Assessing the Landscape Before Drawing the Map

Why Positioning and Purpose May Come Before Strategic Planning

Positioning and Purpose are the essential stepping stones before the notable Four P’s: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. These fundamental precedents require companies and organizations to think clearly about the foundation before hitting the ground running with marketing communication, new program or product development, or, ultimately, strategic planning.

Positioning provides an approach to communication. Pioneers in positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout, stated decades ago that it is “a powerful tool for creating and maintaining real differentiation in the marketplace”[1], and this still holds true in today’s rapidly shifting marketplace. Positioning is the solution to improved communication in a world of skeptical people in media overdrive, as it provides an approach to placing a product in the mind of a key prospect that highlights an organization’s strengths while simultaneously emphasizing the alternatives’ (often the competitors’) weaknesses. To ensure that your organization, product, or idea – whatever that may be – infiltrates the collective unconscious of the overcrowded modern marketplace, you need an articulated Positioning. Positioning builds a strategy around your organization’s assets, thus successfully branding your product in the mind of its best key prospect. In sum, Positioning provides the insight intersection: truth about your service, your unique role in the marketplace, and emotional relevance.

Purpose distinctly encompasses your organization’s Master Idea, a blueprint for timeless messaging[2]. The bare bones of what makes your organization distinctive are your Purpose – it's the addition to your brand that makes people not only buy it (or use it or give to it) but more importantly buy into it, as it stands for something greater. Seemingly synonymous, Purpose and Positioning actually diverge in regard to execution. Purpose provides the approach for establishing your company’s Master Idea and Positioning allows you to utilize it as the driving force to optimize communication between all facets, from leadership and associates to brand and consumer.

Building a purpose-driven organization positively impacts employees, key prospects and constituencies, and your bottom line by uncovering what makes your organization stand out. Once you have the fundamental force of your organization’s Purpose and the Positioning to back it up, you cannot be imitated.

As an organization, putting together a very specific and concrete Strategic Plan before a Purpose or Positioning may be premature. Strategic Planning not only requires resources which, given the early stages of organizational activity, may not be desirable for investors (or sponsors, underwriters, or benefactors) but also benefits from the foundation laid by an articulate Purpose and Positioning.

It can come later.

[1] Ries, A. and Trout, J. 2001. Foreward by Kotler, P., Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

[2] Reiman, J. 2012. The Story of Purpose: The Path to Creating a Brighter Brand, a Greater Company, and a Lasting Legacy.

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