Brand positioning is one of those terms often seemingly used without a clear sense of what it actually means.
Brand positioning is nothing more than what you do and who you do it for. That’s it.
We do digital marketing and we do it for owners or senior directors of B2B and professional service organisations.
When you have a clear positioning statement, it seems so simple. So obvious. But arriving at that point can be excruciating, so it’s worth understanding the 4 most common sources of position…
- Best at one thing
- Complete solution for one type of audience
- Access based positioning
- Best at two or three things
The first is the simplest – become really good at one thing.
Now of course, I don’t necessarily mean best in an objective sense. Who makes the world’s best t-shirts or energy drinks? It’s all a question of perception. Best could mean “increases your status” or “makes you feel good”. But the point is that you are viewed as the go-to brand for that particular thing.
The upside of this is not just opportunity for high margins, but clarity. Both for customers, and operationally. You build and ship one thing – that’s it.
There are some downsides, however. For a start, if technology ever renders that one thing obsolete, you may have no other means by which to maintain your customer relationship.
At the other end of the spectrum is providing a complete solution for one type of audience. You often see this in professional services. Accountancy firms that provide absolutely everything to SME’s for example.
This can result in a really resilient customer relationship as there are so many touch points and sources of value. But it can be an operational minefield as with every additional service line, you’re introducing another way to make mistakes and get fired, so how far you stretch that relationship is a big question, and one I’ll come back to shortly.
The third source of positioning is what we call access based positioning, and stems from your unique ability to deliver your products to the customer. A village butcher probably isn’t the best butcher in the country, but there’s a good chance they’re the best butcher in the village, and for a local family hastily preparing lunch on a Sunday afternoon, that’s all that matters.
Gyms are a common example of this, as our storage companies or anything else where you need to be within a certain radius of the customer.
But it isn’t just about physical proximity. Some brands may have a virtual access route into their customers, such as a brand that’s developed an astonishingly strong search engine presence after years of high quality, high quantity content generation.
Then there are those companies that have a logistical edge that enables them to service customer at home in a way that competitors can’t, such as Amazon.
The final source of position is one that isn’t talked about much. In fact, I think I might have made it up, but bear with me because I think it’s actually where most businesses sit, particularly those in professional services.
For those companies that can’t benefit from a unique source of access, they instead revert to one of the two options that I outlined before. At one end of the spectrum they can be the best in the world at one thing, and at the other end they can provide a complete solution to one particular type of customer.
But for the reasons explained, these two extremes can present challenges. In many markets, being the best at just one thing is really difficult. In our market, if your goal is to be the best in the world at website builds, good luck. You’d have to go far more niche than that and then you really do risk becoming dependent on technology that will inevitably become obsolete at some stage. But equally if you try and do everything for one particular type of client, you will create operational madness.
But there is a solution to this. Something that sits in the middle of the spectrum. And it’s something that came to me during a conversation I had with my cousin several years ago and an analogy I’ve bored many people with since.
He’s a doctor, and by the age of about 30 he had been published multiple times not just in mainstream media, but in both the Lancet and New England Medical Journal, which is a pretty big deal in that world. So I asked him – what is it about his approach that enabled him to develop such a name for himself so quickly, other than his planet sized brain and relentless work ethic – neither of which are much of a USP in that world.
He replied “Dan, I’m a decent surgeon but I’m not the best. Probably pretty middle of the road. But the other surgeons think what I do in academics is another language. And while it’s true that I am a strong academic, there are people out there as good as me. But those academics look at me and think “That’s so cool that you’re so hands on, actually doing surgery”. That’s my point of difference. I’m not the best in the world at one thing, but there aren’t many that can do both, and certainly not in the field of transplantations where I specialise.”
In that moment it clicked. Most businesses, particularly B2B or professional services, can’t compete at just one thing. But what they can do is marry two or three core competencies that offer tremendous combined value to their customer, and become bloody good at both.
So if you’re struggling to find your one thing and you’re desperate not to become a jack of all trades, perhaps you need to find your two or three things instead.
See you next time,