[Update, October 2020 – I no longer believe in the positioning decision (singular). Instead, I think of positioning as an ongoing mindset that lets you make positioning decisions in your marketing]
“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
So said one partygoer to another in The Great Gatsby. True, isn’t it? It’s a close cousin concept to the comfortable anonymity that large cities bring.
Keep Jordan’s wisdom in mind as you refine the positioning of your business. Because the economy we do business in is an infinitely big party. It’s getting exponentially bigger, too, as indie experts and entrepreneurs chip away at the massive creative, consulting, and technology conglomerates that have commandeered so much of the business world’s spending money over the last half-century.
So by all means – feel free to evolve your positioning – and to do so in public. Over and over. Caveat: rolling stone, no moss (moss being domain expertise). But you will accumulate knowledge as you go regardless.
Hang on a second…
What exactly is positioning?
A couple of definitions of positioning before talking about making positioning decisions. One is X for Y – I do X thing for Y audience.
You can extend that a little by talking about what problem you solve for Y. And how your X is a little different than other people’s X.
Jonathan Stark (no relation to Ned) defines this as a Laser-Focus Positioning Statement (LFPS) and offers this exercise:
I’m a _______ who helps _______ with/to _______. Unlike my competitors, _______.
Let’s plug in Salesforce, with 35,000 employees:
Salesforce is a CRM-based suite of SaaS software products who helps large B2B sales and marketing teams with managing complex sales pipelines. Unlike its enterprise CRM software competitors (used to be), Salesforce is a SaaS CRM product and has other cloud marketing tools that add value to the CRM.
Now let’s plugin BrainCheck, a Digital Health startup with less than 35 employees.
BrainCheck is a cognitive neuro health firm that helps clinicians whose patients are at risk of dementia with proactive diagnosis and monitoring. Unlike its competitors, BrainCheck uses proprietary AI and other emerging tech.
You can also easily plug it in for a company of one. .
Rowan is a marketing consultant who helps B2B tech firm to define themselves. Unlike competitors, Rowan leverages agile marketing ideation.
The trick in all cases, though, is that your audience of potential customers sees you this way.
Most people just think of Salesforce as a CRM and that’s it. Their positioning struggles to establish themselves as being seen as the largest marketing cloud provider.
For Salesforce – and for all of us in the business of complex creative and technical B2B expertise – positioning is a never-ending evolution. That’s why I don’t the expression “making the positioning decision”, as if it were a solitary event.
It’s becoming more of an every 2 or 3 years thing, as the business landscape mutates more and more rapidly (at least in marketing).
Anyway, if you really have no idea what your LFPS is, or if you do but you want to change it, here are a few concrete steps you can take to evaluate potential alternative positioning options. These go deeper than the three-part Venn diagram of “What Do You Do Well, What You Love, What People Need”.
For each positioning concept you are interested in:
- Count its audience-size. For example, want to help Rachels in business? Calculate how many women are named Rachel in business in your part of the world
- Evaluate the competition for that audience. How many other businesses are competing for the same audience? In the bloody red competitive ocean, competitors are everywhere. In the blue ocean, there are no competitors. Hence, consulting for women named Rachel is what you call a “Blue Sky Strategy”. 
- Estimate the demand and urgency – for each audience, how much demand is there, how urgent, how long-lasting? Just because your count reveals a large audience doesn’t mean there is a demand for you you do from them.
- Know your learning curve for a given audience. How much expertise do you have for each? The 10,000-hour theory as promulgated by M. Gladwell has been rejected by the person from whose research it was derived . So maybe you don’t need 10,000 hours to become an in-demand expert. But what do you need?
- Look inward at your own interests. This is the What You Love circle in the three-part Venn diagram referenced above
- Evaluate risk. Your appetite for risk – and concomitantly, your capacity for risk.
If you want to dive really deep here, Philip Morgan offers a book, a course, and coaching around this process. Quite fascinating stuff – just don’t waste too much time perusing NAICS codes.
And remember – you’re at a big party. Be bold in your positioning and you will find intimate conversations with those who need what you do.
Footnotes & Errata
- Have to cite the Paul Jarvis book here, Company of One ↩
- Blue Sky isn’t necessarily preferable to a Red; most experts recommend a “Slightly Red Sky” strategy. I think it depends on all of these considerations taken together. ↩
- The book to read is Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericcson ↩