Why You Need “Positioning” to Write Copy that Sells

online shopping

As a freelance copywriter, many of my small and mid-sized client companies don’t have positioning... and that makes writing conversion copy tough.

My job is to persuade your visitor to choose you. That’s the essence of conversion copywriting. But to craft high-converting copy, I need to make a strong argument in favour of your brand over the competition.

Why should they choose you?

That “why” is your positioning. It’s a statement of how you’re different, better or cheaper - the very simplified core of positioning.

How Positioning Boosts Conversions on Your Site

Think of the average customer who lands on your site.

They’re not experiencing your brand in a void. They have alternatives and that’s why they’ll only give you a matter of seconds to pitch your “different and better” message.

If you don’t have clear positioning, your website won’t convert. They’ll bounce to the next site and buy when they’re convinced they’ve found the different, better or cheaper solution.

That’s why so much of my work involves positioning before I write a single line of copy.

Positioning IS For Every Brand

brand positioning small business


Positioning doesn’t get a lot of play in the digital marketing world because…

A) As I’ll discuss below, positioning can be painful. Hugely rewarding, but grueling.

B) Corporate-speak kills the convo. The classic definition is too dry to repeat here (see Kotler, Marketing Management, 11th ed) and so positioning comes across as pure theory.

Plus, it’s all mixed up with the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and the concept of a marketing Big Idea.

I don’t blame any client who cares more about the latest Facebook ads techniques than about positioning. But without positioning, ads, landing pages and emails will fail.

Just try. Try writing an ad without knowing how you’re different and better. Now, try writing an ad based on all 10 reasons you’re really very good.

You’ll quickly understand why your copywriter needs clear, concise positioning, even if you’re a small or mid-sized brand.

How to Create Positioning Like an MBA/Conversion Optimization Pro

positioning marketing strategy

It was Suzie Yorke of Love Good Fats bars fame who taught me positioning, long before she launched her own super-successful brand. At the time, she was an ex-Procter & Gamble consultant to natural health brands. We were working together on a client project.

When she first read the client website I think her direct quote was, “Well, it’s creative, I’ll give you that…” This is the equivalent of handing out a Participation ribbon at the science fair.

And then Suzie proceeded to school us on positioning as it’s done by the MBA nerds in multi-national consumer packaged goods.

It worked! It was brilliant. And it was incredibly difficult.

Not difficult because complex but difficult because positioning requires tough decisions. When you have a position, you stop being everything to everyone, which feels safe but is actually lethal.

Positioning Meets Conversion Copywriting

positioning strategy for copywriting

Over the years, I’ve tinkered with the positioning model Suzie taught.

I’ve tried different ways of explaining positioning to pitch it as a pre-req for copywriting.

I’ve honed the way I steer clients toward clearly defined, highly-competitive positioning.

What I use now works for me. It combines parts of what Suzie taught with what I’ve learned from conversion optimization pros, like Talia Wolf and Joanna Wiebe and positioning experts, like A/B Partners.

This may not be your Ivy League biz school positioning - in fact, it’s probably a heretical mutation.

But it gets at the basic questions every copywriter needs answered to craft high-converting copy. And for small to mid-sized business, that’s arguably more useful than anything you’ll find in the classic Positioning text by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

6 Brand Positioning Questions You Need for Copywriting that Converts

7 questions for positioning


To nail positioning, we think first about the customer and their problem. Then we consider the competition and your unique capabilities. Personally, I then flesh out the position with other copywriting essentials, like emotional and functional benefits.

  1. What’s the big customer problem you solve?

    When your ideal customer first encounters your brand, what problem(s) are they looking to solve? Why haven’t they found the perfect solution yet? (Think: what’s wrong with all the alternatives to your offering?)

  2. What’s the outcome they’re really buying?

    People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves. So what does that better future look like with your solution? How does your customer’s typical day, reputation or self-image change?

  3. How are you different from your competition?

    “Different, better or cheaper” is a simplification. There are a number of more specific ways you can stand out from the rest. Which of these can you own? Which are most closely related to the customer problem you’ve identified?

    Knowing this answers the question, “Why should prospects choose your product or service over the competition?

    • Longevity: Be the most experienced in the field

    • Scale: Be the biggest

    • Speed: Be the fastest

    • Simplicity: Make it easier

    • Popularity: Have social proof

    • Breadth/Focus: Offer more - or less

    • Personalization: Be more custom

    • Values: Stand for something different

    • Point of View: Have a unique perspective on the problem & solution

    • Innovation: Revolutionize the way you get things done

    • Price: Stake your place as premium, mass or discount*

  4. What are the emotional benefits of your brand?

    How do customers feel as a result of choosing your brand? There may be several accurate answers, but as per Talia Wolf, you should choose emotional benefits that are different from the ones behind your competitors’ messaging.

  5. What are the functional benefits of your solution?

    What specific attributes make your product or service better than the alternatives? Is it easier, faster, more accurate, longer-lasting, simpler, more customized?

  6. Why should they believe you?

    How can you prove your brand is different, better or cheaper? Do you have social proof, data, awards, endorsements, credentials or guarantees?

Why This Still Isn’t Enough to Position Your Brand

conversion copywriting testing

If you can answer these 6 questions, amazing! Here are the caveats:

  1. Positioning overlaps with the Copywriting Brief, but often you’ll need both before you rewrite that site or launch that campaign.

  2. I just told you WHAT you need to nail down positioning… not HOW you get there. The latter involves customer research and competitor research, which is a topic for another post.

  3. Sometimes you have to leap - and then, test. Speaking of which…

Back to that project with Suzie Yorke.

We researched, we consulted, agonized over three different versions of positioning. Finally, Suzie said the most unlikely thing: “Ultimately, you’ve got to make a judgement call.” And she was right.

You won’t know whether your positioning will fly until you test it. But that’s where digital marketers put old-school MBA marketers to shame. We can test and correct quickly.

In the Suzie project case, we were lucky. The first take on positioning was a winner. It re-established the brand as a leader. Sales went up. We squashed murmurings in the marketplace seeded by competitors. And copywriting became so much more effective.

First Nail Positioning… then Do Copywriting

Copywriting is an investment - especially if you’re hiring a trained conversion copywriter. Any copywriter can hack together salesy copy, but positioning is the infrastructure. It’s the backbone holding together the sales message.

If you don’t know your position as a brand, your copy will feel weak, empty, disjointed and importantly - unconvincing. It’s like an essay with no thesis.

When you do invest in positioning, there’s a framework for your sales copy. It hangs on a coherent argument of why you’re different and better.

If that copy converts, you optimize to strengthen your positioning. If it doesn’t, you test to find out which aspects of your positioning aren’t persuasive.

Make sense? Contact me if you have questions on brand positioning and conversion copywriting. Or leave a comment here with your own thoughts!

*Note: Cheaper is a valid position, but when it works, it’s usually because you’ve innovated. Think of IKEA. They’re proud of being cheaper but it’s because they changed everything about how furniture was made and sold.

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