After you’ve aligned on your marketing strategy and gotten buy-in from the leadership team, you’ll want a deep understanding of your company’s strengths. Markets are competitive. Many products solve similar problems for customers. If you can’t differentiate yourself from your direct competitors, you’ll be seen in the same light as them. Making a statement and staking claim to a specific audience or niche is a powerful positioning strategy. Understanding what you’re the best at (and what only you can do) will help lay the foundation for this positioning exercise.
To align your organization on its position in the market, we’ve built a framework to help our clients understand where they land in the market – and how they should be talking about themselves. Through these exercises, you’ll flush out your true strengths and nail what makes your product unique.
Although it appears relatively straightforward, most would be surprised how many companies still make mistakes here. This framework is designed to help your team understand which attributes of your product/service to focus on when positioning yourselves against your competitors. It’s a foundational element of building your messaging and defining your value proposition pillars.
Think about some of the reasons why customers come to you for a solution, what are some things that your company does extremely well that you’re proud to talk about. Imagine you’re meeting up with an old friend, who you haven't seen in several years, and you bring up your company – you would probably say “My company is great because XYZ” – what does that sound like? It is important to note that this section doesn’t necessarily have to be different than your competitors, but special enough that you’re proud of it.
Let’s use Apple as an example. Apple is great at creating robust, high quality products for consumers. This is something that other companies like Samsung or Google could do as well, but Apple still, sure as hell, can do a damn great job at.
Now we loop in our competition. What is it that we do better than anyone else in the market? When you think of the Academy awards as an analogy, there are many prizes that are given out that night, but only a few categories that the world truly cares about that make you the shining star of the evening. Consider a linear scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the greatest at this particular attribute of your product – what attribute will rank you at 10 every time over your competition?
Bring Apple back as an example, something that they do better than the competition would be creating objectively, aesthetically pleasing, beautiful products. This is something that they do far better than the competition, despite others still being able to do so.
This is where we really differentiate ourselves from the competition. What is the only thing your company can do, and that no one else in the market is doing? This will form the basis of your value proposition pillars. It is normal to feel a little challenged at this section, not every company will have an “only” and will have to position themselves accordingly. Having about two to three is just the right amount.
Looping in Apple once again – the one thing that only Apple could create would be MacOS, no one else in the world creates it nor can come close to replicating its incredibly easy-to-use, beautifully fluid user interface.
Now that you’ve utilized the Best, Better, Only framework to solidify your company’s best attributes and how they compare to your competition as a whole, it’s time to take your positioning one step further. Narrow down the output from the previous exercise into a handful of elements with which you can compare yourself to your competitors.
If you like sports analogies, think of positioning as placing your company somewhere on the basketball court where you can receive the ball and score. There are many places where you can do this, and different players, with different attributes excel on different parts of the court but you heavily increase your chances of scoring, if there aren’t any defenders near you. That’s where you can make the biggest impact on the game, the fastest.
For those who don’t like sports analogies, another way to think about positioning is playing to your company’s strengths. We live in an age where information is at the tip of every consumer’s fingertips. This has resulted in many companies getting lost in the noise, fighting for the same advertising bandwidth, and competing on the same factors. Use this to your advantage and compete on the vectors you’ll win on.
In Seth Godin’s book, “This is Marketing”, he says that if you attempt to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. In fact, Seth argues that it is critical to whittle your market down to your “Minimum Viable Audience” (a spin off of Minimum Viable Product) and become their champion. Choose your Minimum Viable Audience based on who your product solves the most problems for or who it solves problems for the best. Once you’ve discovered this market, become its champion. It is now your job to obsess over your ideal customer, figure out exactly what they need to make their lives better, and effectively communicate how your product does just that.
But how do you choose the basis of comparison with your competition? The beauty of positioning is that you are in control of what vectors you use. This can seem like a daunting task, but if you sit back and think about it, the answer is simple: Choose the vectors that your Minimum Viable Audience cares the most about and the ones that you’ll win with.
The good news is that you’ve already done this with the Best, Better, Only exercise. Put the hard work you put into that framework to good use by selecting three to five of the best benefits, factors, features, metrics, etc. Ideally, you’ll have enough ideas in the “Only” category to fill your vectors with things that only your company can do, but if not, use ideas from the “Better” area as well.
Once you’ve narrowed your ideas down to three to five positioning vectors, it’s time to compare your company to your competitors. There are many ways to do this that are discussed below, but the most basic form is on a simple scatter plot. This allows you to compare yourself to your competitors across two different variables, and give yourself an objective view of how the marketplace stacks up against your company.
Back to Seth Godin and “This is Marketing”. He uses a great example of how positioning can deliver clear advantages to companies, depending on which positioning vectors are used. Consider the following scatter plot:
This positioning chart shows a handful of solutions that transport things from one place to another. If you look at them purely in terms of transportation capability (i.e. physically moving a package from A to B, they would probably look pretty similar. However, if you were the CMO of Brinks, you could position the company with “Security’ and “Speed” and in doing so, completely separate yourself from the competition, and charge a premium in the process. Alternatively, if you were the CMO of the USPS, your positioning vectors would be completely different.
This exercise will force you and your company to take a hard look at the market you play in. See where your competition sits. See who is the closest to your company on these vectors. They will be your closest competition and the companies you’ll have to beat out the most regularly. But most importantly, find the “Speed” and “Security” vectors for your company and compare your company to your competitors. These will be central to your messaging strategy and will be at the forefront of much of your content, as you go to market.
The matrix that Seth Goden uses is a fantastic way to visualize positioning, based on 2 vectors. But what happens if you are trying to visualize your competitive landscape across more than 2? Here is a great resource you can use to find additional ways to view your competitive landscape: 5 Charts Used for Competitor Analysis. This article will show you how to use the following charts.
Additionally, you can use a SWOT chart as a great tool for strategic analysis of your company. Learn more here.
If you’re interested in learning more about ways to define your “Best, Better, Only” and build your positioning matrix, check out our list of suggested readings/videos below: