Test your positioning to build confidence

Five ways to test new messaging to identify gaps, iterate, and ensure performance before you launch.

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Imagine you’re building a plane.

  • You’ve done customer research: you know what they want from their experience

  • You’ve done some product thinking: you’ve got the basics down, and married with a vision for supersonic travel

  • You’ve designed the plane: it looks great and people like it

Are you going to bet money that it flies?

Now imagine that you just shipped it. You start rolling it out, training teams how to use it, and promote the innovative new design and experience to the world.

The plane manages to take off - just about, it’s unstable. Once it’s in the air, there’s soft drinks, but no water to drink. Customers and crew scream as the smallest turbulence turns the in-air experience into a rollercoaster.

Maybe you missed a core step that ensures not only your plane flies, but it flies according to expectations and that the end-to-end experience works.

Awkward analogy aside, this is what happens in most positioning projects.

You’ve worked through a process, did research, added in your company vision, did the wordsmithing, and happy with the results.

Now you’re building the decks, updating the website. You’re betting it’s going to work… but is it going to have the desired effect? Is it going to drive more leads, create more urgency, and help you win new revenue?

Now it’s launched. What happens to sales morale when it doesn’t hit the mark? What about executive growth expectations when the pipeline gets harder to fill?

What to test

Hopefully, you’re designing positioning and value messaging that’s built on customer insight, not assumption. But even so, how do you ensure that it’s going to be effective? Are you flying blind?

The goal is to not so much to measure individual results, but more to build confidence in the direction, the concept, and give yourself the ability to iterate from the get-go. A lack of confidence can cause inertia to set in.

I suggest testing positioning to check performance through five different lenses.

  • Attraction: is the messaging going to cut through and be noticed, and increase marketing engagement?

  • Interest: is it going to convey enough to create a position in their mind, make it easier to start sales conversations?

  • Desire: does it spark a fire or persuade through FOMO1 or FUD2, create evangelists, increase galvanization in sales conversations?

  • Action: does the messaging drive the right activity, in the right way, through the marketing/sales process - and ultimately increase win rates?

How to test your positioning

Here are some ways you can test positioning, ensure it performs, and iterate quickly if not.

PPC landing pages

Set up Google Ads for top keywords (e.g. brand, competitors, use-case or JTBD phrases), and create a landing page with the new messaging, plus a lead form. Monitor ad clickthrough rates, time on page, and form conversion rates. Tag each lead with a campaign, so you can check for qualitative measures - are they more galvanized?

Outbound email campaigns

This tells you a whole load of things that can help suss out whether you’re on the money, or if you need to rethink a concept. I suggest using Apollo.io to draw up a list of relevant contacts that meet your persona qualification. Then, create 2-4 sequences that highlight different values.

Check you’re not bodging the execution of this - keep the emails short, use 3-5 emails in the sequence over a period of 6 weeks, and ask a simple question to encourage a reply. You’ll be able to measure open rates (did the subject line positioning interest them?) and reply rates (did it encourage them to reply? are they persuaded to find out more?).

User testing

Can you mockup a web page, put it in front of your intended audience, and ask them to tell you what they think? Wynter is the easiest way to do this for B2B SaaS audiences, although you can also use other survey panels or research agencies to make this happen.

Target your audience based on job titles, industry, and company size, then show a page. Wynter will ask multiple questions to give you qualitative insights into how your positioning is perceived, what respondents didn’t think was clear, and how it could be improved.

Friendly customers

Probably the easiest way to test positioning, but also the most dangerous! Your customers chose your product to meet their problems, and will be biased towards that - they might have difficulty understanding what the new positioning means if they aren’t the intended customer.

Position the call as ‘taking part in a research project’, and aim to set 3-10 conversations with people ideally performing different stakeholder roles (e.g. decision maker, budget holder, technical evaluator).

Kick off the interview by explaining you’re testing a new way to explain your product, and either walk them through a sales deck, or show them a web page mockup. Give the pitch, then let them take control and ask them to drive - go through the deck/page and just speak their thoughts.

You’ll get a ton of information - just make sure to transcribe and make notes on inflection, areas of interest, dejected tones, and so on.

‘Tiger team’ the marketing/sales process

Probably the trickiest to do, but also the highest return. Can you bring an SDR, a sales rep, and a marketer together and task them with using the new positioning in targeted campaigns through targeted paid marketing, retargeting, outbound sales, and the sales process?

This is useful not only for measuring the impact on the full experience, but how well your team can internalize the new positioning. Is it something they believe in? Do they need continual support? What questions are they asking, what elements are they not confident about?

The benefit is that the positioning team can be super synchronized with the reaction from prospects. Every email reply, every ad click, every call and demo can be recorded and reviewed for insight. Again, ensure best practices are met and understand whether negative results are an execution issue or a strategy challenge. Try to use the sales reps who are most comfortable with discovery, ambiguity, and objection handling. You’ll need to think about incentives too, and ensure those assigned to the project don’t miss out on commissions for new exploratory work.

Cheatcode: build evidence throughout the positioning process

In my positioning practice, we use four stages to test elements from the beginning.

Firstly, we start with assumptions - who do we think are our best-fit customers today? Using an empathy map to draw out thoughts, align the cross-functional positioning workgroup, and see how confident we are.

Secondly, we carry out customer interviews that build evidence. We transcribe, pull out themes, and use this insight to build personas.

Thirdly - the bit that’s hardest to do without facilitation - is keep asking the question for every suggestion that comes up when building value messaging: “do we have evidence?” Bringing the conversation back down to reality - away from the bias and assumptions that we all have - makes much stronger and defensible positioning.

Lastly, we follow the tactics outlined above to test the areas we have low-confidence in. Akin to unit-testing software, we can unit-test positioning to build confidence in the end result.

Test with momentum in mind

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

If your positioning is seen or heard by your ideal customer and it doesn’t occupy a space in their mind and encourage them to take action, does it work?

Probably not. You’ve focused your messaging on a customer and their problems - now test it in the market and build your confidence in it. Because focus + confidence = momentum.


Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought - find me on Twitter @jdomanpipe.

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