Ahmed Al Akber
+971 50 316 4956
If your business did one thing well, what would it be? Is that one thing recognized by your customers as something that is done better by your business than by any other? That is what positioning is about – being positioned in the prospect’s mind. Positioning is about fanatical focus on doing one thing really well.
To reinforce your position in the prospect’s mind, you must sacrifice. You must let go of anything that may detract from the core positioning of your product or service in the mind of the prospect.
No company can create its own position. A position is in the mind of the customer. All you try to do is to influence that position. In the classic book Selling The Invisible, Harry Beckwith asserts, “…your positioning is a place, and someone else puts you there: your prospects. Even services that do nothing to market their company have a position. A prospect simply takes what he knows about the company and positions the company accordingly.”
Beckwith goes on to explain the difference between position and a positioning statement:
A position (or statement of position) is a cold-hearted, no-nonsense statement of how you are perceived in the minds of prospects. It is your position.
A positioning statement, by contrast, states how you wish to be perceived. It is the core message you want to deliver in every medium, including elevators and airport waiting areas, to influence the perceptions of your service.
To understand where you are positioned, the best way to start is to ask your current customers what they care about most when it comes to choosing a product or service like yours. These are the critical factors on which they will compare your business to others. Then ask them to rate how your business performs against these critical success factors. Finally, ask them to rate other competing companies along the same lines. How is your business positioned in your customers’ minds?
Doing this has two distinct advantages. The first is a reality check – is your positioning statement believable, or completely out of touch? Are you claiming to be something that your customers don’t perceive you are? Companies fall in this trap all the time. They claim themselves to be the “leading”, “first”, “best”, and other exaggerated superlatives without really being that at all (a lot of the time they also don’t take into account whether prospects care for dealing with the leading, first, or best).
The second advantage is that in understanding where the gaps in your positioning vs. your positioning statement are, you’ll be in a better position to narrow that gap. The trick is to narrow this understanding of how you are positioned, with how you desire your business to be positioned (your positioning statement). Narrowing this gap will bring you closer to what you desire to be.
Take the example of Long Island Trust Company, a bank that Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote about in the marketing classic Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. A new banking law allowed for less restrictions for big city names like Citibank and Chase Manhattan to enter the Long Island market. Long Island Trust Company was the biggest bank on the island, and stood to lose a lot from the influx of large competitors.
To help develop a competitive position for the Long Island Trust Company, formal positioning research was commissioned to map the prospect’s mind. Prospects were given a set of six attributes and asked to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. These included: (1) many branches, (2) full range of services, (3) quality of service, (4) large capital, (5) helps Long Island residents, (6) helps Long Island economy.
The results of the first four traditional attributes (traditional reasons for doing business with a particular bank) were not looking good for Long Island Trust Company. In fact, out of six banks that they were compared to, they fared the worst on these first four factors.
However, they fared the best on the last two factors, which were specific to Long Island. This meant Long Island Trust Company had a strength – a better connection to Long Island than the big city banks. So they decided to leverage this strength, developing advertisements that had the following theme:
Why send your money to the city if you live on the Island?
It makes sense to keep you money close to home. Not at a city bank. But at Long Island Trust. Where it can work for Long Island.
After all, we concentrate on developing Long Island. Not Manhattan Island. Or some island off Kuwait.
Ask yourself, who do you think is most concerned about Long Island’s future?
A bank-come-lately with hundreds of other branches in the greater metropolitan areas plus affiliates in five continents?
Or a bank like ours that’s been here for over 50 years and has 33 offices on Long Island.
Further ads ran as follows: “If times get tough, will the city banks get going? (Back to the city).”
Fifteen months later, the same research was repeated. Long Island Trust Company went from lowest to highest in two of the four traditional attributes, and made solid gains in the other two.
The success in improving the positioning of the Long Island Trust Company is an example from a large, established company. One with large resources. What about smaller companies? How can small companies position themselves in the market?
In my experience, people who sell in small businesses are the most likely to face an inferiority complex. Their business is small, so they link that to their sense of self-worth. “You are small, so you must be lesser in many ways” is what many small business owners think. But there are significant advantages that prospects can benefit from in choosing to work with a small company. Here they are:
- Greater access to the owner or head of the company. Most large companies bring in their senior most staff on occasion, and usually in the selling process. These senior people tend to disappear once the deal is signed, leaving less experienced staff to fend for themselves and deliver what was promised. In dealing with a small company, customers usually get greater access to the head of the company, who will make sure that the job is done well and customized to fit the need. This is a significant advantage and should not be overlooked!
- Smaller companies are faster. There is less bureaucracy involved, which means they can make quicker decisions, which in turn means they can serve their clients better. The quicker you can solve a client’s issue, the more money and time you will make or save for the client.
- Better understanding of customer needs. Small businesses tend to have more face time with their clients, which means they can understand their clients needs better than larger businesses can. Understanding the issues your clients face (and helping to communicate that back to them) is one of the single most valuable things you can do for a client.
- Excitement. Due to its high capacity for risk, there is a lot of adventure around the innovation, change and challenge of running a small business. You never really know how it will turn out, and this can be very exciting. This will keep your employees excited too, and they in turn will be motivated as their efforts help shape the company, which reflects well on the service they deliver to your clients.
As a small business owner, building these strengths into your marketing is a great way to influence your position in the mind of your customer. It requires focus and attention to detail that takes a lot of work but is worth it in the long run.