What is the difference between messaging and positioning?
Positioning is an internal exercise during which you define the unique value proposition for your product, how the product is differentiated from the competition, and where it sits relative to the competition/alternatives in consumer’s minds. Positioning is a building block for messaging.
Messaging is customer-facing articulation of the product’s value proposition. Messaging is the building blocks of all customer-facing language whether it’s on your site, your pitch decks, or your ads.
In general, explaining this to stakeholders will be two separate conversations. First, you’ll want to align your stakeholders on positioning, which should be anchored in customer, competition, and industry landscape insights. Once the positioning is locked, you can build your messaging and this conversation should be easier since you’ve already aligned on the positioning building blocks with the group.
For me, positioning is the statement about why/how your product is unique and why it is better than the competition. Messaging, on the other hand, is how you articulate (the words) the positioning to a specific audience/persona. The positioning your create for your product is really the foundation the messaging is built on.
To get buy-in with stakeholders, I really focus on starting wtih the positioning and getting sign-off from leadership on those key statements. Once there is alignment there, the messaging becomes an exercise in iteration and testing.
Here is one example of Slack's positioning statement: “Slack is the collaboration hub that brings the right people, information, and tools together to get work done. From Fortune 100 companies to corner markets, millions of people around the world use Slack to connect their teams, unify their systems, and drive their business forward.”
Positioning is the DNA of your differentiation and messaging is how you bring that to life with your brand's unique personality.
Positioning establishes context (for who? what benefit or outcome?) and messaging is the way you communicate or express this unique position to your target audience.
I'll try using the classic iPod example -
Positioning: A simple, stylish and innovative portable digital music device that appeals to young adults who are tech savvy and have a passion for music (kind of cool, but straightforward)
Messaging: 1,000 songs in your pocket (really cool, concise, tangible, powerful)
Most people talk about positioning and messaging under the same breath and interchangeably, but in fact, these are two very different things that have inter-dependencies.
Positioning is contextual. It’s simply about your ownable market position. The goal is to answer “how are you unique?” And “how do you want to be perceived in the market?” In practice, this is your core value proposition - and you can find a plethora of templates online for this.
Messaging on the other hand is about how you communicate that position to the various audiences you serve (because it really should be tailored to each audience). It's the actual verbiage, language, and tone that you create for your brand which drives your entire content strategy.
In order to have a messaging framework, you need to have a solid positioning statement/value proposition. And positioning is useless without having an execution plan that includes messaging - that's how they depend on each other.
In order to get buy-in, focus on the positioning first before you start working on your messaging framework.
Great question and one that took me sometime to figure out as well when i was new to product marketing few years ago! We have used positioning to get clear on who the product/solution is for, what they are trying to address and what differentiates this solution. Messaging can be a simple one-sentence (or a few lines) description of what the product/solution does
I feel like every organization struggles with this. Everyone (and every function) brings their own definitions and biases with them.
Here is my definition of this:
- Positioning: This is the combination of audience definition, problem statement, product/category definition, and unique differentiation. Ideally can be summarized in a single statement (1-2 sentences)
- Messaging: A structured breakdown of the key pillars of your message, focused on an audience or launch. This is a framework that is used to develop copy, content, and sometimes targeting strategy.
What messaging is not: copy.
Both messaging and positioning are internal documents and frameworks. Yes, they provide the common language, but the most effective ones are structural, brass tacks, and designed to give other marketing teams the foundation they need to write great, creative, effective copy.
The "Three R's" come in to play here when it comes to stakeholder alignment. Repetition, repetitionn, and repetition. Reinforce it at every opportunity, and politely challenge and correct people who go off on their own.
(By the way, broadly this is the same problem that marketing teams have aligning on Campaign - Program - Tactic definitions.)
I like to think about positioning as the internal facing framework of how you want your sellers to perceive, understand and feel about your product. Positioning informs your messaging. It can reflect the vision for your product, key differentiators, and defines what your product is. Messaging is external facing - how your positioning comes to life with the actual messaging in the market. The key value props that are compelling to your customers can be thematic while the messaging itself is how the value prop is communicated externally.
Positioning: overall strategy of who we serve and how we do it better than the other major options
Messaging: language and themes we use to communicate Positioning.
And for good measure, Copy: exact words that appear on marketing assets, informed by Messaging.
Positioning is like finding the perfect spot for your product in the market. It's the crucial first step before diving into messaging that defines how your product is uniquely different from other ones in the market. It involves deeply understanding your product, its features, its unique value, what sets it apart from competitors, and where it fits in the market landscape. This forms the foundation of your positioning, which is typically an internal document used to align your team and create effective messaging. Messaging, on the other hand, is how you bring your positioning to life and communicate it to the market and different customer personas. It's the story you tell consistently across all your communication channels, whether it's presentations, product demos or any other form of interaction. Your messaging is what shapes the perception of your product in the minds of your target audience.