Positioning your business
This is Part 3 of my series "4 Steps to Writing a Purposeful Brand Strategy." Part 1: Market Research (for People Who Hate Doing Research) covered how to do market research in 3 easy steps, so you can really understand the landscape you're entering. Part 2: How to Identify Your Ideal Customer covers identifying and attracting that special someone who is your ideal customer. Part 3 is all about positioning your business for success!
Hey...where are you?
In bed? On a train? At the library? Your favorite café?
Whatever your answer is, that is your position. And if your position is where you want to be, congrats! You’ve succeeded at deciding where you want to be and then going there. Well done!
But if where you are isn’t where you want to be, you need start by doing some positioning – that is, you need to figure out where you’d rather be.
Now let’s tweak this question – where is your business?
It’s still a simple question, but when it comes to your brand, the answer might not be so simple. If your business isn’t exactly where you want to be, you guessed it – it’s time for positioning!
what is positioning?
Positioning is the process of staking out where you want to be in the marketplace. It’s finding or creating a unique, you-shaped space to occupy in the minds of your target customers. It’s defining what you want to be known for, and how you want to be seen by the people who matter – your target market.
Once you know your position, virtually every decision you make in your business should flow from it, because every action is an opportunity to strengthen and reinforce your position in the marketplace. Everything from your client experience, to the projects you take on, to your brand visuals should drive that stake into the ground so no one but you can move it.
You want your position to be like Thor’s hammer. Only one extremely good-looking person in the whole world should be able to move it – you.
What goes into your position? Where does it come from? It comes from understanding your market, who your ideal customer is, and the unique value you offer. I covered these things in earlier posts (links at the top of the page), so if you haven’t done your market research or defined your ideal customer, go back and do those things first. I’ll wait!
1. Get clarity.
In order to write an effective positioning statement, you need to first get clear about the following things that make up the core of your business: your mission, vision, values, ethos, and unique value proposition.
Before you get started, there's a worksheet in the Library with your name on it! (Actually the name on it is "Positioning Worksheet," but your name is implied.) Hurry over and download it before we get started.
Why did you start this business? The answer to this question is your purpose. Every business has a purpose – and I'm not just talking money, fame, and success. I'm not even talking about doing what you love. I'm talking about the reason you love it. The reason you cared enough to create a business that provides what you provide. What problem are you in the world to solve? This should be a purpose that gets people nodding in agreement and saying, "You're right, the world does need more ________" or "You're right, we should fix ________."
Your vision is where you dream big and get aspirational. It is essentially the better world your business is striving toward. And it’s probably not about your bank account, or a world where everyone purchases your product or service – although that might be your personal or career vision. But your brand vision statement is an opportunity to create customer loyalty by inviting them to subscribe to your inspiring vision of a better world. That means imagining a world that they want too, and that they identify and agree with.
In the “tools for teams” example above, the vision may be a world where teams are more efficient and have more time to enjoy life. Who would be inspired by that? People who are busy and have no time – the target market for this business.
Your values are the non-negotiables for how you do business, day in and day out. They’re the guiding principles you want to abide by no matter what, to keep your business centered and “on the up and up.” They’re the behaviors you want to model and cultivate within your organization.
For example, your values may be honesty and integrity. Of course, every business should be honest and have integrity, right? So when defining your core values, don’t just latch onto the obvious ones – think about what makes your business special. Is everyone, from your CEO down to your interns, encouraged to maintain a healthy balance between work and life? One of your core values may be balance. Are team members given time and resources to try out new ideas? One of your core values may be innovation.
Create a list as long as you want – it can be as long as your arm! But then narrow it down to the 3–5 most important and distinct ones. If you include everything but the kitchen sink and a jar of sprinkles, you and your team will never remember them all, and they’ll lose their potency.
This one can be a little elusive, so put your thinking cap on girl!
Ethos is a Greek word meaning “character.” Your ethos is the character and ethical position of your business. It’s a means of appealing to the ethical concerns of your audience. Everything you do, you do in a spirit of ___________. Perhaps it’s generosity and giving back to the community, commitment to sustainability, or something else. Your ethos certainly may overlap with your values; in fact, some marketers consider it redundant and leave it out entirely. But being a spirit junkie, and because I’m passionate about ethical, purpose-driven businesses, I like to include it as a slightly different way of thinking about your brand.
UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
The unique value proposition (USP) brings us back down to earth, but it can also be the hardest to pin down. It’s the unique benefit you offer – the value that people can expect from you. The way you make their lives better.
Your USP may be super-concrete and straightforward (DeskBeers – “Craft beer, delivered to your office”), but it may be more subjective (Vimeo – “Make life worth watching” – i.e., expect better quality than YouTube). If you’re feeling clever, you might even craft a USP that goes beyond the words and communicates the personality of your business (Apple Macbook – “Light. Years Ahead.” Isn’t that clever? Typical Apple).
If you’re not sure what your USP is, this is where your market research should come in handy. If you haven’t done your market research yet –– uh oh! Did ya miss the part earlier where I told you to go do your market research first? Caught ya red-handed! :) It’s okay, here is the link again.
If you have done your market research (high-five!), you should have come away with an understanding of how other businesses around you position themselves, what your ideal customer needs and wants, how your business solves their problem, and how your business is different from the competition.
Start by writing a few sentences about the unique value your business delivers, and then massage the language down until you can express it succinctly in just a few choice words. It doesn’t have to be super clever – a straightforward, plainspoken USP can communicate honesty and simplicity. Clever or not, it just needs to be short and easy to grasp quickly.
2. Write your positioning statement.
Woohoo! You just wrote the key statements that will help you write your positioning statement. Your herbs and vegetables are chopped; now it’s time to get cooking.
So what is a positioning statement? It's basically a statement describing why your biz is different. Marty Neumeier calls this your "Only-ness" statement.
There are all sorts of fill-in-the-blank templates out there to help you. Here are just a few:
For [Target Market], [Brand] is the only [Point of Differentiation] among all [Frame of Reference] because [Reason to Believe].
For [Target Audience] who want [Reason to Buy], [Brand] is the only [Category] that provides [Unique Value]. Unlike [Competitors], we [Key Differentiator].
For [Target Customers], [Company Name] is the only [Market Definition] that delivers [Brand Promise] because only [Company Name] is [Reason to Believe].
And the simplest one of all: ___________ is the only ____________ that __________________.
The list goes on. There are all sorts of formulas for writing a decent positioning statement. And one of them might spit out a decent one for you. But personally, I find these a bit clunky and awkward. I prefer free-styling positioning statements. Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast format it needs to follow, and you don’t need it to sound pretty. It isn’t external or public-facing. It’s internal and meant to steer your business each and every day. Kind of like a mantra – it helps you stay focused and make the right choices, but you probably don’t go around saying it to people. (I mean, you can, but that’s not its primary use.)
Whether you use a formula or not, your positioning statement should cover these bases:
Whom you are serving (your target audience).
What you do for them (your mission).
What sets you apart (your USP).
Bonus points if you can also subtly communicate your brand vision, ethos, and core values.
Here’s a quick example (my cat is sitting on my desk staring at me, so I’m feeling inspired):
KittyCup is the only café where cat lovers can get their daily dose of caffeine and cuddles from friendly furballs.
This example is pretty cheesy (although mice should stay away – badum-tsh!), but it communicates who we are serving (cat lovers), what we are doing (we’re a cat café serving coffee), the unique value we’re delivering (chance to cuddle with cats while drinking coffee), and it even communicates the values and personality behind the company (fun, playful, simple, and animal-loving). It also indicates the vision for the company – we want to be a place that cat lovers visit every day.
It doesn’t need to be elegant or in marketing language. Like I said, this is an internal resource. It just needs to hit the bases!
So there you have it, my sweet and savvy friend! Once you’ve got your positioning statement, you know where you want go. You know the space in the market you intend to occupy.
In the next and final part in this series, we’ll build out a strategy for getting you there!