How to Write Brand Positioning Statements That Don’t Suck

Writing brand positioning statements gets at the heart of your value prop and core messaging—it’s an essential skill for marketers.
4 min read
brand positioning statement

Sev­er­al years ago, I wrote Writ­ing the Per­fect Brand Posi­tion­ing State­ment where I laid out strate­gies I learned from Eric Schulz and which have served me well. This is a con­cise edit and update (for those daunt­ed by the more ver­bose orig­i­nal).

What the heck is a BPS?

A brand posi­tion­ing state­ment is an inter­nal­ly-fac­ing con­cise state­ment of your com­pa­ny’s who, what, and why.

Those three ques­tions form the build­ing blocks of a com­pelling BPS.

You may be tempt­ed to expand this list. Like any busi­ness rule, break it if you know why your sit­u­a­tion war­rants an excep­tion. Oth­er­wise stick with the rule.

Here’s the for­mu­la:

1. Who. For [ide­al cus­tomer pro­file] who [insert pain points],

2. What. [Your prod­uct] pro­vides [key ben­e­fit that com­bats the pain].

3. Why. That’s because [mag­i­cal qual­i­ty that forms the foun­da­tion of your posi­tion­ing in the mar­ket.]

You can’t skip steps one and two, but the third phrase is where all the action lives. It’s the pix­ie dust, the siz­zle, the sex appeal, the rea­son to believe. 

The first two are the who and the what. The third is the why. And all the com­pelling mate­r­i­al lives in the why. But you can only get there by first nail­ing the who and the what. (I know this sounds like that old three stooges skit, but bear with me.)

Here’s the “how-to”

Whether you’re found­ing a com­pa­ny, launch­ing a new prod­uct, or start­ing a job lead­ing mar­ket­ing for an exist­ing brand, it’s worth tak­ing the time to nail the BPS.

Step 1, the Who

Mar­keters some­times try to talk to every­body, and end up talk­ing to nobody as a result.

Get­ting clear on who your prod­uct is for (there­fore also who it is NOT for) helps you steer clear of this pit­fall. You can’t answer this ques­tion with­out putting the cus­tomer first. It should be nar­row, such as “For thir­ty-some­thing male adjunct pro­fes­sors with teen chil­dren” or some­thing equal­ly pre­cise.

Step 2, the What

Sec­ond is focus­ing on what ben­e­fit your prod­uct pro­vides.

Mar­keters some­times describe their prod­ucts in terms of what is impor­tant to the com­pa­ny, rather than what is impor­tant to the cus­tomer. At its essence, a prod­uct is some­thing that empow­ers the buy­er. With it, they can do some­thing they were unable to do before.

A prod­uct is some­thing that empow­ers the buy­er. With it, they can do things they were unable to do before. #pro­duct­mar­ket­ing #brand Click To Tweet

This is where the posi­tion­ing comes in. As Doug Stay­man from Cor­nell describes it in more aca­d­e­m­ic terms, this is where you include a point of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among a frame of ref­er­ence.

Have an hon­est fea­tures vs. ben­e­fits con­ver­sa­tion and iden­ti­fy tru­ly what the ben­e­fit is that your prod­uct pro­vides. How does your prod­uct imbue some­one with myth­i­cal weapons with which they slay their own drag­ons.

Step 3, the Why

Simon Sinek made answer­ing this ques­tion famous.

It isn’t enough to just say, “we are bet­ter.” You need a rea­son why. This is the biggest thing most mar­keters (and advice-givers) miss. And the final piece is where the mag­ic lies.

At this point, your cus­tomers are either not inter­est­ed OR they believe that your prod­uct would make life bet­ter for them.

So, why don’t we stop there?

Because if we do, nobody buys.

What’s miss­ing? Prospec­tive cus­tomers need a rea­son to believe that your prod­uct can actu­al­ly deliv­er the promised ben­e­fit. The mag­ic hap­pens when you talk about the why.

The why is the thing that makes you dif­fer­ent, bet­ter, or spe­cial. What spe­cial ingre­di­ent do you have that allows you to deliv­er where oth­ers can­not. It’s what keeps you from being bor­ing, non­de­script, and indis­tin­guish­able. It’s what makes you rec­og­niz­able and unmis­tak­able.

A brand posi­tion­ing state­ment that does­n’t include your pro­duc­t’s mag­i­cal prop­er­ties is use­less. #brand­po­si­tion­ingstate­ment #brand­po­si­tion­ing Click To Tweet

What I hope you take away is this: do the work to nail the who and the what, but spend time and artistry craft­ing the mes­sage around the why. The why is where you land cus­tomers who are hap­py to open their wal­lets, because that’s where they start to believe that what you are telling them might actu­al­ly be true.

Informing your strategy and messaging

brand positioning statements inform your message

For­mal prod­uct or brand mar­ket­ing plans are incom­plete with­out the BPS. But the BPS is NOT cus­tomer fac­ing. It’s inter­nal. It informs your strat­e­gy but isn’t yet in the lan­guage that you will use with your cus­tomers.

Step 1 tells you who you are try­ing to serve. That is the first step in select­ing the right chan­nel to deliv­er your mar­ket­ing mes­sages through, so where that per­sona is your brand will show up.

Step 2 tells you what the ben­e­fit is and how to posi­tion against the com­pe­ti­tion. Now you need to learn to describe that ben­e­fit in the lan­guage your cus­tomers would use, prefer­ably in exact­ly the words they have used in inter­views, sur­veys, etc. In How to Steal Your Mar­ket­ing Mes­sage From Your Audi­ence, Ramona Sukharaj lays out some great exam­ples of just how to do this.

Step 3 is the com­po­nent (if not the lan­guage) that you should keep dri­ving home in your mes­sag­ing. It’s the rea­son peo­ple believe in your brand. It’s a promise you should make to your cus­tomer over and over again… and then keep.

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P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Eric Shultz, check out his brand con­sul­tan­cy.

@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing man­agers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.