April Dunford rightly believes that:
Positioning is the foundation of everything we do in marketing and sales [and product design]. It’s an input and the starting point for messaging, copywriting, sales enablement, campaign planning, content development, sales tool development, and so much more…
Aristotle believed that all living things – plants, animals, humans, and Gods – had two essential qualities. If you get this, you can understand yourself and trace good and evil. They were ergon and arete.
Ergon is what a thing does that nothing else does. Arete is what a thing is excellent at, which is also its virtue.
The ergon of humans in general, argued Aristotle, was logic and reason. And our resulting arete was philosophy. In other words, our practice of philosophy is our virtue; it’s the best product of our logic and reason, and it’s good – morally beneficial.
What impedes it is therefore evil.
If you look at what you do as a calling (consulting, tech entrepreneurship, teaching) this starts to make a lot more sense. A calling is good for the world; what impedes it detracts from that good.
Is Aristotle’s ergon-arete framework is also a solid positioning system?
Fast-forward 2500 years to 2020.
In February, Zoom is the business web conferencing software of choice for the tech-savvy.
In April, Zoom is how friends, families, and social groups around the developed world connect.
And in a sign of how fast market positioning changes, some of the tech-savvy don’t want it anymore.
For years, Zoom was all-in on the high-end B2B market, fanatically inserting “enterprise” into every line of marketing copy; it was the lean, cloud-based alternative to corporate junkware such as GoToMeeting and Webex.
Zoom’s unique feature was video beauty: high-quality video combined with face filtering on par with Instagram – no alternative makes you look as good, including meeting in person.
What a brilliant product focus – human vanity.
Zoom’s second most important feature was being free – for meeting hosts and attendees both. Of course, lots of web conferencing software is free, such as Skype or Hangouts. But not enterprise web conferencing software.
It’s third-most important feature was being relatively hassle-free.
Put it all together, mix in a pandemic, and you’ve got 200-million daily active Zoom users who mostly don’t pay a dime and don’t use it in a work setting, let alone in a corporate one.
So how does Zoom position itself now?
This tale shows why it’s a mistake to think of positioning as a one-off decision, as evinced by the expression, “the positioning decision”. A decision implies finality, resolution, conclusion; none of which really exists in the world of B2B technology solutions. The business problems keep bursting open in new, unpredictable ways.
The “positioning process” is a little closer to how you should approach positioning your products and services.
Set aside the Ries & Trout definition of positioning for consumer goods. We’re talking about finely calibrated B2B products and services that are made, understood, bought and sold by tiny sliver-droplets of our enormous ocean of an economy.
In this ocean, Aristotle is more relevant than Ries.
Imagine for a moment that you asked Aristotle to attribute ergon and arete to “solutions”. He would say: what does it do that nothing else does, what is it excellent at as a result, and what, by extension, is its virtue?
Good positioning says what your product does in the market category you place it in, so that its strengths appeal to ideal customers.
Part of its appeal lies in its virtue – how is it good/fair/equalizing/happiness-inducing for the world – and for your customer? How does it make them a hero, as Donald Miller would say?
Say what you want about security issues, it’s pretty clear how Zoom is good for the world – how it makes you a small hero, in some small way, resisting this pandemic by connecting anyway.