Companies that push the envelope on innovation often resist being associated with an established category or segment. “We don’t have any competitors”, and “We’re creating a new category” are two common expressions of resistance.
Both statements may be true, yet are also counter-productive to landing investors, wooing partners, and attracting customers.
In this article, I demystify the concept of “positioning” for tech or other leading-edge enterprises. Then, I offer tips for positioning effectively without being pigeon-holed.
The trouble with positioning
Positioning is the process of establishing the place a brand occupies in the minds of customers and among competitors. Positioning is as necessary as displaying one’s wares in a village bazaar even in a virtualized or high-tech marketplace. To catch and hold attention, an offering needs to be both recognizable and unique. That’s positioning, and it’s the fastest route to earning the right to pitch your offering to potential customers.
Positioning is the fastest route to earning the right to pitch your offering.
The trouble many companies have with positioning is: it’s RELATIVE. New-tech companies may not have customers yet; innovators may have a truly novel idea; a start-up may be tackling a known problem in a completely new way.
“Don’t pigeon-hole me” expresses the struggle to communicate a unique identity or searching for a niche. The risk is landing in the wrong pigeon-hole and becoming stuck there, unable to explore, grow, and branch out.
Avoid being pigeon-holed
Understanding the psychology of pigeon-holing is the first step to avoiding it. Pigeon-holing is a way of classifying information: it says This belongs Here. Pigeon-hole cabinets hold individuals’ mail and organize knick-knacks. They are small and specific, designed to create order.
It’s human nature to place order on a random world, and that’s the key: if you don’t position your brand, others will do it for you. If a brand doesn’t stake its ground it will have to settle for what’s left or spend its resources fighting for a place instead of thriving in its place.
If a brand doesn’t stake its ground, it will have to settle for what’s left or spend its resources fighting for a place instead of thriving in its place.
To avoid being pigeon-holed, you’ve got to take ownership of its positioning.
Tips to position effectively
Stake your ground and stay agile—that’s a winning formula. These are concrete steps to take to do it. (They’re also part of our Essential Story process.)
Know the problem you’re solving
You must be able to state who your product/service is for and the problem it solves for them. Be specific about the problem and be sure to state the problem in the target audience’s language.
Know how else the problem is being solved
If it’s truly a problem, the affected audience has at least thought about trying to solve it. You may not have direct competitors, but you need to know the DIY approaches the target audience is taking, as well as the sub-standard alternatives they’re kluge-ing together to get the job done.
Survey the landscape
Now that you understand the alternative solutions as they exist in the target audience’s perception, survey the landscape of brands that offer those alternatives. This may include holistic solutions or solutions that address pieces of the problem. Learn what they say they do and how they say they do it—what ground have they staked out?
Get near to the leaders
Identify the leaders in that landscape. Check analyst reports from companies like Gartner or industry-specific surveys and directories—learn the language of the industry and who’s on the radar. Understand where your product/service brushes up against the leaders and where it diverges.
Now it’s time to stake your ground. Acknowledge what’s going on in your market space and describe how you add to the conversation. Rather than wasting energy and resources saying “no, we don’t do that”, be efficient: “Yes, this is happening in the market” (this validates the need and orients the audience to something they know), “AND we’re contributing in this way…”.
Shifting and pivoting
If you’re shifting or pivoting an established product, service, or brand, you must position or re-position. In this case, I’ll add one more tip to the list above: include your established offering in the landscape survey.
At Phrase Strategy, positioning is our wheelhouse. We help businesses and organizations in a range of industries and markets to position effectively and build the story to communicate their position. It all starts with an Essential Story.