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Go Ask Alice

One of fiction's finest marketing minds, The Cheshire Cat, once told Alice in Wonderland something all business owners and marketers should remember:

"If you don't care where you are going, it doesn't make a difference which path you take."

For businesses bent upon success, it does matter which path you take. A positioning statement helps you chart your path to success because it lets all your audiences - internal and external - know where your organization stands in the battle for your consumers' minds.

Positioning: What Is It?

You should not confuse a positioning statement with your market position. As Harry Beckwith states in his book Selling the Invisible, "A position is a cold-hearted, no-nonsense statement of how you are perceived in the minds of your prospects. A positioning statement, by contrast expresses how you wish to be perceived. It is the core message you want to deliver in every medium."

Your positioning statement will be found where three items intersect:

- your business acumen/aspirations
- your market
- what truly differentiates you

Of the three, it is your market which holds the key to your positioning. That doesn't mean that your acumen and aspirations are irrelevant. You must have a clear understanding and shared agreement on these at the management level in order to develop an effective positioning statement.

My approach to developing an effective positioning statement and an actionable marketing plan begins with gaining this understanding. Here's how we go about it, and you can too:

- interviews with management and employees to learn job responsibilities, current marketing practices, as well as to surface questions for customer interviews

- a review of appropriate primary and secondary research

- a series of one-on-one customer interviews

Customer interviews allow us to probe for information such as:

- how customers perceive your "product" and other products in the category. what the customer wants from the product category he is not now receiving. what is the primary customer benefit of your product

- how your customers currently position your brand. how customers perceive your competitors

- what media habits, lifestyles do customers share. what industries do they work in, what are their titles, what associations do they belong to

- how do customers want to be communicated with

Once all the information is in, you may develop a positioning statement that clearly says who you are, defines your audiences, indicates what markets you are targeting, and states what makes you different from your competitors.

Once this is done, everyone knows where they are going and then it's easy to find the right path.

About the author: Harry Hoover is managing principal of Hoover ink PR, http://www.hoover-ink.com. He has 26 years of experience in crafting and delivering bottom line messages that ensure success for serious businesses like Brent Dees Financial Planning, Duke Energy, Levolor, North Carolina Tourism, Ty Boyd Executive Learning Systems, VELUX and Verbatim.

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