Write a Positioning Statement with 10 Considerations, Plus 6 Bonus Examples

I’ve often encountered brands who, when asked about their positioning, say, “we have the best service.” Or, “our quality is superior to the rest.” Or even, “you know, our people are what sets us apart.” But the thing is… everybody says that. 

These aren't things that will differentiate you from your competition. 

The fact of the matter is, a unique, own-able position in the marketplace should be part of your fundamental business strategy. It can:

1. Dramatically shorten the sales cycle
2. Lead to a competitive business advantage
3. And help you better serve your customers.

Because your positioning is about your expertise. It takes some hard work to dig beyond the superficial claims most companies make in order to get to the key unique value propositions that customers are willing to pay attention to and pay more for.

The first step, choosing the focus (what business are you in), tends to be very difficult. It takes a lot of hard work to really differentiate your company from the competition. It may be easier to remain all things to all people. Or perhaps the fear of missing out by walking away from small segments of your established offering is just too scary. But that’s not what experts do. And I will tell you, companies we've worked with that have made this tough choice haven't looked back. 

No, it's not easy. But it is so worth it.

What Is a Positioning Statement?
And What It’s Not…

Coworkers having friendly discussion across table

Positioning is vitally important, because positioning is the foundation for telling your story. You can’t start to tell your story until you nail your positioning. And if you can’t tell your story, you will have a hard time capturing the minds and the hearts of customers and employees. So let’s explore what a positioning statement is and what it is not.

According to the Cornell Community blog, a positioning statement is a concise description of your target market as well as a compelling picture of how you want that market to perceive your brand.

Though it may read like something from your promotional materials, your positioning statement is an internal tool. Every product and marketing decision you make regarding your brand has to align with and support your positioning statement. A good positioning statement is a guidepost for your marketing efforts. It helps you maintain focus on your brand and its value proposition while you work on market strategy and tactics.

That’s because, as consumers, we’ve been trained to understand that taglines are inextricably linked to the brands we know. When I say Burger King, you will think “!” Taglines are hammered into our brains through advertising as short, memorable ways to recognize our favorite brands. But your tagline is a marketing tool; it is externally facing. Your positioning statement is who you are and why your target audience should care.

#positioning: A unique, ownable position in the marketplace should be part of your fundamental #BusinessStrategy via @Imaginasium

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Value Proposition vs. Positioning Statement

Value propositions describe the unique selling propositions (rational facts), or USPs, and unique buying propositions (emotional reason that someone buys) or UBPs. USPs are linked to specific facts or features, while UBPs refer to the emotional benefit that customers experience when using your product or service. 

For example, the USP of a zero-turn lawn mower could be a strong transmission and powerful engine, but the UBP could be the fact that you can cut your lawn quicker so you can spend time doing the other things you love in life (spending time with family, golfing, whatever). 

Positioning statements then flow from value propositions. 

Positioning statements will describe why customers should use one product or service over another, in other words, why your zero-turn mower is different or superior to a specific segment of the market and why that segment should care.

Tagline vs. Positioning Statement

So often we talk with clients about positioning and they say, “well, we already have a positioning statement,” and they rattle off their tagline. It’s a common misconception.

Do you know the difference between your #positioning statement and #tagline? via @Imaginasium

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That’s because, as consumers, we’ve been trained to understand that taglines are inextricably linked to the brands we know. When I say Burger King, you will think have it your way! Taglines are hammered into our brains through advertising as short, memorable ways to recognize our favorite brands. But your tagline is a marketing tool; it is externally facing. Your positioning statement is who you are and why your target audience should care.

Positioning Statement

Tagline

Internal

External

Expresses business purpose

Expresses customer benefit

Grounded and truthful

Catchy and copy-written

Permanent

Changeable

Known and lived by employees

Known and remembered by customers

Guides all business decisions

Influences buyer behaviour

Mission Statement vs. Positioning Statement

A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company, organization or a person, its reason for existing. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides “the framework or context within which the company’s strategies are formulated.” It’s like a goal for what the company wants to do for the world.

Do you know the difference between a #MissionStatement and #PositioningStatement? via @Imaginasium

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While your positioning statement is internal focused, your mission statement marries the internal and the external.

Positioning Statement Template/Formula

A positioning statement is a short, structured sentence that explains who your company is and who you’re talking to, what sets you apart and why someone should care. It’s a single sentence stating exactly what your position in the employer marketplace will be. 

Often, it can feel clumsy and hard to fit into one sentence. That last part is intentional. If the sentence gets to be too long, a string of clauses linked together by commas and semicolons, you’ll know you’re not making the tough choices you need to make. A position is as much about what you aren’t as what you are. You’ve done a lot of work up to this point. Make that work worth it by being bold and strategic.

So, what does a positioning statement template look like? Well, a quick internet search will yield a dozen different ways to approach things. But we like to use the following four-field template backed by our many years of experience in crafting these for clients:

To (target audience) ... 

Company Name (fact) ...

That (point of difference) ...

Because (reason why) ...

10 Questions to Ask to Create a Positioning Statement

#PositioningStatement Write your #positioning statement with 10 simple questions to guide yours via @Imaginasium

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So, how do you get to the point where you are ready to write your positioning statement? 

Well, as I mentioned in the beginning. It is going to require some digging deep into who you are and who you want to be. Again, “all things to all people” is not a position

The goal of positioning is to eliminate as many substitutes as possible. In fact, the goal, whether achievable or not, would be to reduce or eliminate them altogether. The fact you more than likely can't eliminate all competition doesn't matter. That is the lens through which you should view the positioning exercise so that you can truly become differentiated. The fact remains that the more alternatives your prospects and clients have to your company and product or service, the less advantage you have over your competitors.

Pro-tip: When beginning to craft your positioning statement, it is best to involve key stakeholders at all levels of the organization. From plant floor to C-Suite and human resources to finance. This cross-functional team provides multiple perspectives and diversity of thought.

Now, here are those ten questions to crafting your positioning statement.

1. What do you do better than your competitors?

This requires some competitor review and voice of customer research. For voice of customer research, you will need to hear directly from your customers, if possible. Consider customer surveys or short interviews to understand their experience with your company. 

For competitive review, list your top three to five competitors. Audit their websites and ask yourself these questions. Look at as many pages as possible. 

  1. How do they present themselves?
  2. A family-oriented company?
  3. A visionary company doing exciting work?
  4. A company that values growth and ongoing training and will invest in their employees?
  5. Why does the company even exist at all?
  6. How are they impacting the world or their communities?
  7. Do they look “cool?” Do they look “safe?”
  8. Do they look like a company at which you could be “proud” to work or do business with?

Capture their essence in a single headline along with some brand elements and put them on individual boards side by side. Look for ways that they’re similar and then, in there, you’ll see where you have an opportunity to be different and stand out.

2. How do you do what you do?

It’s a very easy to answer the question “what do you do?” 

And, having reviewed your competitors in the last step, you probably aren’t the only company who does what you do (and if you are, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article). The first way you can differentiate yourself from your competition in your positioning is in how you do what you do. 

#positioning: Want to #differentiate yourself from the #competition? via @Imaginasium

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Take some time and list all the ways you provide your product or service. Pay particular attention to the ones that are particularly different or unique. This list will help you in the later steps. 

3. Why do you do it?

play

The great Simon Sinek said, “People don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it.” Any person in an organization can articulate what they do. Some can even explain how they do it better or differently than their competition. But when it comes to explaining why they do what they do, they often can’t. 

And “why” is not about money or profits or shareholders. Why should inspire. This is where it takes some effort to dig deep. Figure out what you believe. Your customers and employees will be those that believe it too. And that’s a good thing. You want to do business with and work alongside people who believe what you believe. A good positioning statement will start to point toward that. 

4. Who is your target audience (For whom do you do it)?

This should be a pretty straight-forward question. But so often, it isn’t. 

Are you trying to be all things to all people? Maybe it’s time to look at your #positioning via @Imaginasium

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Many companies try to be all things to all people out of fear that they will lose out on opportunities or market segments. Ask yourself some of the following questions to dial in on your target market:

  • Who are the types of businesses or consumers you want your brand to reach? 
  • What are their interests? Hobbies? Goals?
  • What do they believe about your product or service?
  • What keeps them up at night? How does your product or service help them with this problem?
  • How do they make decisions?
  • Who or what influences them and why?

When possible, it is important to do some voice of customer market research to really understand the perceptions and needs of your target market. 

5. What are your Key Strengths?

With the information you’ve gathered thus far, pull your team together and begin brainstorming all of the key strengths you feel your company can offer and stand behind. These don’t have to be unique, just so long as they are authentic. 

By the way, please don’t say “service,” “quality,” or “price.” Because nobody really cares. And they don’t believe you in the first place. They’re looking for a great experience they can count on. Now, service, quality, and price do play a role, but when everyone says they have the best service … the highest quality … the best prices, it loses all meaning. Buyers put these things into consideration, but you lose if you make them the be-all and end-all. This applies to your positioning in the employer brand space as well. 

Consider your key strengths as an employer. Just as service, quality, and price are table stakes for your corporate brand, pay, benefits, and job security are the cost of doing business for your employer brand. 

Now is not the time to judge or throw out ideas, just get them all out on paper. 

For example, if we were to do an employer brand for a large manufacturing employer, let’s call them Heavy Duty Equipment Corp. (or HDEC; apologies to any actual company named Heavy Duty Equipment Corp.), we might list strengths like:

  • Hardworking (Midwest work ethic)
  • Patriotic
  • Proven
  • Durable
  • Strong market value, investing
  • Approachable, real
  • Saving lives
  • Supporting heroes
  • People-first culture
  • Perseverance
  • Grit
  • Innovative spirit
  • Ethical—clear definition of what ethical means, do the right thing
  • Caring leadership
  • Making a difference in people's lives
  • Longevity/history
  • Family of brands
  • Resilient
  • Problem-solver
  • AND MANY MORE!

We’ll brainstorm a list of all of the possible things people might think of when they think of Heavy Duty Equipment Corp. We try to stay away from emotions and focus on facts at this point. And it’s not uncommon to come out of this brainstorm with 40 or more key strengths.

6. Distill your Key Strengths into Unique Selling Propositions (USPs).

Remember, positioning is about making hard choices.

Nobody will listen to or care about 40 reasons they should buy from or work for your company. And not all of those reasons are of equal importance. That’s why we then whittle down the list to the top five most powerful key strengths you offer. Have your team take a minute to vote and select their own top five, then somehow designate what they are. 

Obviously, the ones with the most votes would seem to have the most resonance, but it doesn’t always mean those are the right five. Have discussion around what you mean by a certain phrase or why you feel this key strength supersedes another key strength. Check your key strengths against the competition.

  • Do they genuinely differentiate you? 
  • If not, is there another key strength that maybe didn’t get as many votes, but would differentiate you? Consider replacing. In the end, these become your USPs.
USPs are the top five rational reasons someone should spend their dollars with you or, in the case of an employer brand, come work for you and dedicate their career to you.

For the Heavy Duty Equipment Company employer brand example let’s narrow the list to the following 5 strengths:

  • Hardworking (Midwest work ethic)
  • Patriotic
  • Proven
  • Durable
  • Strong market value, investing
  • Approachable, real
  • Saving lives
  • Supporting heroes
  • People-first culture
  • Perseverance
  • Grit
  • Innovative spirit
  • Ethical—clear definition of what ethical means, do the right thing
  • Caring leadership
  • Making a difference in people's lives
  • Longevity/history
  • Family of brands
  • Resilient
  • Problem-solver
  • AND MANY MORE!

7. Translate your Unique Selling Propositions into Unique Buying Propositions (UBPs)

We know nobody purchases based on reason and rational choice. They purchase (and apply for work) based on emotion and then rationalize later with facts. That’s why the next step in crafting your positioning statement is to take your five USPs and, for each one, begin listing any emotions you think a person should feel when they first learn of that strength. 

What one or two (or more) words will best describe the feeling they’ll get from that strength?

For example, in our Heavy Duty Equipment Company employer brand example:

UBP example chart

Oftentimes, what will happen is you’ll end up with a number of synonyms for the same emotion. That’s okay, because the next step is to select the single strongest emotion out of that list. Every phrase will have nuances of meaning. 

Discuss those nuances and come to consensus on the single strongest one. Don’t worry, you can keep the other words in that list. It’s wise to, because they’ll come in handy when you begin writing messaging. But for now, as an organization, you’ll need to agree that this emotion is strategically aligned with how you want to be perceived in the marketplace.

So, in our example, when people hear “people first culture” they should feel cared for/about and when they hear “perseverance,” they should feel like it’s a company that won’t quit. You’ll do this for each of your USPs.

8. Put it all together in the template and start crafting messaging.

As I said, a positioning statement is a concise description of your target market as well as a compelling picture of how you want that market to perceive your corporate or employer brand. 

Often, it can feel clumsy and hard to fit into one sentence. That last part is intentional. If the sentence gets to be too long, a string of clauses linked together by commas and semicolons, you’ll know you’re not making the tough choices you need to make. 

A position is as much about what you aren’t as what you are. You’ve done a lot of work up to this point. Make that work worth it by being bold and strategic. 

A position is as much about what you aren’t as what you are. Make your work worth it by being bold and strategic.

So if we continue with the employer brand for Heavy Duty Equipment Corp. as an example, with the key strengths, USPs and UBPs all defined, we might write a positioning statement (using our four field template) for them like:

Example of a USP chart

The first two fields are pretty straightforward. Facts. 

The differentiator field—the “that” field—can often be where positioning statements begin to fall apart. Too many times we see companies trying to force every USP or key strength they can into that block. Again, make the tough choices. Narrow in on the single one or two strengths that will help your audience understand what sets you apart. 

[#PositioningStatement] A #position is as much about what you aren’t as what you are. Be strategic and be bold via @Imaginasium

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Finally, the last field should be emotional. It needs to summarize WHY I would want to do business with or, in this case, work there. No, not everyone will produce a product with as clear an impact in people’s lives as the next company, but every organization exists for reasons bigger than simply “to make money.” Find that reason. Plant a flag there and then let everyone see it flying proud.

Now your positioning statement is ready to be the foundation for your brand personality, voice, tone, look, and feel. While your positioning statement is an internal tool, it will also help drive your messaging and communications externally moving forward. 

9. Gain alignment of your positioning statement internally.

Internal alignment is about more than simply “getting everyone on the same page.” Once you’ve developed your expert positioning, you will be excited to release it out in the world. But be careful. If you don’t do the very important work of launching it internally, you run the risk of causing confusion or, worse, mistrust with your internal customers, your employees. 

[#PositioningStatement] Are you positioned as a true #expert in your industry? via @Imaginasium

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You need to first make sure everyone inside your own walls is on board and can stand behind what you want to put out in the public. If you try to position yourselves one way, but then all of your employees are secretly out there calling bunk on your claims, your prospects, customers, and potential future employees will catch wind of this and the result will be a less-than-exceptional experience. 

Make sure you develop an internal launch plan that is well-thought-out and will help employees understand how their role impacts the new positioning with customers. Part of your launch plan may include things like an employee training or event, supervisor or manager toolkits to help bring the brand into everyday behaviors, and environmental graphic design to bring positioning to life, physically, inside your walls.

10. Share your new positioning (not positioning statement) with the world.

Top view of coworkers at desk with various cross-media words on table

Everyone on board? 

Good, now we can (finally) get things rolling out in the marketplace. After all, this is why you even started this process. Remember, your positioning statement is an internal tool. But all of your external marketing messaging will fall from your new positioning statement. Again, we recommend drafting a plan for how you will roll out this messaging out externally, or you’ll fall victim to “Random Acts of Marketing.”  Then prioritize based on impact, cost and time to implement. 

Your #Positioning statement is an internal tool. So how does that translate to your external audiences? via @Imaginasium

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Few companies can afford to redo everything at once. Updating your website to reflect your new messaging will almost always be the most important and first step. Websites are typically where most people are going to learn about you and are the quickest and easiest to update. And don’t forget to make content marketing part of your digital strategy as you update your website. A good content marketing plan will drive even MORE traffic to your site and generate better, more qualified leads. 

Begin finding ways of putting your UBPs into your messaging everywhere you can. These are the five most powerful emotional reasons someone has to do business or work for you. Write headlines and copy around those and remember to always focus on what’s in it for the customer or employee, not what’s in it for you. 

6 Exemplary Positioning Statement Examples

Since positioning statements are meant to be an internal tool, we created some fictional example statements for actual companies that have recognizable brands and clear brand positioning. 

6 Examples of Excellent #Positioning Statements via @Imaginasium

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While some of the following may or may not be our clients (yes, some are), we have developed clear, differentiating positioning statements and messaging for countless clients over the past two decades, and positioning is part of our bread and butter. It’s how we’ve helped countless clients stand out from the competition in the minds of their prospective customers and employees.

1. Nike

Low shot of female running wearing Nike shoes

To athletes of all abilities, Nike is a producer of high-quality, innovative athletic wear that strives to inspire people all over the world to be active because we believe in creating a better, more sustainable future for our people, planet and communities through the power of sport.

2. Apple

Front of Apple building in Frankfurt, Germany

For mobile device users who want to be on the cutting edge of technology, Apple is an industry-leading experience company that takes an innovative, inclusive and sustainable approach to research and development because we believe technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone.

3. The Walt Disney Company

Store front of a Disney store in Florence, Italy

To children of all ages, The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise that serves to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling because we believe in the power of exploration, happiness, and magical experiences.

4. Ariens Co.

Snowblower making driveway passible in winter

To users of commercial and personal outdoor landscaping equipment around the world, the Ariens Company is a family of brands that manufactures innovative, durable, and dependable machines for lawn and snow because we believe in delivering exceptional experiences for our customers, and our name is riding on it.

5. The Boldt Co.

Boldt company graphic

To people who need stuff built, The Boldt Co. is an architecture, engineering and construction company that builds communities by releasing convention and tradition, because we believe that challenging assumptions encourages us to approach every project with flexibility, imagination and an eye toward the innovative to deliver greater value to our customers every time.

6. Harley Davidson

Biker riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle

To motorcycle riders and enthusiasts of all walks of life, Harley Davidson is a global manufacturer of distinctive and customizable motorcycles featuring leading-edge styling, innovative design, and distinctive sound that brings the brand to life through equipment, apparel and experiences because we believe regardless of where you come from we are brought together by passion, freedom, and the open road. 

Does Your Brand’s Positioning Statement Need an Overhaul?

There are many checkpoints in the lifecycle of a company where it makes sense to stop and take a deep look at your positioning. In fact, there are too many to mention here. That being said, here are 11 triggers that may lead you down this path:

  1. A merger or acquisition in which you've acquired new expertise, new target market or product line
  2. You're losing market share or looking to steal market share from your competition
  3. Your profits are shrinking, but you are growing
  4. A majority of employees can not explain who you are or what you do
  5. Your supply chain is perhaps underdeveloped
  6. Your sales cycle is getting longer
  7. You do the work totally different than the competition and what was once considered a differentiator is now turning into a negative
  8. Your product or service is becoming commoditized 
  9. Your client acquisition cost is skyrocketing
  10. You're not considered an employer of choice by the talent pool/you need to hire and/or retain at a quicker rate
  11. Core staff retention is taking a nosedive

It’s just that everyone says they have the best service, quality, price, people, etc. In fact, they’re the price of entry into the buyer’s selection set. They expect it. If you don’t have at least a couple of those going for you, don’t bother. And when everything else is equal, you’re not going to get the sale unless you’re willing to sell at rock-bottom prices. 

Rather, take some time with your team and your customers—or an outside advisor—to figure out what really moves them. What will make them FEEL differently about you. And if it does come down to service, quality, or price, dig deeper to find out what about those makes you different. 

Describe the “why.”

Positioning is all about choice. You can choose to remain a company that does all things for all people. When you make this choice, you invite all kinds of undifferentiated competitors offering way too many alternatives to your product or service at typically low margins. 

Is this the sort of hyper-competitive market you want to make your mark in? The decision is yours.

See more posts about Branding/Rebranding

About the author:

Denis Kreft

Denis Kreft is the president and co-founder of Imaginasium. Having served in just about every role in the company since the firm began in 1996, Denis has a keen ability to uncover clients' complex business challenges. Denis works tirelessly to ensure that Imaginasium's customer experience is firing on all cylinders and that the firm is truly living it's vision of helping clients live their story by clarifying their message, building understanding inside their own walls, and creating the marketing that moves customers to action.