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    The Big Marketing Mistake Your Firm is Probably Making

    Quick experiment: Ask half a dozen people in your company, “What’s the most powerful, provocative, short message we can hope to deliver to our prospects?”

    My prediction: you’ll get about as many different answers to that question as the number of people you ask.

    Why is this important? Because in a world in which every human being is exposed to well over 1,000 marketing messages daily, it’s essential that you carefully hone a powerful, provocative message about what you have to offer, and then that you deliver that powerful message, and deliver it, and deliver it, to have any hope of your prospects becoming aware of you!

    Al Ries and Jack Trout, the originators of the concept of Positioning in marketing, wrote decades ago, “The best approach to take in our over-communicated society is the oversimplified message. Since so little about you… is ever going to get into the minds of the (people you wish to reach), your job is really not a ‘communication’ project in the ordinary meaning of the word. It’s a selection project. You have to select the material that has the best chance of getting through.”

    This is no less true today. And yet the vast majority of firms seem to be missing a Positioning Statement—an essential piece of the foundation of a marketing strategy! The price of this error is high. When you have no message—or when you have many different messages—nothing sticks.

    Think of it this way: your prospects don’t know you and they don’t care—so even a carefully honed, powerful, provocative and short message still runs the risk of being overlooked. Anything else, and you might as well not bother.

    So what’s the answer? Not what most companies do ... they sit down and ask each other, “OK, so what do YOU think our message should be? How about you?” And then they slam something together, usually under pressure from a graphic designer who wants to get moving on the ad, the brochure, the website, or the sales presentation.

    The process of coming up with your powerful, provocative messages—your Positioning—doesn’t begin with the message itself. It begins with your prospects. Who are they? What do they care about and worry about? What other messages are they receiving about people in a line of work similar to yours? And what might you say that will differentiate you and create some interest where none now exists?

    It’s good to work with a professional on this. They’re likely to be a little more objective—not about what your true strengths are, I’m sure you know those—but about the strengths you have that can be conveyed in a short message that will grab people. This is not the time for laundry lists of capabilities or complex explanations—remember, the target audience has no interest now, so they’re probably not willing to invest much time deciphering a long description.

    By “provocative” I mean that the message must provoke interest and, hopefully, inquiry—whereupon you can deliver a more complex, nuanced version of what you can do. But not initially. Initially you have to get them interested. And yes, you’ll probably need a Positioning Statement for the enterprise as a whole, and then for individual products or service lines, so when you invest in getting your message out—whether through promotion or through the selling efforts of individuals—the messages have the best chance of driving interest that will lead to sales.

    Go back to the experiment with which I began this article. If you’re getting a lot of different messages from your people, you don’t have effective Positioning. And that may be why your marketing and sales effort is so anemic.

    Lenann McGookey Gardner, a Harvard MBA and a past #1 worldwide sales rep at Xerox, is an international expert in Sales and Positioning. Her book Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services is the one guidebook highlighting all the recent research and data on what’s working now in contemporary selling.

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    The Big Marketing Mistake Your Firm is Probably Making