I was recently part of an interesting (and increasingly common) conversation with a colleague and the CEO and CMO of a company we were pitching. This company is growing quickly, provides an important service, and is about to release some interesting new products. Although it was the last day of their quarter and fiscal year, these execs carved out an hour and listened attentively during our short presentation.
“I saw a lot of head-nodding,” my colleague said, after we had presented. “What would you say your most urgent need is?”
“The most urgent need here is around the story” the CMO said. “When we get that story right it’ll spark everything. Website, new product positioning, our new ABM campaign, a ton of touch points. How we message needs to be crisper.”
With that admission, the tone in the room shifted from formal to transparent and open. “As I think I said,” my colleague added, “When I look at your site it’s clear you’re in a really important category, but I have no idea what you do. I have to really dig in.”
“It can be confusing,” the CMO agreed. “Since we’re growing very fast and we’re in high gear, we need to grow up in bigger steps. Like we do a lot of events. Our message is a bit messy, not cohesive at all sometimes.”
Now the CEO leaned forward, “Our booth at three different shows can look like three different companies. It’s so product-centric. I see booth pictures and I say to myself, ‘Those two banners weren’t designed to be shown together.’ We need this story from the top down to take control of the brand. And our messaging.”
I caught my colleague’s eye and we shared a quick smile. It’s a story we hear at least once a week. Into the vacuum that the lack of a strong corporate position creates, graphic chaos and messaging inconsistency inevitably rush in.
So why is a corporate position an investment worth making, and how can a strong position make a company’s communications and branding sing?
Three reasons immediately come to mind:
1. It tells the world what you add up to.
Four different product divisions can’t become a coherent corporate position with four different stories, even if one of them makes up 75 percent of your revenue. You have to map out the right territory for your brand’s position, from the highest point in company leadership you can, based on
2. It guides you to take advantage of the right opportunities.
When you know what your brand stands for, you know what role it can credibly take on the market – a democratizer, a demystifier, a catalyst, an iconoclast – and have a much clearer sense of what marketing programs make the most sense and best align with your values. Otherwise the loudest voice in the room wins.
3. It lets you incorporate the right third-party voices.
People listen less and less to brands these days, but more and more to voices that brands bring to the stage – customers, analysts, category enthusiasts, subject matter experts – so the speaker you’d invite to a webinar or take along to a customer event would differ quite a bit if your position was the expert next door versus a maverick who shakes up the status quo at every opportunity. A strong position serves as a navigational guide to ensure your communications move in the right direction and build upon each other.
Of course, a strong position is more than 50 words on a slide, though that can be a powerful start. It comes to life as a creative platform, as a web presence that pulls you out of the sea of sameness that plagues every market, as marketing efforts that feel like chapters in an unscrolling narrative (Apple, anyone?), and yes, even as identity standards that ensure you always look your best at events, and not like three different companies.
As the barriers to new companies entering the market continue to drop, the onus is on you to stand out with a clearer story, a more compelling image, and a more memorable voice. And that starts from the top.