Before a new company or product is launched, a team of marketers has been busy behind the scenes, carefully curating the complex set of pieces and parts that make up the brand. From the brand name to the tagline and messaging, they’ve likely considered—and focus-grouped—various options before finally deciding on the mix that best portrays the business and what it has to offer.
It’s a lot of work. So it should come as no surprise that few companies are eager to go through the entire process again. But, over time, most businesses are going to find themselves in a position different from the one that their original branding represented. Perhaps they’ve expanded geographically or made significant changes to their product offering. Or maybe it’s the world around the business that changed: new technologies, shifts in customer behavior, or a global pandemic driving a misalignment in their identity.
Whatever the root cause, if your firm’s branding, taglines, and messaging no longer capture the full picture of what your business and your product line really offers, how it differs from competitive solutions, and what category it belongs in, then as painful as it might be… it’s time to reposition.
At Livestorm, the decision came after we realized that the way our product was evolving was moving us away from its original value proposition. That happened because the way our customers were using our product wasn’t how we’d originally intended, and we were developing features and capabilities to meet a different set of needs than we’d envisioned.
So we knew our positioning needed to change. We also knew that we had to be the drivers of the change: If we didn’t do it, the market would do it for us. And if that were the case, we would run the risk of getting “stuck” with whatever identity it assigned us, right or wrong.
In going through the process, some things came easily and others didn’t. Here are do’s and don’ts that can help make your own repositioning process a smooth and painless one.
DO: Get help from the outside
Bring in an outside consultant who has experience in positioning and messaging. You need an outside, unbiased perspective for honest feedback and for getting to those hard-to-ask, honest questions from customers on what they like and don’t like about your technology or other offering, and what sets you apart from competitors.
One of the best moves we made was hiring a marketing consultant to guide us on our journey.
She began by interviewing our customers, and because she had no skin in the game, she could ask the hard questions and get honest feedback. She gathered intel on what they liked and didn’t like about our platform, how they felt it compared with competitors, and what they felt was missing.
She then moved on to interviewing various C-level executives in our organization, getting their input on the company’s objectives and how they wanted to be perceived by prospects and differentiated from competitors.
Her in-depth analysis of both the outside and internal perception of our company allowed us to build a holistic brand with which employees, executives, and customers could feel aligned.
DO: Honestly assesses the competitive landscape and how you fit into it
Create a detailed, brutally honest matrix of the competitive landscape and how you fit in. It’s a task that should not be taken lightly or done in a hurry, because it’s critical to ground your repositioning in reality.
Having that outsider with an unbiased point of view can be incredibly valuable here, especially since we marketers are so accustomed to accentuating the positive and leaving it at that.
In an exercise my team members found helpful when trying to define our position in a manner that was both true and differentiated, we each would write 3-5 sentences about what made our organization unique. We would review each one, determining whether we could claim the traits as ours or whether they could be equally applied to a competitor. If the latter was true, then we moved on. It wasn’t until we had found the unique points that were ours and ours alone that we started the process of developing things such as taglines and boilerplates about the company.
DO: Build a detailed plan for rollout
Put a clear, actionable plan in place for rolling out your new messaging.
It’s critical to have internal buy-in before all else.
At Livestream, we started delivering the message from the top down. Our CEO held an all-hands meeting during which he was clearly presented to the entire company the new positioning along with the explanation of the reason it needed to be done.
The second step was to work with the teams responsible for most of the company’s outbound communications: Sales, Customer Success, and Business Development.
We developed a timeline for execution, including when the new language would be rolled out in customer and new-business communications. We also ensured that all materials—the website, the sales deck, brochures, press releases, social media, and even team members’ LinkedIn accounts and email signatures—were updated simultaneously so we were delivering a clear, unified message.
DON’T: Forget about other languages
Although the oft-cited example of the Chevy Nova in Mexico never actually happened, the lesson it presents is valid: When doing business across languages and cultures, you have to consider how everything will translate. That’s about words, of course, but also about tone and style.
For example, English is conducive to direct and snappy phrases. Think McDonald’s: “I’m lovin’ it.” Directly translating that could end up clunky, unnatural, and overly wordy in another language. For McDonalds, the answer was to make slight modifications for different markets. In French, it’s “C’est tout ce que j’aime,” which is more like “It’s everything I love.” Meanwhile, in Argentina, it’s a simple “Me encanta,” or “Love it.”
DON’T: Set it and forget it
You’ve launched your new positioning, so your job is done, right?
First, you have to track the reception right out of the gate to make sure your position is understood by the audience. If it seems to be falling short, then you need to go back in and refine it early enough that you’re not stuck in a place you don’t want to be.
Then you have to see how the market responds, and if necessary adjust strategy accordingly. In our case, we developed our snappy unique brand positioning, then quickly saw our competitors pick it up. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. It proved our positioning was powerful, but it also put us at the risk of losing the impact that comes from differentiation.
To counter that potential downside, we are continually following the industry conversation around the terminology we created, continuing to push our positioning forward, and ensuring we’re the ones educating customers, prospects, and the overall market.
Finally, although it’s important to adhere to the messaging you’ve so carefully crafted, you shouldn’t treat it like it’s set in stone. Keep monitoring and refining; the forces that made you go through the exercise in the first place aren’t going away.
* * *
Getting repositioning right can be a long and arduous process, but putting the time and energy into it is invaluable.
During the development process, it’s important to put careful consideration into, and to be honest about, your product’s strengths and weaknesses.
Then, when you’re ready to roll out your new positioning, make sure you do so in a planned, organized, and uniform fashion, and monitor to ensure it’s properly understood by your audiences, both internal and external.
And take ownership throughout the entire process, because you want to capture what’s really unique so you set up differentiation for the long term.
If you follow the steps in this article, you can retain the upper hand—critical in an era when a company with an unclear identity can easily be defined (often incorrectly) by others.
More Resources on Brand Positioning
Positioning as the Foundation for Great Messages
Brand Positioning and Customer Insights: Debbie MacInnis and Allen Weiss on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
Knowing How Your Competitors Are Positioned: The Key to Competitive Intelligence