Updated: May 19
It’s entirely possible that you haven’t considered your business’s positioning. At all. It’s also possible that your business has been performing fine without doing so. The thing is, you cannot really optimize your marketing, website, emails, or social presence without having a very clear understanding of where your business is in the market place.
Positioning, quite simply, tells your customers who you are and why they should care. The caveat is that identifying and fleshing out your positioning isn’t as simple as declaring yourself a clothing store. Positioning expert April Dunford explains positioning as a set of statements dependent on each other for clarity. Let's walk through her positioning steps.
Why is Positioning Important?
Let's start with why you should give a darn about positioning. I mean, you made it this far without it right? Well, maybe. Or maybe you’ve only really scratched the surface of your business’s potential and going through a positioning exercise will help launch you even further. Understanding exactly where you are in the marketplace, how your customers and potential customers see you, and what value you bring to them is critical in nailing everything from your marketing to your branding.
Let’s say, for example, you see your business as a brewery that happens to serve food. Your customers, though, definitely see you as a restaurant. If you’re building your marketing around being a brewery, you’re not going to connect with people on a meaningful level. According to Emotive Brand, “Defining a clear positioning allows you to control how the market perceives you and better positions your product and/or service to be more convincing and attractive in that market.”
Understanding exactly where you are in the marketplace, how your customers and potential customers see you, and what value you bring to them is critical in nailing everything from your marketing to your branding.
Understanding your positioning also helps you strategize your focus. Let me give you a real-life, close-to-home example. When I launched my own business, I was offering website content, email marketing, and social media development and management. I wasn’t clear, though, on what my unique attributes were which means I had no understanding of the fact that I was spreading myself too thin trying to address a need that is met, and quite well, by existing social media managers in the Hudson Valley.
Understanding my niche helped me define my positioning which helped me realize that, by eliminating social media management from my services, I could focus all of my energy on website content and email marketing. And you know what? It’s worked. My business is thriving in part because of this very clear definition.
What’s your market category?
Um…what’s a market category? Quite simply, it is the place in the market that your value is most obvious to your target customer base. Let’s go back to that earlier example. As the brewery owner, you were missing the mark on your market category. You weren’t a brewery at all, but a restaurant. Say you’ve been marketing yourself as a social media manager but the value that your customers really see is how well you manage all of their content. Your true market category is content management.
Understand this and you’ll be better equipped to design marketing, branding, website content, even store layouts that drive your business. Once you’ve zeroed in on your market category, you can begin to look at your competitors.
Understand the alternatives
This is simply a way of saying learn your competitors, but not just figuring out who your target customers would go to if you didn’t exist. That’s the first step. What you need to delve into is understanding what exactly it is that they offer. Don’t guess or assume. Do your market research. (Market research is a topic in and of itself, and if you’re not certain on how to start, this article from Hubspot is a great read.)
What products/services do they offer? What are their prices? Why do customers love them? What do they not love? Putting together this data on your competitors paints a very clear picture for you of what your customers’ alternatives are. Which, in turn, helps you determine your unique attributes.
Claim your unique attributes.
Now that you know what others are doing well – and not so well – focus on your services, products, and experiences. What combination of those do you bring to customers that others do not? And don’t say, "Nothing." Draw from all of the business experiences, customers you have served, products you have worked with to determine what it is about your business that makes it stand out from any other.
Maybe you’re the only baker who’s worked in Sweden. Maybe you’re the only chef who’s battled Crohn’s. Maybe you’re the only jeweler who’s also climbed a corporate ladder. All of those individual experiences shape how you’ll respond to customer needs, unexpected roadblocks, difficult requests…and that’s what makes your business unique.
Cement your value.
The value you bring is critical. If you’re not adding value to your customers’ lives, well, then, you’ll find those customers looking elsewhere. However shiny or fancy or new your product or service is will prove irrelevant if it isn’t demonstrating any value to people. You’ve just identified your business’s unique attributes; look at them in totality and use them to determine your strengths.
Be deliberate and detailed in identifying your business's value.
Be deliberate and detailed. If you’re the only chef who’s also battled Crohn's, your value is an understanding of critical dietary guidelines and how to craft delicious meals around them. If you’re the only jeweler who previously managed a successful corporate career, your value may lie in an ability to read people and know what jewelry will suit them. You can understand how important it is to address each step in this positioning process in full; they coexist to build your brand.
Know your customers.
Who will most appreciate the value you provide? That’s your key customer base. That’s the population to whom you market. Perhaps not exclusively, but if you understand that population A will see immense value in the unique attributes you’ve identified, wouldn’t you want to talk to them? (The answer is yes if you were curious.)
Understand your target customers: how do they like to buy things? Where do they shop? How often? What motivates them? What scares them?
Don’t just theorize; build personas to know your customers. Then add in your first-person data: Observe how they shop. Note what products sell and what ones don’t. Listen to their questions and comments. Make this a fluid, continual process. Your customer base may evolve, and you’ll need to position yourself to remain relevant as it does.
Delving into a positioning exercise will not only help you understand where in the market your business exists but also just how powerful its value is to the people who need it. And this knowledge is exactly the fuel you need to focus your message and your marketing to propel your success.