Continuing my series of short articles on startup marketing this week I want to talk about positioning (yet another P).  Positioning is a concept in marketing which was first popularized by AlRies and Jack Trout in “Positioning – The Battle for Your Mind” back in 1981. The basic concept is that any brand/company/product is valued by the perception it carries in a person’s mind.  It is something that big tech companies typically do a horrifically bad job of. But to give a few examples in my mind:

Amazon = world’s largest online store
Apple = simple design
Blackberry = mobile email
Dell = made to order computers
Flickr = photo sharing
Microsoft = hard to use software
Oracle = databases

Positioning is a bit of an old school concept that still has great utility today in the construct of startup marketing.  Like some more colorful words, positioning it can be used as both a noun and verb.

Positioning, the noun, is the market’s perception of a company and its products.  It is what your competitors, customers, investors, prospects, and vendors perceive about the offering.  The key word here is perceive.

Positioning, the verb, is the act of selecting and emphasizing individual associations that can influence the overall perception.   It is creating, or at least influencing, the noun version of the word.  Positioning is a crucial step and a foundation of any startup marketing strategy.  If you don’t do it, your competition will, and in a way that does not put you and your company in the best light.

With that said, I have found that entrepreneurs hate to try and position their companies.  Why you may ask.  Because it forces a niche approach.  A niche approach forces you to decide what you want to be when you grow up.  Entrepreneurs typically don’t like to address this because it reduces options.  If you don’t reduce options you become Yahoo!.

So, how does one go about the act of positioning.   I have found that a combination of the concepts presented by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm (page 161) and Chris Coleman in The Green Banana Papers (page 36) work best. While it takes a lot of research, strategic thought and time (it will take at least 90 days to distill this), simply fill in the blanks or modify to suit your needs.

For __________________
(target customer)
(company/product name)
is a _________________
(category in which you compete)
that _________________.
(functional need filled)
Unlike _______________
(your primary competitor)
we ___________________.
(why you are different).

And once you get that down you consistently repeat it.  Consistently repeat it.

Here are a few examples from startups that I have been a part of in the past that I still can recite.

CipherTrust provides email security to enterprises so they can protect their messaging systems.  Unlike the competition, Ciphertrust offers comprehensive protection designed from the ground up for demanding messaging environments.

For individual consumers who are frustrated with their online experience, MindSpring is a national Internet access service that offers easy to use software, a reliable network that enables customers to connect, and accessible, friendly customer service.  Unlike America Online, we are not trying to be the biggest, we are trying to be the best.

One final important thought.  You can’t turn a Chevette into a Corvette via positioning.  The act of positioning has to begin with where your are currently positioned in the market and has some bounds.

With that said, positioning is powerful.  Take the time and thought to do it.

March 19, 2008  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Marketing