A corporate strategy, according to definition, is a long-term plan an enterprise wants to reach it superordinate goals, guarantee its existence and generate results for its owners with.
Thus, a strategy also is kind of like a signal to the outside and to clients, business partners and investors. However, it is mainly directed at the inside by providing employees and managers of all levels with a guideline for their actions. Partial strategies and intermediate targets derive from it. It serves as a measurand and corrective, focuses on certain areas of development and excludes others, and can be adjusted if needed.
Many of those partial elements of a corporate strategy are not directly relevant for or addressed to customers. However, implementing the strategy affects customers in an immediate way. It determines, for example, what offers of the enterprise solve what problems and needs of the clients in what way. Partial strategies as strategies for marketing, communications and pricing directly affect customer relations, too.
Even if those strategies as such are not communicated to the outside, their implementation is perceived by the customer. This is true for marketing messages as well as the pictorial language, the price level as well as the values communicated, and personal experience from contacts at diverse touch points. Out of the whole of those perceptions, the customer or lead forms an opinion about the enterprise and its offers.
Ideally, all those single elements convey a consistent picture in line with the strategic goals of the enterprise.
This opinion – the picture within the client’s head – is the positioning of the enterprise. This is what Al Ries writes in his book Positioning: The Battle for your Mind:
Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.
So positioning is not primarily about changing products or services, but about actively designing how customers and leads perceive the company.
Thus, corporate strategy always affects the positioning of an enterprise and its offers in the eyes of the customers.
Consequences of Lacking or Unclear PositioningIn turn, this kind of conscious and targeted design of customer perception in favor of the enterprise is key to implementing the corporate strategy in a concrete way. Everyone getting in touch with an enterprise or offer will to a certain extend draw a picture. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. In any case, customers will have an opinion on the enterprise or a certain offer equaling a compound of various elements.
The human brain automatically tries to assess and categorize new perceptions and to establish a connection to things it already knows. With a customer or lead, at least, a problem or need as well as his or her requirements to a good solution can already be known. Frequently, there is already a picture of what he or she has already got from other suppliers or his or her preliminary solution to the problem.
If the enterprise doesn’t dispose of any or no consistent positioning, it is at risk to make an inconsistent impression to the customer at different touch points.
As a result, customers will just remember some commonplaces and marketing platitudes like “individual consulting”, “family business for 3 generations”, “competent service”. It’s impossible to make a difference then. If the customer tries to draw a picture of his or her potential business partner on a canvas of banalities like that, this can lead to different results:
It can also happen that customers unconsciously mainly perceive less relevant aspects. The messages in fact important to customers and enterprises are overlooked.
Thus, it becomes more difficult for the enterprise to reach its strategic marketing, turnover and result goals not only in the short run. Unfavorable customer perception can, once established, be quite persistent, and it’s hard to change it. Al Ries writes:
You see what you expect to see.
That means: As soon as the customer has formed an opinion or an attitude of expectation concerning an offer, he or she will interpret additional information in a way supportive of the rating he or she already has got.
Ingredients of Powerful PositioningIt becomes obvious that, in order to implement their strategies successfully, enterprises need to decide consciously on what kind of picture they want to generate in the perceptions of customers, leads and the public. This will require more than advertising texts, claims and image statements.
A positioning supporting corporate goals in a powerful way includes at least the following elements:
Thus, positioning becomes a link between corporate strategy and customers. It helps
Because of this comprehensive and long-term effect, developing a positioning shouldn’t be up single units like the marketing, strategy or communications department. A sustainably positive corporate picture communicated to the public ideally emerges from the cooperation of all of those. In addition, it’s necessary to involve everyone who faces the customers at different touch points and knows their expectations, goals, ideals, problems, concerns etc.