Your company’s position statement, in essence, should capture everything your business is and does in one or two sentences.
But what does that mean? How do you write one? And what do you do with it once you’ve done that? Let’s start with the first question and work our way through. In some ways, it’s easier to talk about what a position statement is not before going back to talk about what it is.
What a position statement is not
It isn’t a tagline, strapline, slogan, ethos statement, statement of intent, or a marketing brief.
It isn’t an externally-facing statement. It isn’t something you write once, paint it on your wall, and ignore it for the next five years. (Although you could do that second part if you really wanted, but only if you really enjoy redecorating every year or so).
It isn’t something that is going to sum up your goals or ambitions or where you see your business in the next five-to-10 years.
What is a position statement?
A position statement sums up the very essence of your business right at this moment in time. A position statement is all about the here and now. It’s a living thing, it will change and evolve over time.
A position statement is for your use only – an internal brand marketing guideline for who you are, what you do, and why you’re the best at it. But it has to be short. We’re talking one or two sentences.
The example you’ll see all over the internet if you Google “position statement” is one from Amazon.com in 2001 (when the brand really only sold books – I know, how quaint it seems now):
"For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection."
In that statement, Amazon explained who it was, what its customers wanted of it, and what it was better at than everyone else in that market. These things always make sense when you see the perfect example, though, don’t they? But how can you start to craft a position statement for your business?
How to write a position statement
I won’t lie to you, writing a position statement is not something you knock out after a 30-minute leadership meeting. You need to go through three (deceptively simple) questions: who, where, and so what?
Step 1: Who?
You need to start by finding out what your customers think about you. Then your employees. And then, if you can find out, your competition.
This is a great exercise because it gives you an idea of where you stand (feeding your position statement), but also can highlight areas of improvement.
Step 2: Where?
Be really clear and, most importantly, honest about what market you are in and where in that market you currently sit. Go back and reflect on what your employees, customers, and competition said about you. Think about how they’d describe your position in the marketplace.
This is the time to be precise and very clearly in defining which market you are in, what your actual position is, and who you are competing against.
Step 3: So what? (or more politely “yes, and?”)
Now it’s time to take that one step further. Every company brings something new or different to the marketplace. It might be that you’re more customer focused than most in your marketplace, or you’re greener, or maybe you’re the only ones who produce a red widget.
But you want to get this USP (Unique Selling Position) into your positioning statement.
This idea of “So what?” is something my teachers used to make me do when I was writing essays or answering questions. You’d get the “right” answer and then a look or a comment in the margins letting you know that you needed to expand on this idea. A little something that would compel you to keep going, expanding on why what you were saying was correct or important.
You, as a business, offer this benefit to this market on behalf of these people…and? Why does it matter that you’re the only one making a red widget…how does that help your customers? How does it benefit the marketplace?
It’s at this point in your position statement, say why it matters that you do these things.
Writing the position statement
Now, it’s time to combine all three of those things into a single statement, but how?
Let’s go back to the Amazon example:
Who: "For World Wide Web users who enjoy books,"
What: "Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books."
So what: "Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection."
Amazon answered our questions one after the other, but you can structure your statement slightly differently.
For example, the online retailer could have said:
Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides World Wide Web users who enjoy books a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection to over 1.1 million books via an instant access, online bookstore.
Ok, it’s a bit wordy and not as elegant as the original, but Amazon must have spent ages coming up with its final position statement.
Another position statement example
Let’s go back and write up a position statement for a completely made-up SME company, let’s call it Widgets & Co.
Let’s say this company manufactures and sells widgets to companies that build consumer robots.
It always saw itself as “approachable” and “professional,” but when it asked its customers, the words that crop up more are “reliable” and “technical.” Not bad, but you can see how it creates an image of two very different organizations.
Similarly, when asking its employees why they liked (or disliked) working there, Widgets & Co. expected to hear about the benefits package and Friday coffee mornings. Instead, it got responses about how great it was to “be on the cutting edge” or how annoying it was to “have to be so precise all the time.”
Our widget company always thought of itself as just your average “medium-sized manufacturing business.” After spending time exploring its competitors, however, it began narrow this definition down.
It found itself to be more specialized than most, and having a better than average customer rating. This was mainly down to the dependability of the product.
This started the brand down the path of seeing itself no longer as a company that just “built widgets.” Suddenly it was a company that “developed and produced high-quality, dependable widgets for use in equally high end consumer robotics.”
Before its market research, our example company would have always said that its USP was a general attention to detail and commitment to excellence – all well and good.
But during its research, it discovered that the widgets produced have the lowest failure rate of any in the industry. (How it didn’t know that already is beyond me, but it’s just a made-up example.)
Suddenly, it not only had an achievement of which all employees should be hugely proud (and probably should have already known), it had a potentially new marketing angle.
But that wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point was to create a position statement to guide the company through to its next stage.
So, now it’s time to write up the position statement for our more than a little naive widget company:
For the producers of high-end consumer robotics, Widgets & Co is the manufacturer of the world’s most reliable component widgets.
You can see that this isn’t a statement you would necessarily want to stick on an advertisement, but the ideas that are within it will help give purpose to the brand's employees, guidance to the marketing team, and show the directors where they can improve going forward. (Maybe with a better market research team?)
Saying that, I haven’t included anything directly about this company’s competition in the position statement. There’s the indirect comment that everyone else isn’t as reliable, but your own position statement can always go a little further in specifying general or even specific competitors.
Position statements aren’t easy to research, write, or even read sometimes. It’s like looking into a mirror or reflecting on your professional development – looking at where you are right now isn’t always the best moment of your day.
But knowing where you are lets you make a plan for where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
Writing a position statement for your business is an important first step, but it doesn’t do you any good if you aren’t constantly going back to tweak and change it so that it fits the here and now.
Imagine if Amazon’s position statement was the same now as it was in 2001. Not only would it be laughably inaccurate, it also wouldn’t help employees understand the wider context of the brand's work, the marketing team wouldn’t have a clue which direction to go in, and the directors would still be focused on being a better bookstore.
Your position statement is a representation of what your business is doing today and helps you shape where you want it to be tomorrow.
Ready to learn more about about developing the right brand statement? Learn how a position statement fits into your overall marketing plan in 2019.