Messaging vs Positioning: The Key to Faster Sales Growth

By Ben Putano

Imagine building a home on a fault line.

One day, while you’re out getting groceries, an earthquake rips your home in two. Your foyer is now 10 yards separated from your living room. 

Would you ever rebuild on the exact same plot? Of course not! The earth has shifted. You must shift the position of your home as well.

The same is true for your brand positioning and messaging. When an earthquake (or a pandemic) rips through your industry, it’s time to make a change. 


Rebuilding your messaging and positioning

Messaging and positioning are often used interchangeably. But they are two distinct stages on the path to better sales growth.

Most businesses stick to surface-level changes. They update their website tagline and try a new email opener. This is like trying to rebuild your home on the fault line.

When the world shifts, your positioning and messaging must shift, too. Sometimes significantly.

Together, messaging and positioning make up the foundation of your sales growth strategy. Let's look at the difference between the two and why you need both.

What is Positioning? 

Al Ries and Jack Trout literally wrote the book on positioning in the early 1980s. Their definition:

“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. 

But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of a prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of a prospect.”

More recently, April Dunford wrote the new classic on positioning called Obviously Awesome. Here’s her (more concise) definition:

“Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about.”

And finally, here’s my own definition:

“Positioning is what you do, for whom, and why they should care.”

When a major change occurs in your industry, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. What does our target audience care about now? 
  2. Are we still capable of meeting their needs?

What is Messaging? 

Messaging, on the other hand, is how you communicate your position to your target audience.

It consists of taglines, website copy, ad copy, sales emails, and video scripts. 

In other words, messaging aligns your people (sales, marketing, and service teams) with your prospects and customers. 

Given the changes in your industry, does your messaging still communicate your positioning? 

Positioning vs. Messaging: What's the difference?

Still not getting the message (ba-dum chi)? 

Here’s what makes positioning and messaging distinctly different exercises - and why you need both to achieve faster sales growth:


1. Positioning is internal. Messaging is external.

Positioning is for your people - particularly, your sales, marketing, product, and customer service teams. Therefore, it’s more important to be clear and detailed than creative and concise. 

Messaging is strictly for your prospects and customers. Messaging needs to stand out, so there’s more value on creative communication - as long as it reflects your positioning. 

2. Positioning is focused on your competitors. Messaging is focused on your customers. 

By its nature, positioning considers the competitive alternatives that your customers face. 

The goal of positioning is to carve out a space in the mind of your audience - that’s hard to do if you don’t know the competitive landscape. 

Messaging should be focused on how you benefit your customers. 

Positioning often bleeds into your messaging. For example:

“Avis is the #2 car rental company behind Hertz. So why go with us? We try harder.”

Clearly, Avis’s famous slogan was anchored in their position behind Hertz. But the hook of the message was still focused on the customer’s benefit: “We try harder.”

3. To create great messaging, you need strong positioning.

The only way to create messaging that cuts through the noise is to first develop strong positioning. 

Dunford outlined the 5 (plus 1) components of strong positioning in Obviously Awesome:

  1. Competitive alternatives
  2. Unique attributes
  3. Value (and proof)
  4. Target market characteristics
  5. Market category
  6. Optional: Relevant trends

Want great messaging? Create detailed answers to the questions above.

4. But positioning alone is never enough.

You should never put your positioning statement verbatim on a landing page or in a sales email. 

That’s where messaging comes in.

Messaging turns your positioning statement into a memorable, interesting, and convincing calls-to-action.

To borrow from The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly, powerful messaging is:

  1. Urgent
  2. Unique
  3. Ultra-specific
  4. Useful

Positioning is the research that allows you to create breakthrough messaging. 

Is your business sitting on a fault line? 

When the world shifts, don’t rebuild on a fault line.

Find a new position. Create new messaging. 

Be relevant to your customers TODAY. If you aren’t, some other company will be.

Work with the new architects of messaging and positioning

Struggling to connect with customers and grow sales? The 360 Messaging Workshop will help you update your positioning and messaging in 120 minutes.

Here are 4 signs that it’s time to update your positioning and messaging:

  1. Your best customers love you, but new prospects don’t “get it”
  2. Sales cycles are lengthening
  3. Churn is increasing
  4. You’re being forced to compete on price. 

If any of these issues sound familiar, let’s talk. 

Book a 360 Messaging Workshop

Tags: Messaging