After college my best friend and I drove across the country to live in San Diego, California. It was quite a road trip. A 3-day road trip, in fact. We battled a horrendous ice storm in Amarillo, Texas that nearly turned us into road kill. We got stuck in the small town of Tucumcari, New Mexico due to road closures and had to scramble to snag the last available room at a Motel 6. And we came face-to-face with perilous inclines on the scary yet scenic route between Flagstaff and Phoenix, Arizona. But we made it, barely.

Recently, when chatting about the difference between positioning and messaging with a client, something took me back to that memorable road trip many years ago. It occurred to me that the entire product marketing process is just like a road trip – albeit a much more pleasant one than my own cross-country adventure.

Positioning is the destination.

It’s where you want to go. It’s the strategy that identifies how you want to be perceived in the minds of your target market. It’s the end point you’re working towards.

Since we’re on the theme of car travel, let’s look at the automotive industry as an example. Many years ago, Volvo decided they wanted to be perceived as the manufacturer of the safest vehicles. Their end point was owning the safety niche in the industry, with aesthetics and power being secondary concerns. Contrast that to Lamborghini, who clearly values speed and style above all other attributes.

Messaging is the directions.

It’s how you get there. It’s the specific language that’s used to guide the positioning strategy, and take you successfully to your destination.

In order to become the kings of safety, Volvo began crafting messages that supported their desired position. They focused on in-cabin safety features and positive crash test results versus what’s under the hood. Lamborghini, on the other hand, likes to tout the ridiculously fast 0 to 60 mph time of its new, sexy model.

Content is the vehicle.

It’s what takes you there. It’s how your message travels to reach your target market, and what propels you gradually towards your destination.

For car companies it’s all about visuals – showing off their impressive machines with photos and videos. But that content is quite different for each company. Whereas Volvo might show a family day out or a successful clip from a recent crash test, Lamborghini will show their car speeding freely down a perfectly flat highway, or pulling up outside a trendy restaurant.

Content for you will also look very different. If you’re selling software, your message might be best conveyed via a white paper or demo video. Whichever form your content takes, your message should come through loud and clear.

The Product Marketer is the driver.

He/She is who takes you there. He/She ensures the destination is carefully chosen, the directions are in place, and the vehicle is in good shape with a full tank of gas.

When you get behind the wheel of a new car, you feel like the king of the road. Whether a Volvo, Lamborghini, or something else, you’ve bought into that company’s message, and you’ve helped reinforce their desired position. Are people buying into your message?

All of the above pieces are necessary for a successful road trip. The driver needs a vehicle to drive, directions to follow, and a destination in mind. If one piece is missing or neglected, the entire convoy can end up stranded in a land as void of potential buyers as Tucumcari (no offense, fine Tucumcarians).