Positioning police to the rescue

When you get stuck in your marketing, here’s a tip – think about your positioning

This article is about the importance of positioning to business development, especially for digital agencies. Whatever the hell that is. More on that below.
One of the best answers”: “There is no “tactic”. There is a “process” of educating and informing potential leads about the relevance and the benefits of your products or services.”

Here’s the key, though: that process fundamentally consists of positioning.

In the vast “sector” called “B2B”, you might warm cold prospects by adopting a horizontal/vertical position: (a) what you do and (b) who you do it for.

This is not a new idea. Al Ries wrote a book about this in 1980 based on concepts he first developed in a trade journal called Industrial Advertising in 1964.

But his positioning concept is, if anything, more useful today than it was then, especially for B2B services and products offerings.

By the way, what’s my positioning? Lead generation-focused marketing consulting for expert digital agencies with technical and creative expertise.

Now the term, “digital agency” is extremely ambiguous to many people. Even I have to define for myself what it means, and I have worked at four of them over the past 18 years:

  • OVEN Digital, a 300-person design-focused digital agency
  • CSTG, a 70-person campaign-focused digital agency
  • Kintera/Blackbaud, a 3,000-person enterprise software company with a 50-person digital agency embedded into it
  • Freeflow Digital, a 20-person marketing integration digital agency (which I co-owned and grew from a couple of freelancers)

And I have started a fifth, Stampede, a one-person business development digital agency. And I have consulted for, or contracted with, dozens of others.

So I know something about this business model.

What do all of you firms have in common? 

Let’s review.

Staffing patterns

  • Had at least one person on staff who thought of himself or herself as either a UX designer or a web designer.
  • Almost always had at least one crack software engineer with a computer science degree who tries to turn the company into a dev shop. Or, for more design-focused agencies, a relationship with a partner agency
  • Almost always had at least one crack designer with a BFA who imposes “designer law” on the company. Or, for more technical agencies, a long-standing relationship with such a designer
  • Had a psuedo-flat hierarchy
  • Had at least one person whose title was project manager
  • Extremely difficult to define roles and responsibilities
  • Blatant absence of copywriting-position or role. Instead, writing was done by most senior designers or strategists

Identity confusion patterns

What kinds of businesses were they?

  • consulting firm
  • software company
  • PR consultancy
  • strategy firm
  • dev shop
  • web design agency
  • web design and development agency
  • communications firms
  • web development agency
  • design firm
  • marketing agency
  • digital marketing agency
  • technology consultancy

These are all used interchangeably by the same, or very similar, companies. 

Who works for these companies:

  • consultants
  • strategists
  • designers
  • developers
  • solutions/software/information architects
  • software/product designers
  • programmers
  • UX designers
  • X marketers
  • Y marketers
  • Z marketers

And that’s a short list. There are at least 100 more potential titles.

Why? Why so much confusion and overlap. Because all of these things go together. Because the economy is moving so fast it’s hard to keep up.

Because it’s a new industry. 

Digital services is an industry and deserves its own NAICS code.

Value delivery patterns

  • Primary value delivery mechanism was a website
  • Used or developed CMS software to build websites and train clients how to do so
  • Occupied, to varying degrees, the role of digital marketing strategist to clients. 
  • Used CRM software

There following words were most commonly used to define deliverables.

  • Strategy
  • Solution
  • Clean
  • User-friendly
  • App
  • Product

Business development patterns

  • Clients were national or international businesses
  • Best clients had at least 20 million a year in revenue
  • Got most business through word of mouth
  • Like their ancestors, advertising agencies, most digital services do not advertise. Or market.
  • Company uses the following terms interchangeably to define themselves in their 
    • agency
    • firm
    • consultancy
    • shop
    • business
    • company

I have a simpler way of describing you: digital services firm.

And if you’re that confused about who you are, then positioning makes more sense than ever. Who you are and what you do hardly even matters. Don’t worry about whether you’re a design firm, a marketing firm, a strategic consultancy, or a dev shop.

All that matters is the problem you solve and whom you solve it for.