Actionable messaging and competitive positioning describes the way a company, candidate or institution creates a preference in its market or target audience for its goods, services or ideas. It is the mandatory basis for a successful public relations and marketing program.
Done well, it has influence over a host of activities, ranging from naming and recruiting to fundraising. As a result, it is the best first step when creating a communications program.
Actionable messaging and competitive positioning begins with a set of five essential questions:
1) Who are you? In an era of ubiquitous and persistent social media, where access to information is immediate and change is the only constant, a public image cannot be managed – it must be continuously revealed. A thoughtful, truthful and comprehensive answering of this question helps to frame what can become an effective marketing plan.
2) What do you do and what problem do you solve? Companies propose a seemingly endless variety of products, services and ideas to solve problems ranging from small (a back scratcher for the hard-to-reach itch) to huge (privatizing space flight). Some address the relative ordinariness of daily life (providing tighter lids for leftover food containers) while others tackle issues of life and death (airplane design). And then of course, there is a place for every other kind of product and service in between. Every successful venture is clear in identifying the specific problem or problems it solves.
3) Who are your competitors? Despite the too-often expressed sentiment, “We have no competitors,” the truth of the matter is that every company actually does. And it is the competitive set that helps the market know how to think of a company and define its offer. Identifying a competitive set also provides insight into effective messaging. The choice may be to align with the dominant messaging, counter it, or confront it. Whatever the choice, understanding who you’re up against and appreciating your own position in the competitive landscape is necessary to build more effective actionable messaging.
4) What does the market expect ? Consider the ways in which the market currently engages with these products, services or ideas. How does your offer meet or exceed these expectations? How does it differentiate itself enough to draw in customers and consumers, but not so much so as to scare them away? Remember that human nature is very often attracted to what is new, but not necessarily to what is unfamiliar.
5) Who says so? Any declared claim benefits from third-party endorsement. If you are a psychiatrist, it could be the university which published your article. If you are a plumber, it could be the state, which gave you a license, or the continued business of a satisfied customer. Each claim is strengthened by such a proof point.
With the answers to these five questions in hand, the ability to position a company, candidate or initiative comes more clearly into view, as does the capacity to craft actionable messaging around it.