Positioning and messaging. Synonyms for the same thing, right?
There’s an order of operations that needs to be followed. One leads the other, and if you’re out of order, then your business will be like a ship sailing the ocean without a destination—you’ll just float around.
Positioning can be seen as the foundation of your business. It sets the business strategy and will chart the course for the strategic decisions you make. Avoid passing the buck on this and filling out a generic positioning template—the type that has you develop a basic sentence with a fill-in-the-blanks structure. There is a six-step framework that positioning guru April Dunford laid out in her book, Obviously Awesome. It’s a powerful structure that could do wonders for your positioning. April goes into much more depth in her book, but here is a brief overview.
- Identify competitive alternatives: What would your customers do if you didn’t exist? Would they use a competitor? Cook their own food? Order catering from the grocery store? Figure this out first. In the previous post, we talked about building an Ideal Customer Profile. To recap quickly, the basic concept is to put pen to paper and figure out the type of person who needs your product or service most, including as much demographic information as possible (age, gender, income, education, etc.) Once you have that done, you’re ready to start figuring out how to position your business.
- Determine what makes you unique: What does your business offer that the competitors do not? Are you more convenient? Offer better service? More choices? Figuring out what makes you unique will help you de-commoditize your offering (meaning your customers can’t swap you out for something else that’s pretty much identical) and prevent you from racing to the bottom on price.
- Display your value and back it up with third-party proof: What are the benefits of your service? Are you saving your customers time? Are they wasting less food? Helping them lose weight? Tell them! But validate your claims with testimonials wherever you can.
- Identify the characteristics of your target market: Who will care the most about your service? A lot of people may care, but who cares the most? Who will become a weekly subscriber? Who will pay a premium price for your service? Investigate this and make sure your messaging is focused on these people, because those are your best customers.
- Determine your market category: What market does your service fit into? Tell your customers! Are you for vegans? Are you for working professionals? Provide a frame of reference for customers so they know right away if you’re for them.
- Relevant trends (bonus): Can you tie into anything relevant in the world that makes your service timely? COVID is the most obvious example. People still needed to eat but couldn’t sit in restaurants. That’s a trend, (though it’s for an awful reason). There isn’t always a trend that creates urgency. But if there is, tie yourself to it to get people to move beyond status quo.
Once you have nailed your positioning, then you can move onto messaging, which is the copy you write for your website, landing pages, ads, etc. Your messaging will be remarkably more effective if you take the time upfront to build your positioning.
Start narrow, then grow wide
A lot of businesspeople I’ve spoken to over the years want their messaging to be broad, to target “as many people as possible.” That’s the wrong mentality for most businesses. It takes way too much time and money to even try to pull that off. Even then, the wider you go from the start, the more diluted and less specific your message becomes. This is the main reason the positioning framework we discussed earlier forces you to narrow things down.
This is doubly true for meal prep businesses, because—unless you’re shipping nonperishable food across the globe—you’re going to be at the very least restricted by geography. You’ll also potentially go even narrower if you serve a specific sub niche within your market. That’s a strategy we’ve seen work very well for our customers. The old adage is true: the riches really are in the niches. Even Amazon started out as an online bookstore before they moved onto world domination.
Aside from physical distance from your location, the truth is that there is always going to be a handful of general types of people who will care about your business. A smaller (but large, often a majority) of those people are going to be your Ideal Customer (if they’re not at or near the majority of your customers, it’s time to revise your Ideal Customer Profile, because it’s no longer ideal).
So, step one is to Go Narrow. Laser-focus your targeting and messaging on attracting and converting your Ideal Customers. When you have enough of them that your business is sustaining itself, then (and only then) should you consider expanding your efforts to widen your customer base to adjacent audiences.
But start with the people who will be your core.
Here is a guide to follow as you build messaging for your ICP.
Background and Research
You need to start by figuring out the habits, likes, and dislikes of your Ideal Customer Profile. Answer some of these questions:
- What do they care about when it comes to food?
- How does my offering respond to those priorities?
- How do I make their lives better?
There are other questions you can ask yourself, but these are the basic ones that everyone needs to answer before they can really start talking about themselves correctly.
What do they care about when it comes to food? Could be topics such as ingredient sourcing—are these the type of person who is willing to pay more for food from local sources? Or maybe they care more about having wide options for entrees—are they the type who wants a big menu like you’d find in a diner? Perhaps it’s a question of pricing, too—are they hoping to cut down on their monthly food budget? There’s a tremendous range of possibilities here, and you’ll need to do some research to figure out what they care about most.
How does my offering respond to those priorities? Continuing from the examples above, if your ingredients are sourced locally, that’s definitely something you should talk about! If your menu is huge with a lot of variety, make sure they know! And if you’re pricing your menu below the competition—or if you offer something like a subscription discount program, people need to know about it. This is all about matching customer priorities with business offerings.
How do I make their lives better? This one is a bit broad, but consider your ICP’s daily pain points. How does your business help make their days just a little simpler, easier, or less expensive? Are you convenient, offering delivery options? Are you cheaper than the competition, helping them save money that would be spent on other sources of food? Are you providing specialty diet menus, making it simpler for your Ideal Customer to stick to their diet plan?
We’ve mentioned in our meal prep business starter guide that your business needs to be Cheaper, Better, or More Convenient—two out of this three—to outshine the competition. These questions and their answers will help you get that basic messaging down. At the risk of beating a dead horse even further, please remember that you aren’t trying to sell your food to everyone; you’re trying to attract customers that match your ICP.
Once you’ve answered these questions, the good news is that the hardest part is over! You have what you need to craft your messaging.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
With the information you’ve put together, you’re ready to start talking about yourself. Come up with simple, easy-to-understand, clear language that openly communicates the way you address the questions above.
Everyone wants to be clever, but most people wind up outsmarting themselves and crippling their message by diluting it with irrelevant, confusing statements. I can’t tell you how many businesses have failed because they tried to be funny and/or cute with their messaging but ended up with rhyming or funny copy that didn’t connect back to their audience. We’ve all seen commercials that made you laugh, but left you wondering, “What… what are they trying to sell me?” Unless your brand is big enough—meaning you have instant recognition when someone sees your logo, and they already understand what you’re offering them—don’t play games.
Be concise. Be clear. Be unambiguous. If, for example, your ICP primarily cares about saving money and sticking to a paleo diet and you can do that for them, it’s better to write something like “Cut your food budget with our paleo-friendly food” than it is to try to come up with a clever slogan or tagline that muddies the waters and leaves your Ideal Customers confused about why they should care. Don’t forget that your main goal is primarily to tell your Ideal Customers why you’re the right fit for them, not do a “tight fifteen” at open mic night.
The point here isn’t to make you feel like you’re not funny or clever, it’s to make sure you know how to sell yourself. It is always better to be clear and concise in your message than it is to be lengthy and confusing. So when you’re first starting out, take the safer route and don’t try to do more than plainly state why a potential customer should become a frequent customer.
Once you have your messaging put together, you’re ready to start getting more attention. In the next post, we’ll talk about effective advertising and SEO strategies to help drive traffic to your business and start growing your customer base.