How to hack a positioning statement

Positioning doesn’t mean you have to be a purple cow, or go viral. Or occupy a market niche over the long-term. It means you let someone else define you

One thing I have learned from web copywriting for tech firms – company owners often hide the company’s true positioning statement inside of their About page bios. Usually about halfway down the paragraph, where they start talking about the companies they love working with and know a lot about.

The original book on positioning discusses the value of positioning soft drinks (Coke vs Pepsi), car rentals (Hertz vs Avis), and other consumer products. To boil it down to one sentence: “become the no. 2 brand by being markedly different in the mind of your customers.” If Coke is red, be blue. That’s pretty much the entire book.

Fast forward 40 years to 2020 (almost), to creative and technical expertise businesses like yours and mine, and this advice is pretty meh.

Who is the market leader in my space or yours? No idea. What color are they? Also, no idea. But I know that every possible color is taken. According to LI Sales Nav, there are 9 million people whose role is marketing and 1.2 million “Computer Software” companies.

So “become #2 by being a different color” doesn’t really apply. In Purple Cow, published 22 years after Positioning, Seth Godin basically just restate Al Ries’s, “be different than the leader” positioning advice.  He also, however, stipulates doing so by going “mini-viral” and not relying on advertising, a newish idea at the time but not too relevant today either as virality has (a) lost its value and (b) continues to favor consumer products (movies, shows, soaps, etc.)

The idea we can still apply to our businesses today is that positioning is occupying a place in someone’s mind. To be specific, it’s when your client or their peer decides that you occupy a business niche. It won’t be a long-term place, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be a conclusion they arrive at independently when they doing anything other than talking to you directly.

They need to say, “I looked at your X and I realized that your business basically is focused on helping businesses like mine”. This is equally true for product firms or for services firms. Essentially, you want them to conclude that you might be a good fit without ever talking to them.

Think about the ways that can happen; someone reads your:

  • email domain name in a cold outreach email, and looks it up
  • profile on LinkedIn, Upwork, Clutch, or Dribbble
  • byline when they see you guest on a podcast or a blog
  • website homepage, or your bio – through a trigger statement

How long does that last? Again – not long, not without a serious content marketing program

But positioning for outbound marketing, at least, doesn’t need to last that long. It just needs to last until you talk to them on the phone. That could mean a few days or a few weeks. You might call this “profile positioning” – where all your online profiles, your website homepage, and your LinkedIn bio all agree with each other that you focus on a particular business niche.

Once you get this short-term, outbound-focused positioning in place, you can focus on extending it through content marketing. You don’t build on your positioning by tweaking a statement or web copy; you build on it creating a body of content that supports it.

But first things first.

Take action. Scan your online bios across the web for a sentence that talks about the companies you typically work with by describing their commonalities. Take that entire sentence and put it on your homepage in an H1 tag.

That’s a start – reply to this email and lemme see what you came up with!!

My best,
Rowan