Positioning is hard, necessary work. In the rush to build and launch products for hungry markets, however, it’s often overlooked. But organizations ignore it at their peril, because customers don’t buy what they don’t understand. If you can’t clearly communicate who you’re for, and why you’re better for them, you don’t have a position.
In short, you need to be different, better.
Good positioning lets you serve a target market better than competitors, earning their loyalty and erecting barriers to competition. A well-positioned company enjoys higher margins and lower sales costs. It knows what to build, for whom, and when to expand.
Positioning is often misunderstood term. It’s not messaging, or a tagline. It’s not branding. And it’s not a lofty vision statement. Rather, it’s a clear understanding of what you are, what market you’re in, and who you’re selling to, combined with the thing that, in the eyes of that market, makes you better or different from your competitors.
Hasn’t this already been written?
Positioning is part of every first-year marketing course. The seminal text, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, came out thirty years ago. While it presented many case studies, it was written in an era of one-to-many communications, broadcast marketing, physical channels, and mass-production.
While much has changed since Trout and Ries wrote their book, much remains the same. Companies still need to stake out their corner of the market in a way that a market understands. But they need to use new tools to do so:
- Markets are noisier, and fighting information with more information is a losing battle. Today’s currency is attention, and markets are eager to understand where products fit so they can form a mental model.
- Consumers do their own research, and form their own conclusions. Companies can’t dictate their positions; they have to embody them, consistently, across packaging, customer support, marketing campaigns, and every other place where they touch their customers.
- It’s easier to test positioning, and tailor it to smaller markets—even a market of one—with incredible accuracy. Done right, software, analytics, and automation mean an organization’s position can be adjusted to each market.
Having potential customers understand what you do and why it’s important for them is fundamental to any successful offering or company. Whether you are IBM launching a new product into market or selling handmade hats on Etsy, customers don’t buy what they cannot comprehend.
Too much noise
It’s harder than ever to catch a market’s attention. Consumers are exposed to over 5,000 messages a day, up from 2,000 a day thirty years ago. That includes everything from watching an ad on YouTube to looking at the brand name on the ketchup bottle in your fridge. The walls of public places, from schools to stadiums to airports, are plastered with advertisements, and product placement funds our most popular shows.
Even without these casual marketing encounters, an adult in the United States sees roughly 360 targeted ads a day. But of those, only 12 break through and make an impression. That’s just three percent! All told, while ad exposure has climbed 65% since 1945, the number of ads we notice has risen only 20%.
In a room this noisy, yelling louder simply doesn’t work.
Customers don’t need more information—they need help filing things correctly. This is the goal of positioning: to help an audience properly understand what something is and where it fits into a mental model. Positioning helps humans by improving their filing system, so that when they need a product or service they can quickly find it—and so that they can quickly and accurately share ideas about it with others.
Why we’re writing this book
Startup founders, innovation teams at large companies, and new entrepreneurs selling products and services online need to know how to position their products and services so that their offerings can break through the clutter of marketing messages their target markets they are being bombarded with.
We’re going to teach you how to identify and claim a market that you can own in the minds of your best customers to make your business more successful. We’re writing a practical guidebook that breaks down positioning into its component pieces, showing you how to position your product or service in a way that helps prospects understand why your offering is unique and valuable.
We’ll show you how to select the best option for each element of your position:
- Your key differentiation and value
- Your ideal target customers
- The market in which you operate.
We’ll teach you how to determine where you have flexibility in those components, and how to choose the best ones for your business and your target customers. We will show you how to bring the components together using a positioning template. Lastly, we’ll teach you how to test and iterate on your positioning.
We hope you’ll join us.