Corporate versus product positioning
A frequent source of confusion when it comes to positioning is the difference between corporate positioning and product positioning. This is especially the case in enterprise software companies and tech startups, where product and company are one and the same.
Although the goals of positioning are the same in each case – establishing a defined and memorable position in the audience’s mind – the audiences and tools used are different. It’s easy to conflate them, but leads to confusion.
A product’s audience is well defined: potential customers. A product position has two parts: the playground (the product’s market) and its differentiators (which may be technological or feature based, or may be more ethereal). These two levers can be individually adjusted to achieve the soundest final position.
Corporate positioning consists of the same two parts, but they are defined differently. First, the audience factor is much broader. While a product is targeted at a defined market, a company’s audience is much broader: customers, potential employees, the entire investor community. In some of these cases, the company can’t narrow the audience at all: investors, for example, may compare the company with the universe of potential investments.
So the playground for corporate positioning is broad and largely fixed. What about the differentiators?
Corporate differentiators can’t include product features or benefits. Instead, companies are differentiated by two things: what they’re doing (overall) and how they’re doing it. What a company is doing is defined in their Mission and Vision statements; how they’re doing it is defined in their Corporate Values, made manifest in the company’s culture.
Corporate positioning impacts product positioning as part of its differentiator: a product that is produced by one culture may be inherently different than a product produced by a different culture. The stronger the corporate positioning is, the more influential this is on the product’s position and the less work is necessary to establish that differentiation.
Hey! This wasn't written by a leash of foxes! It was written by Josh Orum, who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.
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