Marketing Foundations: Brand, Positioning and Messaging

Jackie Vullinghs
12 min readMar 25, 2017


You need to build the foundations first.

You have an idea, you’re doing customer development and building an MVP. Now it’s time to get started with marketing your product.

You start researching online…

SEO, CRO, lead scoring, lead nurturing, content marketing, guest blogging, SEM, social media, PR….it’s terrifying.

So you get started on a couple of them: writing a blog, doing interviews in the media, posting on social media and testing out some paid ads…

But it’s not working, and somehow all feels a bit haphazard.

That’s because you haven’t built the foundation of your marketing strategy, and without a solid foundation your marketing will never bring in valuable leads on a consistent basis.

The 3 elements of your marketing foundation:

  1. Brand
  2. Positioning
  3. Messaging

If you get these right, your company will become memorable to exactly the people you’re trying to target. They will associate your company with a particular problem they need to solve, and they will want to buy from you because they love everything about you.


In a world of endless products, enormous customer choice, and global distribution, your brand is what will make you stand out and will ensure your customers come back again and again.

Put simply, your brand is what your prospect thinks when they hear your brand name.

Think of Nike, Starbucks, Apple and Disney. Just hearing each name makes you feel a certain way: strong, warm, rebellious or joyful — that’s what you’re aiming for.

If you doubt the emotional power of a strong brand, just watch this video and tell me you feel nothing.

(For more on how emotions guide our decision-making, I wrote an article on How Emotion is at the Core of Sales).

So how do you start to build a brand for your company?

Firstly, spend time putting together the emotional values you want your brand to reflect. These will resonate with your customers, and set you apart from your competition.

Denise Lee Yohn, author of What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest suggests you perpetually ask and answer: “What business are we really in?”. Virgin isn’t in the business of selling flights. It’s in the business of making good friends during relaxing, luxurious, and affordable experiences. In this way, Virgin redefines consumer expectations and challenges industry norms.

We’ll talk more about defining your ideal customer later in the post, but for now spend time thinking:

How do your most loyal customers want to feel?

The way you express your brand is through design and language. The format may change depending on the channel, but the core emotions should stay the same.

Design: Keep at the front of your mind the emotions you’re trying to evoke when you design anything new: your logo, your store design, your website, the style of your videos. Even just the colour of your logo can have a huge impact on how prospects feel about your brand.

Language: The words you use to tell your story, whether that’s in the media, in your advertisements or within your product, all have the power to evoke emotion. Consider how you want people to feel when they read your words, and develop a brand voice around that to use consistently across all media. Mailchimp even has a dedicated website to help their marketers with the voice and tone to use in different situations.

Your voice is the overall style your brand conveys, while tone depends on the particular situation and emotion your brand is trying to convey (excitement, regret, encouragement) and language is the words used to express that tone. You should create a document where you describe the different tones your brand will need to convey, and the language you should use in each situation.

We’ll cover messaging in more detail later on, but for now one example of how to express your brand identity in your product is through microcopy. Some examples of great microcopy are:

Adding humour:

Inspiring trust:

Results pages are the perfect place to have fun with microcopy: confirmation messages, rewards or error messages.

So now you know your brand needs to evoke emotion, tell a story and show your most loyal audience what’s possible. But how sure are you of who your most loyal audience is?

This is where positioning comes in…


You may know why your product is ideally suited to your prospect, but without effective positioning it’s unlikely your prospect will be able to work that out for themselves.

Positioning involves defining who your ideal customer is, why your product is perfectly suited to their needs, and why it’s significantly better than any alternative offered by the competition.

Once you’ve sorted your positioning you’ll be able to fill out this sentence:


What you need to think about here:

  • Who exactly is your ideal customer?
  • What role(s) are they in?
  • For each role, what are the pains they are feeling? What emotions do they associate with those pains?
  • For each role, what are the key benefits of using your product?
  • Which companies do your customers already know in a similar category? (eg Uber for massages)
  • Who are your competitors, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and why are you different? (Slack = anti-email, Salesforce = not software)
  • What is the promised land? — a future that your customer wants, that you can uniquely deliver, and that your customer will find difficult to attain without you.

So how do you find the answers to these questions?

  1. Internal Questioning
  2. External Questioning

Internal Questioning

Get Sales, Customer Success, Product and Marketing in a room and ask them to write down the following:

  • What do we do? (1 sentence)
  • What problem are we solving? (1 sentence)
  • How are we different from competitors? (1 sentence)
  • What value do we provide to our customers (1–3 bullets)
  • Which customers were easiest to close? What are their similarities?
  • Which customers were our biggest deals? What are their similarities?
  • Which customers love the product most? What are their similarities?
  • What is the reason we lose prospects?

And be prepared….you will likely get a different answer from everyone, and wonder whether they’ve been paying attention at all in the last 6 months.

Without consistent messaging that is repeated regularly, and regular feedback sessions, your team has no hope of nailing this exercise.

That’s why you’re doing this exercise in the first place.

External Questioning

Next organise interviews with a selection of your customers and ask them:

  • What was going on in your business that sent you looking for a solution like ours?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did you deal with this problem previously and why wasn’t it working?
  • What made you confident our product was a fit?
  • How do we differ vs competitors? Why did you choose us?
  • Who did you need to get buy-in from at your company to start using our product?
  • Did you have any hesitations before using the product? What resolved these concerns?
  • How do you use our product?
  • What goals on tasks does our product complete for you?
  • How do people at your company feel about the product once they’ve started using it?
  • What do you like most about using it? Why?
  • What are the results — both quantitative and qualitative — from using it? (Time saving, revenue growth, reduced costs etc)
  • Who would you recommend the product to? Why?

Make sure to keep digging into why they’ve answered each question the way they have, as often the true answer is a few layers down.

Personas & Jobs to be Done

At this point you can start to sketch out your buyer personas and ‘jobs to be done’.

Your buyer personas are descriptions of the different people at the customer who are involved in purchasing the product — their roles, goals, challenges, behaviour, companies and demographics.

This should be an in-depth process, drawing from the results of your internal and external questioning, and will result in a detailed description of who your buyer is. This helps Marketing know exactly who they’re talking to when writing copy, Sales when speaking to new customers, and even Product when designing new features.

Hubspot is a strong proponent of using buyer personas in your marketing, and has significant resources online to help you create them yourself, including a template here and examples of what a good buyer persona looks like here.

However, sometimes simply creating personas can be limiting. There’s a danger that your marketers and sales people will only target those roles, rather than prospects with a particular challenge and goal.

So at this point you also need to think about what jobs your customers are hiring your product to do. “Jobs to be Done” is a framework first discussed by Clayton Christensen in this paper and made prominent by Bob Moesta (there’s even an entire Medium publication dedicated to it here).

Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt summarised it best when he said:

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

So what problems are your customers trying to solve with your product? What job is your product being hired to do?

As well as the main jobs to be done, there will also be related jobs the customer wants to fulfil at the same time.

Within those jobs, there will be functional aspects (practical and objective requirements) and emotional aspects (the subjective customer requirements related to feelings and perception).

For example of jobs to be done in the real world:

Customers hire Intercom to communicate with their customers.

But Intercom realised early on that companies want to communicate with their customers in different ways, and at different stages of the customer lifecycle.

So rather than breaking down their different products into features, they’ve broken them down into jobs:

  • Acquire (for acquiring new users with live chat)
  • Engage (for engaging users to help them get the most out of the product)
  • Resolve (for managing help requests)
  • Educate (to help customers learn more about the product themselves)

This helps prospects understand which combination of Intercom’s products they need to hire to get their particular job done.

They’re so committed to jobs-to-be-done they’ve even written an entire book about it — it’s definitely worth a read before you start sketching out your product’s jobs yourself.


Now you know who your customer is, what job they’re hiring your product for, and the brand you want to convey — it’s time to develop your messaging.

This is the story you want to tell in all your communication — to your investors, to your customers and to your team. It will appear in your pitch decks, on your website and in the press.

There are several different elements to crafting your messaging, but there should be one single objective you are trying to convey in all your communications.

It’s the repetition of a simple and novel message that makes people remember you. Particularly when that message is counterintuitive or emotive.

Elements of your communication:

  • The origin story & promised land story
  • Positioning statement
  • Value propositions for your different customer personas/jobs.

The Origin Story

This is the story of why your company exists. This story should create empathy, and evoke an emotional reaction from your audience.

Usually these stories will have one of three plots:

  1. Challenge Plot: Someone comes across a formidable challenge and succeeds. David vs Goliath. Rags to Riches. These stories inspire us and make anything seem possible.
  2. Connection Plot: Someone who helps others in times of need. Who develops a relationship that bridges a gap — religious, racial or age. These stories are about our relationships with other people and make us want to help others and be more tolerant.
  3. Creativity Plot: Someone makes a mental breakthrough, solving a problem in an innovative way and reinventing how you do things.

Founders should also inspire investors and customers with a ‘promised land’:

Promised Land Story: A story that indicates to people how things might change and what the future could look like. These stories create buy-in and promote people to act. They make us want to problem solve with the protagonist.

Positioning Statement

Unfortunately you don’t always have the space to tell your full story, so you need to develop a few short statements that convey your message clearly.

Ideally, you want to come out of this exercise with:

  • Your mission (5–10 words, what you are seeking to do)
  • Your vision (5–10 words, your promised land)
  • Your tagline (1–5 words, think Nike’s “Just do it”)
  • Your positioning statement (2–3 sentences)

This is hard. You will probably need to write at least 20 of each before you select one.

It needs to be simple, clear, concrete and evoke an emotional response.

Your mission, vision and tagline are crucial because your prospects, investors and potential employees need to know why you’re building this company in the first place.

“If you want to build a ship,

don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t

assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them

to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Simon Sinek in his excellent book Start With Why describes the Golden Circle:

When telling your story, the order should be:

WHY are you building your company? what is the purpose?

HOW are you building it? What makes you different and sets you apart from the competition?

WHAT are you building? What are the products you sell or the services you offer?

(Watch Simon’s entire TED talk here, an excellent way to spend 18 mins).

Your positioning statement should be able to convey ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’, and will help investors, customers and new recruits understand who you are and what you do.

(For more on how starting with why can help your team culture, I wrote an article on How to Build a Culture that Inspires Employees)

If your product is relatively complex, keep your message simple by layering it on top of concepts people already understand using analogy. This is why companies will describe themselves as “Uber for X”, or position themselves as against a competitor like Salesforce as anti-Software, or Slack as anti-email.

Remember you will want to end up with something like this:


Examples of positioning statements from some other big brands:


“Our mission is to keep people comfortable in their homes while helping them save energy, and with the next-generation Nest Learning Thermostat, we’re able to spread that comfort and savings to even more homes — and to help higher-efficiency systems perform the way they were meant to.”


“Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships. It empowers organizations to improve customer engagement and better understand their customers.”

Notice that neither Nest nor Zendesk mention a single feature of the product, just the benefits.

Value Propositions

This is where you create specific messages for the different customer profiles you want to appeal to. These can include people with different roles in the company (Technology, HR, Finance) as well as investors and potential employees.

Firstly you need to work out what each persona cares about most — that is the value you should appeal to. You will have this information from your internal and external interviews.

Once you have a broad value statement, use a couple of bullet points to highlight the benefits, describe the features that provide those benefits, and some proof points to convince your prospects with data.

HR Manager

  • Value Statement:
  • Benefit 1:
  • Benefit 2:
  • Benefit 3:
  • Feature 1:
  • Feature 2:
  • Feature 3:
  • Proof Point 1:
  • Proof Point 2:


We’ve covered a lot here so to remind you what you should have by now:

  • A list of emotions you want your customers to feel when they think about your brand, and a sense of how that will impact the design you use across both your communications and the product itself.
  • A sense of the voice and tone you want your brand to speak with. You will have a list of the different tones your brand will need to convey, and the language you will use in each situation.
  • A detailed insight into the different buyer personas — their titles, role in the buying process, daily activities, responsibilities, goals, challenges and success metrics.
  • An understanding of the jobs your customers are hiring your product for.
  • A well-rehearsed origin story and promised land story.
  • Your mission, vision and tagline.
  • A well-crafted positioning statement.
  • A selection of value propositions designed to appeal directly to your different personas.

Where do you use these?

Your brand, positioning and messaging should inform every interaction your company has with the world. So it’s time to update all of these:

- Sales enablement materials and scripts

- Website copy & videos

- Content Marketing

- PR stories

- Product Roadmap

When I first started marketing I tried all of the ‘growth hacking’ tactics without much success. Learning the lessons of this article the hard way has been an invaluable experience, and a reminder of the enduring wisdom of Sun Tzu:

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’.

Books to read and people to follow:

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Myk Pono (whose in-depth Medium articles are unbelievably good)

Andy Raskin (whose writing taught me about the promised land)

Intercom’s book and podcast with Bob Moesta on Jobs to be Done



Jackie Vullinghs

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