Below is a six part structure that provides an effective framework for a positioning hierarchy. There's also a real-world example that highlights this approach in action (props to Mike Maples, now with Floodgate, for the example and inspiration, many years ago!).
Six Elements of a Positioning Hierarchy
1) Market: start by clearly articulating what market you're in. An "enterprise software" company will carry a different set of strategies and assumptions than a "mobile solutions" firm will.
2) Customers: after you've clarified your market, turn to who you serve. A statement about enabling a vertical (like retail) versus a broader market (like brands) will convey important messages. Consider qualifying (largest, best, etc.) the types of customers you aspire to serve too -- as long as you can back the aspiration up with current examples (e.g., "our customers are the world's largest retailers").
3) Value: arguably, the hardest part of a positioning exercise is the value statement. For B2B companies especially, enabling, empowering, equipping and/or other "supporting verbs" carry an appropriate level of others-centricity. For B2B2C plays, consider also how your solution might impact your clients' customers too.
4) Benefits: with clearly defined market, customers and value statements, along with time in market with prospects and customers, you can turn to conveying 3-6 primary benefits. I'm a fan of three word benefits that link nicely to your value statement. They often start with a power verb (increase, reduce, enhance, improve, etc.), lead then to a descriptive adjective (e.g. real-time or high-impact) or narrowing noun (e.g. retail or marketing), and end with a stakeholder noun (e.g. management) or impactful noun (e.g. productivity or consistency). With this three word schema, you can mix and match a nearly endless array of benefit clusters. But be warned: it's very easy to wander into the land of cheesy!
5) Capabilities: features and capabilities often get mixed up. Features are very specific things that a product does. Capabilities are broad concepts that a product enables. For example, "collect data" is a capability, whereas "guided input forms" are a feature. Capabilities often roughly parallel benefits (i.e. you may use 3-6 capabilities for your product and/or company). And capabilities can have multiple dimensions as you think about end users versus operators, for example.
6) Validation: in a positioning exercise, it's important to help your audience know why they should pay attention to you. While it's easy to claim you're "the leader in" your market, unsubstantiated statements like those are generally ignored -- and sometimes are held against you as marketing fluff. Instead, list highly recognizable customer examples and/or key statistics to show why your audience should care.
With the six parts above, you can turn to utilization via marketing materials, sales training tools and more.
Here's an example of a press release boilerplate that roughly leverages the approach above:
"Motive, Inc. is a pioneer in helping companies to deliver technology management capabilities as an on-demand service. Motive's software adds self-management intelligence and automation to technology products and services allowing them to install, diagnose and repair themselves, or to guide users through simple steps when necessary. Companies worldwide have used Motive's software in connection with more than 30 million products and services."
Looking at this statement we can see Motive through our 6 part lens:
* Market: software
* Customers: product companies worldwide
* Value: technology management on-demand
* Capabilities: install, diagnose and repair (and guide)
* Benefits: self-management intelligence and automation
* Validation: used in more than 30M products and services
Note that there are often other aspects to a positioning hierarchy, such as a tag, campaign statements, and different length versions of an elevator pitch. Feel free to reach out with questions and let us know if you've used alternative and effective positioning structures.
Regardless of the framework you ultimately choose, if you can master something like the six part structure above -- succinctly, clearly and with pizzaz -- you are well on your way to great company positioning and messaging!