I’ve met with a bunch of startups and larger companies recently that say they need “messaging” help.
They typically have some core messaging developed as part of a pitch deck, web site or marketing collateral, but it wasn’t developed in a structured way to guide a broader set of communications across various channels and disciplines. Or they have something from a few years ago that hasn’t been maintained. They know they could do better but haven’t had the time or expertise to do it.
Sometimes they’ll mention a need for “positioning” help, but too often that’s undefined or just tagged onto the messaging need. Or they claim to have done some positioning work, but when you dig into it, it’s purely a comparison of features and benefits between two or three products. Or the all-too-common checklist showing five “yes” checks for their product and five “no” checks for competitors.
It makes me fear the art and discipline of market positioning has been lost in the mad rush to start and scale companies as quickly as possible.
The reality is that smart, thoughtful and well-tested market positioning is one of the most powerful investments a startup can make. It’s a critical success factor in achieving product-market fit. It’s a key driver in determining who wins and who loses in technology markets. And it helps companies think ahead to balance short-term demand signals with long-term company building.
In short, it shouldn’t be optional. And it shouldn’t be confused with messaging, which happens (whether ad hoc or purposeful) as part of every call, email, presentation, announcement or event.
True market positioning needs to understand and reflect not just who you are as a company and what product(s) you’re building, but also who your audiences and competitors are, what routes to market exist and/or need to be created, and which partners, influencers and advocates are important to driving market adoption.
As Geoffrey Moore wrote in 1995, positioning is “not so much an exercise in customer communications, but rather a set of ritual behaviors by which we assert our rightful place within the hierarchy of power relationships that govern a market at any given moment.”
So what’s your rightful place? And what ritual behaviors can you establish to earn it?