Positioning, messaging, and ownership

Who defines product positioning? Product Management or Marketing Communications? Product managers are responsible for the features of the product and its positioning in the marketplace. The Marketing Communications (marcom or marcomms) organization is chartered with delivering the product message to the market. Product Management defines the positioning and Marcom delivers the positioning.

Here's a crazy idea. What if we thought of marcom as a development organization?

A product manager wants to develop a new brochure to use at a product launch in two months. Marcom says, "Yes." The costs are estimated for production and a bid is given to the manager. If her budget allows, she will go ahead with the new brochure. Marcom is in effect an inside agency, doing all the design, layout and production work—synchronized with the company branding.

Another product manager needs a brochure in two weeks. Marcom's answer is still "Yes." However, in this case, the price is probably much higher. In addition to the standard production costs, Marcom must bring in additional resources to perform the service—producing a brochure on a tight deadline probably can't be done using only internal staff. The estimate for delivering the brochure is given to the product manager. If the costs are greater than the budget will allow, the product manager will have to say "No."

As a service provider, Marcom decides when to do things inside and when to use outside help. The costs are all passed back to the product's promotion budget and the product manager decides whether the promotion is warranted.

Is this too crazy to work?

Fundamentally, the product manager should evaluate promotional materials based strictly on their support of the positioning. Leave the creative work to the creative people. Ask yourself: does it support the position?

You should be able to describe the position or the statement you wish to make to your marcom contact and trust them to deliver the message.

Another fine distinction is the contrast of product positioning and messaging. Positioning is what we'll say; the messaging is how we'll say it. Marcom generally owns messaging while product management generally own positioning.

I once shared a positioning and persona document plus a drawing on a cocktail napkin to our marcom group. They were able to create a go-to-market campaign and product brochures based entirely on these items.

In my work with both marcom and agencies, I have learned that most of the project time is spent in "planning" which is really time spent trying to figure out the product position. They interview the various product people and then create a positioning document based on their understanding of the product. From that document, they build their promotional plan.

There's nothing wrong with developing a positioning document with a marcom group as long as you know that's what you're doing. You run into trouble when a promotion meeting is spent trying to define the positioning.

If you don't know the positioning, you're not ready to begin your promotion.