Why isn’t positioning and messaging taught in college?

Seventy percent of the respondents to the survey I am conducting say positioning is the most important aspect of marketing, yet only seven out of 132 respondents learned how to do positioning in college. It makes me wonder whether college marketing departments are in touch with the real world.

Why isn’t positioning and messaging taught in college? I tried to find the answer in July by calling several west coast college marketing departments but didn’t have much luck. I did track down the head of the marketing department at Washington State University who said in an e-mail:

“Positioning is definitely discussed in several marketing courses at WSU, including Principles of Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Promotion Management, and Social Media Marketing.”

A discussion about positioning is a step in the right direction, but only a baby step when you consider that positioning is the foundation for everything you do in marketing. Your positioning statement should be the central theme for all your marketing communications. That’s why positioning is so important – it eliminates the question that always comes up in a meeting to discuss your next campaign or press release or analyst presentation – what do we want to say?

Positioning isn’t considered important by those who should know better

But for some reason, positioning isn’t considered important by those who should know better including college marketing professors, analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester, MarketingProfs, B2B Marketing and just about any media company that focuses on marketing improvement. From them, you can learn just about anything about marketing except positioning. Thus it is not surprising that positioning is done poorly by most B2B technology companies – no one is teaching them how to do it.

Some results from my survey explain why B2B marketers can’t position effectively, thus their marketing is marginal at best:

  • More than half (55%) don’t have a formal positioning process
  • 51% of respondents learned positioning on the job; only 6% in college
  • 14% learned positioning through trial and error
  • 16% learned positioning by reading and attending workshops

So it is not surprising that 68% of respondents to my survey expressed an interest in learning a new way to do positioning. The business process for positioning that I teach has its roots at Microsoft in the mid-80s when Barry Briggs, co-founder of Messages that Matter, was responsible for positioning and messaging. At the time, Ries &Trout’s book “Positioning: The battle for your mind” was all the rage.

Ries & Trout never explained how to do positioning

Barry followed Ries & Trout closely but quickly realized that while they were explaining the importance of positioning, they weren’t explaining how to do it. So Barry began to develop his own positioning process. The first time I was exposed to it was in the 1990s, and I was so impressed that I engaged him at two other companies – TM1 Software (now owned by IBM) and Navision (the Danish ERP company now owned by Microsoft).

At Navision, I saw Barry’s process as the fastest way to significantly improve product marketing globally. We were successful because we taught his positioning process to product managers and management in Denmark as well as Spain, Germany, the UK and the US.

During a two-year period, we positioned more than 10 products or suites, and got buy-in for each strategy from management to marketing to key players in each country. We also fine-tuned the process which since has been taught to hundreds of marketers throughout the world, most recently to a marketing team via the web in Israel.

You can get a flavor for the positioning process that I teach by watching a recent webinar. Or you can download a free eBook that summaries the process. It’s simple, logical and easy to learn. Too bad it’s not taught in college. Why? I’ll be investigating this issue further and report my findings in a future blog.


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