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The importance of properly positioning your company in the market is fundamental to the success of your company. While good positioning carves a clear and unique path for prospects to your door, bad positioning eliminates your best prospects before you even know about them.
Self-awareness is hard to come by
Most companies who attempt to position their organizations do so by simply carving out time with their executives or middle management to brainstorm about how they are special. Either that, or they hire a high-priced consultant to develop their positioning, which results in the exact same process with flashier-looking but fundamentally identical results. While getting corporate input is a good thing, it can’t be the only thing. Navel gazing rarely works when it comes to positioning. It’s why so many companies get it wrong and why these companies often struggle.
Bad positioning is based on poorly conceived differentiators with one of these fatal flaws: they aren’t unique, they don’t have proof points, or they are irrelevant to the customer.
Bad positioning starts with poor differentiation
What is it people get wrong? Bad positioning typically starts with poor differentiators, which in turn are typically based on second-rate competitive research. Or worse yet, they’re based on no competitive research at all since most companies believe they already know their competitions’ strengths and weaknesses as well as their own. Meanwhile, hired consultants seem to think a visual audit of competitor websites is sufficient to develop an understanding of the competitive forces the company struggles against. None of these approaches constitute solid competitive research.
As a result, bad positioning is based on poorly conceived differentiators with one of these fatal flaws: they aren’t unique, they don’t have proof points, or they are irrelevant to the customer. Let’s look at some real-life examples.
#1: We do quality work.
Here’s a so-called differentiator I find fascinating. How is telling people you do quality work being different from anyone else – do people really think their competitors say they do crappy work? Even if the competition’s quality is actually poor, your audience will likely have been led to believe it’s good and what customers believe matters most. One way to save this differentiator is to be less vague – drill down a little deeper to get at the uniqueness of what you offer.
Alternate: We do high-quality work that results in fewer product recalls.
To back this up, you need to offer proof points. One way is to compare the number of product recalls your company has been involved in compared to the industry standard. Quality is tricky to quantify but it can be done.
#2: We have amazing people.
Everybody – and I mean everybody – believes their team is exceptional. For starters, corporate culture is self-congratulatory and inwardly focused; employees believe their own press while discounting their competitors. Plus, everyone has talented people. If they didn’t, they likely wouldn’t be a company worth noting. How are you going to prove your people are better than your competitors? Again this is a poor differentiator because it isn’t one and can’t be proven. If you want to try your hand at turning this into a true differentiator, you have to put some meat behind it.
Alternate: We have over 20 PhDs on staff and over 500 patents.
#3: Our execution is outstanding.
This is another chin-scratcher for the same reasons as the first two. No one is going to say they cannot execute. Moreover, can you prove that you can execute while your competitors can’t? Plus, it’s too vague to be meaningful. To make this bad differentiator good, you must tie your execution to something tangible. It must be quantified, or it will sound as superficial as it is.
Alternate: We meet vehicle-line deadlines without feature shedding or cost overruns.
This makes things more real, but you still need proof points to make it work. What are your total on-time on-spec metrics compared to the industry standard? Or how about the percentage of production programs you’ve completed with all requirements in the original spec?
#4: We’re the engineer’s choice.
This differentiator doesn’t work for all the same reasons I’ve already listed plus it sounds like tag line or a campaign header. It is so vague that it could be referring to anything from hard hats and calipers to telecom equipment and automotive electronics. Since engineers tend to be influencers rather than decision makers in the automotive market, this attempt at differentiation is also irrelevant because it doesn’t directly target the right (business) audience.
Alternate: Our tools create rich user-friendly GUIs in half the development time.
Another mistake: too many differentiators. How can you possibly be unique in so many ways?
Too many is too much
I could certainly go on, but I think you get the picture. Another mistake I see quite frequently is a company that has numerous differentiators. How can you possibly be unique in so many ways? Plus, how can you roll all these differentiators up into a market position? This is not a numbers game. It’s best to have two or three good differentiators rather than a whole slew that are irrelevant, hard to defend and/or common. I once ran across a company that had eight differentiators, which, beside being too numerous, were also ill-defined. Among them:
- Committed to “first-time-right”
- Faster time to market
- Flexible payment options
- Customer focus
My litmus test is this. I ask myself, could my differentiator be applicable to a business that is completely different from my own – maybe a hardware manufacturer? How about a residential cleaning service? Or an artisanal cheese company? If the answer is yes and I’m a tier-one software supplier, I’m doing something terribly wrong.
Considering how damaging bad positioning can be to your business, the money and time invested to do it properly is well spent.
Our positioning is good enough
Another thing I often encounter is companies that have recently reworked their positioning (and/or spent a lot of money developing it) and as a result are resistant to fixing what has been done poorly. The company brass wants marketers to move on, not spend more time or money on what appears to be a non-revenue generating activity. And yet the company isn’t getting any leads or they’re getting all the wrong leads. You can’t build an effective marketing house on a crumbling foundation. Considering how damaging bad positioning can be to your business, the money and time invested to do it properly is well spent.
If your new marketing company tells you that your positioning doesn’t work – don’t just ignore them because you’re tired of over rotating on it. Listen to what they have to say and see if it makes sense. Or better yet, call us.
For more information on how to do proper positioning, visit our earlier blog, B2B positioning: have you got it right?