Positioning Power

Growing your market in the modern age without knowing your positioning is like driving motorcycle down an Interstate while blindfolded.  You will lose and the resulting splatter will not be pretty.

Positioning is simply establishing where on a competitive map your products are in the eyes of the market.  The concept is quite simple if you ignore for a moment the complicating factors of market maturity, multiple segments many buyer genotypes, or 3,274 other elements.  To determine one’s position you simply have to identify the issues that are of primary concern to your buyers, and either measure their attitudes about competing products and perform a realistic evaluation of all the entrants.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t, and often leads to awkward issues.  Here’s an unfunny example.

Silicon Strategies Marketing recently performed a series of investigations for a client to determine what the market felt was important about a services offering and where the various competitors stood in the eyes of the market (since the quality of services are subjective, surveying the market was essential).  In our surveying we discovered that three issues were of primary importance to buyers, and that our client was a market leader (happiness) but in a tight cluster with two top competitors (unhappiness).  What this particular analysis showed was that in the eyes of the market, there was little differentiation between the top contenders.  This is a dangerous positioning because in the absence of differentiation, price becomes a negotiation tool for the buyer.  In these situations you must either explain with utter clarity what actually makes you different and better than your competition, or invent a new and meaningful differentiation, or both.

Standing still is not an option.

Refining market messages is a perpetual activity, but urgent when you discover that your position lumps you together with competitors.  Reviewing all messaging in light of the principle buyer motivations will gain good short-term benefits as well as getting everybody inside your company to focus on what is truly essential in their daily work and outreach.  However, agile competitors may well realize they are in the same cluster and face the same positioning issues, and clone your messaging.  Thus, over the long run, you must invent new capabilities that are meaningful to buyers.

This leads to the second aspect of positioning, namely how to work around your competitors.  Going toe-to-toe with competitors is slow motion suicide.  It is expensive, produces few sales, and depletes your staff’s enthusiasm.  However, finding a path around your competitors not only generates revenue, but also starts what the Chasm Group defines as the “bowling alley” process.

This is where positioning gets complicated and fun (well, fun is you are a slightly masochist marketing guru … like me).

Segmentation, the process of dividing your entire market into small, manageable pieces is based on finding groups with common expected outcomes (“needs”, though that term is somewhat misleading).  Instead of attacking the entire market, an effort that will fail, you attack one segment until you dominate it, then move on to the next.  If you evaluate each possible segment with clarity, obvious paths to market-wide dominance will appear as you identify segments where your product is or can be made strong, where there is revenue, and where there is extensible similarity of need from your current segment.

Which gets back to positioning.  Your position in segment ‘A’ is not the same in segment ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘Zed’.  It is one thing to map your position against a whole market, and another to map it within each segment.  Both are valuable, but only the latter leads to a segment-by-segment growth strategy.  If you are not planning a segment-by-segment growth strategy, you can only grow as big as your current segment.  That is good enough for some businesses, especially those that are led by calcified founders.  It is not good enough for Silicon Valley and investors.  None of that crowd likes leaving money in other people’s pockets, but unlike politicians and other professional pickpockets, The Valley prefers to earn their income.

The marketing lesson herein is to map your entire market, segment it, identify and position-map what segment you are in and which ones you should be in next, then march through them like Marines through Tripoli.


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