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Presenting our company position and narrative to the world is fraught with second-guessing how it resonates. 

One day, the CEO hears something from a customer that doesn’t sit right and demands a rewrite. Or a new marketer starts, and they think the website copy needs updating.

And when we role out new positioning/messaging, we often rely on just our internal assumptions and gut feel. Maybe we get feedback from one or two friendly customers.

But that’s not enough. We need look for external indicators that it will be successful, rather than just rely on our assumptions. 

You can’t A/B your way to high performing positioning. Positioning, by default, should mean something to someone; it won’t appeal to everyone. Your go-to-market must discriminate.

Validate your positioning like a software developer

I think about validating positioning similar to how software teams roll out new products: an internal alpha stage, and then an external beta stage.

We want to build confidence in our positioning and messaging at multiple levels, and ultimately ensure that it performs the way we expect it to perform.

I think that’s an important point to make. We can feel confident about something… for no reason at all. Rather than expect reality to match our expectations, we should build our expectations based on reality.

Alpha stage

The goal of your alpha test stage is to use internal teams. We want to see how well they think it will perform, based on their experience. The goal is to pass a 60% threshold of satisfaction, explore edge cases and limits, and find conflicts.

Sales reps and customer success managers who are on the frontline of customer interactions will help understand whether the problems and values you’ve extracted are commonplace within your existing customer base – or if you’ve gone on an irrelevant tangent.

They’ll be able to give you examples of customers that it will resonate with – and customers that will reject it.

Their insight will help you understand the general direction, but might not be best-placed to feedback on the exact destination. So take their feedback with a pinch of salt.

Beta stage

Once we’ve passed alpha, we can look to external sources to understand whether positioning is going to perform the job it’s intended to do. Here are some ways you can put messaging to the test in a controlled manner.

Presenting to existing customers

I don’t usually recommend sharing new positioning with existing customers.  They’ve bought into your product for a reason, and you might upset them if presenting them with a different story.

However, you can continue to interview your customers and ask them about their role, company, and their experience with your product. Take their feedback with caution: you’ll want to continue building patterns and identifying anomalies. 

Success is when they repeat the messaging back at you, without being prompted. This will show that customers identify and resonate with your pitch. This comes naturally when you have a deep, foundations-first understanding of who they are and what they care about.

Market research

Use a platform like UserTesting to get real feedback from real people in your target market. 

We used this with great results at Kayako to get instant feedback on our website, looking to understand:

  • How they interpreted our website and messaging
  • What was unclear
  • What other companies they think are similar, and why

What’s great about platforms like this is that users are encouraged to navigate your website whilst talking out loud and vocalizing their thoughts. This way, you get more real and raw feedback – rather than polished, curated feedback that might happen from surveys or interviews. 

Google and social ads

We can validate positioning through paid ads on Google searches for relevant keywords, and social ads. But both have a different purpose.

Google ads can help test whether positioning performs at the middle-of-the-funnel to capture consideration-led interest and intent. 

Users have found a category or a type of product they’re interested in. Will your ad copy encourage them to click? Then, on the landing page you have another opportunity to expand upon your ad copy and play with messaging to encourage them to fill out an interest form or take a trial. 

Social ads are an opportunity to capture TOFU interest. Because targeting can be so precise (to job titles, industries, and even interests) and because ads can easily disappear into the feed, our ads can focus instead on validating whether positioning and messaging captures attention.

“Tiger team”

It’s all well and fine testing the individual components of your positioning… but the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. 

If you can, and if it’s worth it, consider proposing a ‘tiger team’: a cross-functional group of representatives across marketing, sales, and success to bring new positioning to life throughout the buyer journey. You’ll be able to identify follow-on, second-order impacts of positioning on things like sales velocity, the onboarding experience, and customer satisfaction as a whole. 

They’ll need the flexibility and support of the business to iterate and make recommendations, but ultimately can be a crucial part of ensuring new positioning and messaging is brought to life in a de-risked, prepared way. 

Additional reading: how to test your positioning

Avoid A/B testing

A/B testing can be a great get-out clause when everyone has an opinion – but is rarely beneficial.

I recommend setting out an iterative approach instead. Communicate the approach to build/measure/learn how positioning performs:

  • Build positioning based on the evidence and high-confidence assumptions you have 
  • Measure performance based on the intended impact (like conversion rates, sales wins)
  • Learn what those results mean: right customer, wrong message – or the other way round? 
  • Start the process again until satisfied

Alpha and beta test to success

Don’t go to market without validating your positioning. You’ll look like a lemon, and it’s a huge waste of time and energy.

Instead, check with your internal team. Improve. Then, check it works (and performs better) than your previous baseline). Improve. Launch. Simple.

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