Nail your brand positioning and messaging

By Megha Narayan
DNA spot illustration

A strong brand isn't easy to build - it can take years to establish. As head of brand at Atlassian, I can tell you it's not just how you want your customers to perceive you; it's also strategy, research, copywriting, designing, concepting, and most importantly an exercise in reality to ensure that you're basing everything you do off of the actual offering and not what you think it should be.

While brand does involve a hundred different aspects, we'll focus on the two main ones that make up your brand: positioning and messaging. In a nutshell, brand positioning is the concise statement of why you're different, and brand messaging is the detailed description of what you do to make that statement true.

The same but different: positioning vs messaging

Often, messaging and positioning can be seen as one in the same - and they are definitely interconnected. But think of it more like a parent and child relationship.

Positioning vs messaging

Brand positioning is a buzz wordy way of describing the story you need to tell about yourself relative to others. The most important part of the positioning is the, well, position. Or in other words, why you? Brand positioning is also internal only, existing to guide and align your team.

Messaging, on the other hand, is the translation of positioning into statements that are specific, benefit-oriented, and nuanced depending on the audience segment.

You can almost think of brand positioning as what happens behind the scenes when making a movie, and messaging as the full movie that includes every element (feature, benefit, proof points, etc.). When put together, both of these elements exist to define your brand.

The good, the bad, the ugly

There is such thing as good and bad messaging and positioning. As someone who has been doing the brand thing for awhile, I've made plenty of mistakes (and learned plenty more) along the way.

Personal mistake #1

Being delusional about what makes you special
Sometimes (aka most of the time) what we think is special about our product or service is completely undifferentiated, or worse, irrelevant to the end user. If your product isn't different and isn't described in a way that's different, your messaging will fall flat. Do your research and understand why your customers choose you. Then put those reasons into words.

Personal mistake #2

Perfecting the positioning, but failing in the messaging
I'll painstakingly work through every word in the positioning until it's shiny and bulletproof, but when it comes time to build out a messaging house, I lose steam. Messaging is the thing your audience consumes on your website, your landing pages, and your banners ads so you must give it the attention it needs to get it right.

Personal mistake #3

Not aligning words with product proof points
The best marketers are masters of spin, which isn't always a good thing. Telling compelling stories is important, but they also need to be backed up by product proof points. Otherwise you'll lead your audience into thinking they're getting something they're not. This kind of friction is unfair to the customer, so be mindful of this habit.

Personal mistake #4

Trying to be all things to all people
Trying to be relevant to every audience is like casting a very wide net with very big holes. You may catch some fish here and there, but it's likely they'll squirm out after realizing that your product is not actually meant for them. Positioning that's grounded in the who, and messaging that speaks directly to the who, increases your chances of catching.

How to create strategic positioning and messaging

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Before you begin, remember that this is a team effort. You may have a few rounds of input and feedback. Try the Distributed Brainstorming template from Trello to make sure everyone gets to have a say.. And make sure you’re capturing and sharing the final results in a tool such as Confluence that highlights the most up-to-date version of your branding for stakeholders.

You know your product and customers, so it’s tempting to just jump right in with positioning and messaging. Before you get the team together to start brainstorming, you’ll need to make sure you have buy-in on the key strategic elements of your brand. If you aren’t sure, try these resources:

If your stakeholders are not on the same page yet, save yourself future grief by developing your brand and competitive analysis. When these strategic elements in place, you’re ready to proceed. Capture all the information in the marketing plan template.

Take a look at your current brand positioning, voice, and tone. Is this how you want your product or service to be represented? Are you appealing to the right audience? Evaluate your brand as it is today by writing down your positioning statement. We use this tried and true framework that forces you to distill your product promise down to its critical component parts:

For (target customer) who (statement of nee or opportunity), (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit).
Fortune ball
  • What's different about the way your product/service works?
  • Why or how does this product relate to your mission as a company?
  • Who are all the possible audiences you're targeting? Which ones are the easier sell? Which are the most valuable?
  • What pain points are these customers experiencing? What emotions do customers associate with these pain points?
  • What other companies solve similar problems? What can you learn about what they do well? What feels like table-stakes in the industry? Where's the gap?
  • Is there any jargon you're using that you can drop? Good. Do it.

Update your positioning statement. Using the same framework and questioning, rewrite your positioning with the new knowledge of your brand landscape and what it will take to stand out.

Remember: this is a team effort. Throughout the creation process, there are likely to be rounds and rounds of feedback and input. So before you begin, make sure you're documenting in a tool that allows for easy feedback and will highlight the most up-to-date version of your branding for stakeholders.

Build the messaging house. Using your positioning statement as your north star, build your messaging house. The main components are:

  • Brand position: This is simply the positioning statement you created in step 4.
  • Value pillars: Focus on 3-4 main value props that solve a pain point for your target audience. These are what make you stand out in your space, but remember, don't try and be everything for everyone. Be specific.
  • Product promise and proof points: Your product promise is your explanation of your value pillar. If your pillar is "Health conscious cookies," then your product promise is why that's true. Highlight actual proof points in your offering that can map back to each value pillar.
  • Emotional benefits: When you offer value, you evoke an emotional response for your customer. For our "health conscious cookies" value, the emotion a customer might feel could be "I feel healthy because I know I'm putting real, unprocessed ingredients in my body."
Messaging house template

Use the messaging house template from Confluence to gather the ideas you’ll use in your campaign.

Test and evolve. You're almost done. Just because we resonate with our words, doesn't mean our audience will. Test your messaging out in the world with a small campaign or online testing resource to see how your message translates to people who don't know anything about your offering. Revise where you need to until you're in a place where your ideal audience wants everything you have to offer.

While the process is long, getting your positioning and messaging right can make or break the success of your company. It's important to remember that people and markets evolve over time, which means your messaging should too. So revisit your brand, talk to your customers, and make sure they still feel connected. And if not, it's back to the drawing board! ✏️

Decide how your brand fits among your competitors

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