Assume the Position

If I had a nickel for every person who chatted me up at a cocktail party and showed complete ignorance on the subject of positioning, this would be the last blog of mine you would read, for I would be on a whisper jet headed toward an endless mai tai on a beach in Tahiti.

Confusion typically enters the discussion because of vague common usage of the terms “position” and “positioning”. The former is conceptually simple enough, as a product/corporate “position” is mere a set of coordinates on the map of a market.  The pit into which technology companies fall is never knowing the correct coordinate system for their market.  Clients hate it when I tell them there is no single rational coordinate system.  Market coordinates are different for every market, despite what Gartner and the Magic Quadrant gurus in residence there promote.

Different markets are … well … different.  Some of nascent and others are mature.  Some involve complex technologies while others are made of more simple stuff.  Certain markets require intricate webs of technology partnerships while others allow for stand-alone solutions.  Thus, the first job in positioning is to know your position on the map of your market, and that requires first knowing your market.  Green technology CEOs intoxicated with the desire to change the world and profit like a pirate ( or tax collector ) are in too much of a hurry to take these rational and requisite steps.

The other vague term is “positioning.”  The term is vague in part because it encompasses three distinct elements:

  • Articulating your current position so that people inside your company know where you are today.
  • Articulating to people outside of your company where you want them to believe you are positioned.
  • Knowing the position you want to acquire in the future.

Internally articulating your position is important because if people within your company do not have a realistic perspective on your competitive position, they cannot have realistic expectations about their chances for promoting, selling, and servicing your product.  Leadership is communications, and if you are not communicating your product/corporate position to your staff then you are failing to lead.

The second aspect, articulating to the market the position you want them to believe you hold, is tricky.  Typically such communications are sanitized versions of your true position ( after all, stating you hold a position radically different than what you actually hold will always be fatal ).  Often you need to make your company or products appear to hold a slightly different position than they do in order to bring parity-of-image with a close competitor.

Most importantly, positioning makes more obvious the progressions you should take in growing the product or company.  A market map that plots you and your competitors will often show where the market is under served.  You can often see where the next two or three logical progression are in product/corporate growth.  This insight helps to guide product development, marketing and marcom efforts, and keep sales from overreaching their prospect qualifications criteria.

Most importantly, it will devastate your competitors because they are not this disciplined.  You will in effect be two steps ahead of them two years in advance and always acquiring market share that they are ignoring.  If you are a start-up, this feeds your go-to-market planning which adds to your VC pitches and gives them a greater understanding and level of assurance for success.  Most importantly, it lays the foundation for total market dominance.


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