I once lived with brothers who had a penchant for long, involved games of Risk. They were gangly identical twins, with long torsos and even longer legs, who possessed the eerie we-used-to-be-the-same-egg familiarity of having the same physical reactions to situations.
One would enter the room and observe the other. After a few minutes he would say to his twin: “Uncross your leg now”. The other would comply without looking away from the Risk game and maybe mutter a ‘thank you’ in passing.
I remember the first time I saw this kind of interchange I looked around at my other un-phased roomies for an explanation.
“Oh. Well, he just knew that his leg would fall asleep if he didn’t uncross it right then…They pretty much have the same body..”
Cue Twilight Zone intro.
Many times over the years I have thought back and wondered what it would be like to have that degree of guidance and insight, especially in business. And yes, maybe it’s a teeny bit creepier than having a mentorship set up, but wouldn’t it be great if someone in your exact situation could just tell you when to change something before you suffer the pins and needles of strategic repositioning?
I know that in my last post I wrote about rebranding. And I was going to write about sub-brands this time around. But frankly, I wanted to address positioning instead, as it ties into our rebranding exploration, and it’s a great preface to the sub-brand chapter.
Positioning is essentially where you sit in your consumer’s mind. It’s what makes you different from your competition, big or small. It’s how your end-user sets you apart, and how much mindshare he or she gives you. And while it can be no big deal to contemplate positioning in mid-size or larger businesses that have nicely fleshed out marketing departments, it can be intimidating to the soloist – the CEO/utility player that often the entrepreneur is.
As your proverbial twin, here’s a few things to keep in mind about Positioning.
Change is Inevitable (You)
Before I get into suggestions about positioning statement templates and questions and mission and vision, I’d like to start with a concept that few people seem to mention. Perhaps it’s the incredibly obvious, but it also prevents over-complication and helps to keep your outlook fresh. Here it is: Your business will change. Your product will change. That means your position (in your consumer, community, or market’s mind) will change too.
If you approach this like it’s a given, much like the twins knew that eventually their legs would fall asleep, it keeps your focus on the now, and deflates the sometimes looming mountain of 10 year future planning to something more, well, hike-able at any rate, like a 2-5 year plan.
The second thing to keep in mind, is that your carefully crafted business plan, marketing plan, or any other strategic document you’ve slaved away at to demonstrate corporate tangibility, will and should also change. These are living documents. They are not commandments etched in stone or sad abridged volumes covered in dust. They should be revisited every couple years even if you haven’t changed anything just to see if you’ve naturally gravitated away from what you perceived your business objectives to be.
If you embrace the concept of inevitable change while you are developing your product or business, you also embrace adaptation more readily. When you center your product or business around a mandate of adaptability, you are instantly more open to integrating change that stems from your market. And that only solidifies your position and mindshare, and generates brand loyalty.
Change is Inevitable (Them)
Your targets will grow up. They will change and learn, and adopt new tendencies. Yes. Another naked simple truth in a world of MBA obfuscations, I know. But once you’ve understood that your business is a variable, it’s time to wrap your mind around the fact that your consumer market is also a variable. Like any tide it will ebb and flow with pop trends and socio-cultural, economic, and technological developments (more on that later). Staying plugged into those aspects of change, and aligning it with your product and brand will keep your position strong.
Positioning is Kinetic
Sometimes there are so many moving parts, that positioning feels more like trying to find the break in the ropes of a game of double-dutch. At any rate, it should be far from developing a static one-liner that you start off analyzing at your weekly marketing meetings.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t develop that static one-liner. I just don’t think that you should define that as your position. Your position is an active state hinging on tactics, just like your business is considerably more than a binder of policies, a plan, and some transactions. You can distill your whole enterprise into one of those “Our (offering) is the only (category) that (benefit)” positioning statements, but that is just the jumping off point.
The Fixed Elements: Strategic Infrastructure of a Position
There is a certain formulaic approach to harvesting a positioning statement from the seeds of your corporate mission, vision, and values. If you don’t have those yet, don’t worry. As long as you know who you are, what you do, and what makes you stand out, you’re golden.
The first thing that people readily explore when they’re writing this statement is what is Realistic. You will have your own ideas of what is ambitious for your objectives and what is attainable. In the beginning however, try to think locally. Stick with goals that can be mapped in a comfortable geography. (The Tastiest souvlaki in Long Branch.) I believe even Starbucks left ‘world domination’ for Version 4.0 of their statement. Narrowing your position often helps focus it as opposed to a broad position that aims at too much. Maybe you want to cull down from souvlaki to chicken souvlaki.
As well, understand that Differentiation or rather Uniqueness is a huge key to positioning. You can’t have someone else’s position, because well, two things can’t generally occupy the same place at the same time. You can however compete for that space in someone’s head. Hence, hone those differences. This being said you also have to realize that truly original products are only mass-produced in Utopia. Yes, please, do find what you think makes your business unique. But understand that at the end of the day, that doesn’t make yours the only one with those qualities. And nothing is going to stop someone from adapting to your strategy if they see it working for you. See? Change is inevitable.
Believability requires that you have delivered on your claims. I’m not talking about puffery. I’m talking about quantifying an objective, or attributing it with one of those unique differentials, and then having that embraced by your consumer community as fact. Your market should readily believe that your light bulb is the most energy efficient because it lasts 33 years – because it really does last 33 years.
There is a certain notion that once mindshare is obtained, it’s locked in permanently to one specific vector. But just because a connection between company and product can be wired, it doesn’t mean it’s hard-wired through all eternity. Again, though Kleenex might be a household name synonymous with tissue, and Tylenol may now be the go-to for all acetaminophen, there was a time when Shell, the petrol giant was known exclusively for, well, its shells. Truth. During a time when cars finally allowed people to make day trips, Shell started out selling seas-side souvenirs to visitors. They added cans of gas to their inventory when travelers discovered they needed to refuel their new-fangled automobiles. Gradually one boutique concept swallowed the other. So while we have Durability and Sustainability on our position infrastructure list as keys to becoming household names, I would like to leave you thinking that positions can change. And while I believe infrastructure is fixed, I also believe that is a prime example of adaptation and repositioning at its best.
A small tributary note on the Household Name and Positioning: Another chink in the armor of Durability is the inevitable paradigm shift – the same thing that in a way was responsible for taking Shell from seashell boutique to gas guru. A paradigm shift is not just an abused catch-phrase from mid 90s Management Speak. It can also be applied to certain positions and products becoming almost entirely obsolete. Mindshare flushed completely. Case and point: The Sony Walkman evolving to portable CD player, all but forgotten in the wake of the Ipod. There are those who say that Apple’s durable position is that of its user-friendly computers. I disagree. Regardless of PC or Mac platform wars, the Ipod has been the trump of the Apple brand. Lock and load.
The last thing to keep in mind is Affordability. Or the first. Budget again ties into how realistic your ambition is. It often defines it as a matter of fact. Because money is really the key to executing your position, prepare by sitting down with your marketing plan. Look over your resource allocation. Look at what you’ve allowed for both short and long-term goals and not just the strategy you want to employ, but at the saturation you can achieve, and response you think it will yield. If you have decided to cultivate a realistic position and aim for the Tastiest Souvlaki in Long Branch, you can then focus your advertising and brand recognition in the community on a highly effective personalized level, instead of larger-scale niche marketing that may or may not give you the iconic reputation for which you are hungry.
If you have sat down and mapped out your thoughts based on this ‘statement infrastructure’ then you will likely have a very good idea of what your product is, who it’s for, and what makes it better or different then what’s out there. But that’s not the end of the positioning exercise.
Now, what you want to do is plug it in.
There are plenty of decent statement templates out there. I like this one: “Our (offering) is the only (category) that (benefit)” which I’ve seen credited to Marty Neumeier. Short, sweet, and out-and-out squashes any complex phraseology. That makes for a great marker.
In my previous post I talk about lining up your business objectives with your communication objectives, and your brand strategy. This positioning statement will fit nicely in there as a parameter or marker for both product testing, and in building the brand that will express it to your target. Whenever you come up with a strategy, a policy, or a mandate; measure it up against your statement. See if it fits. Ask yourself if there is complete synergy between your objectives, your position, and your brand. But most importantly, use it as a marker to identify change: what has changed in your business, in the eyes of your target market; or what needs to change so you can secure, or expand your own unique hold on your community’s mind.
Whether that’s simply uncrossing your legs is your call.
SPIN THE IDEA LTD.