direction.
For further reading on Positioning please see Jack Trout's book The New Positioning.
I also found "Words that Work" by Dr. Frank Luntz to be a great book on messaging. You don't have to like his politics to find value in his ability to simplify a message and create wording that resonates with the masses.
Lastly, I have created a binder with some positioning resources off of the web: