Archive for the ‘Positioning’ Category

The Right Time(s) for Positioning

March 24, 2009

This post is for you product marketing types and entrepreneurs who are busy positioning your solutions. Once you have solidified your positioning and launched your product, now you are ready to kick back with your feet on your desk. Right? Wrong! There are going to points in time when you will need to revisit your positioning.

The obvious time that we focus on positioning is when a new product is in development and as we are getting it ready for launch. I can recount many a time gathering VoC, creating a positioning matrix, testing it with customers, debating it with engineering, staying up late worrying about it…. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

If done well positioning should “stick.” In other words, it is not something that should change with the weather. It should be in place for the many seasons. Your message (and evidence supporting your position) may and will change periodically, but your positioning should be on fairly firm ground for the long haul. However, there are catalysts that prompt a review of positioning along the way.

Here are four catalysts to look for:

When a new competitor enters the market
Any time a competitor of significance enters the market you need to revisit your positioning. Be careful to not underestimate a small, less established entrant who may be more nimble than an established player.

You must also beware of substitutes who may not look like competitors but can be the toughest competitors of all. An example, email vendors have noticed the use of email declining while social networks are picking up some of the volume. Not a direct competitor, but one that is undoubtedly prompting email vendors to revisit their positioning.

When a major market trend emerges or shifts
The second catalyst for reevaluating your positioning occurs when there is a change in dynamics in your market. This could include a new technology trend, a shift in the way customers use a product or an alliance of several related technology suppliers. When this occurs it’s time to review your positioning and evaluate whether this trend makes your current position stronger, weaker or has no impact.

When significant pricing moves are made in your market
The third catalyst, pricing moves, are fairly easy to spot. While working in technology companies the closest I came to a “price war” was in the consumer marketplace. But in lower tech industries I’ve seen pricing moves have dramatic affect on market dynamics and to a product’s positioning.

Additionally, in our struggling economy we must keep an eye out for short-term pricing incentives. I recently noticed a small technology company who is offering free implementation services for a specified period of time. Be mindful of how pricing moves can impact your position.

When your current strategy isn’t working
This is a tricky one. You can’t give up too quickly but if your current positioning isn’t working you need to take a close look at understanding why. Do not take this close look from the comfort of your office or conference room. You must engage with customers to get the type of insight you need. This fourth catalyst is perhaps the toughest catalyst to spot, and a critical one to not ignore.

Keep an eye out for the positioning catalysts! They are out there lurking in your markets more often that you might notice.

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What Ingredients Make Up a B2B Brand?

March 18, 2009

For those of you out there thinking about brand strategy, what are you focusing on? If it’s logo design, naming, colors and fonts… I would counter with an opinion that those thoughts are necessary but not sufficient.

Why? Because a brand is so much more than those basic elements. In a B2B technology company a brand is being formed with every encounter your customer has with your company – in any shape or form. Your brand is the sum of all the information communicated about your company, your products, your services and your people.

I’ve started a list of “ingredients” that contribute to the brand in your B2B company. This list is not exhaustive and I invite you to comment on this post with additional ideas you would like to see added to the list.

ingredients

The B2B Brand Ingredients:

  • the way your receptionist greets people as they walk in the door
  • your phone system. How easy or difficult is it to reach a human being? 
  • the interactions of your sales team, whether they are by phone or in person 
  • your pre-sales engineers (I once worked for a start-up where we discovered that pre-sales engagement and the initial professional services team had a direct and strong correlation to long term customer satisfaction)
  • your website
  • your PR people and the way they treat key (and not so key) journalists
  • the ease of parking at your offices
  • the cleanliness of your bathrooms (I’m not joking)
  • the reading material in your lobby
  • your ads, whether they are in print, on radio, online.  They all contribute to your brand.
  • your tech support personnel – their proficiency and their attitude
  • your naming architecture
  • tradeshow booths (and the people who staff them)
  • job descriptions, ads on career boards and the process your prospective employees go through when interviewing with your company
  • profiles on LinkedIn (both company-level and employee-level) and other social networks
  • your invoicing system and accounts receivable personnel
  • your purchasing agents and supply chain teams
  • and certainly not least in importance – your CEO and other key figureheads

The take-away from this post is to remember that every interaction your company has with customers contributes to the meaning of your brand. Every communication contributes to it too. Publishing a brand style guide is absolutely critical. I wouldn’t run a marketing organization without one. But while you’re thinking about that, also be thinking about all the other ingredients that help make up your brand!

Image: Scott Liddell

Position your Company: Do it or it will be done for you

February 14, 2009

First of all, you must take the time to knowingly position your company. You can’t overlook it. You can’t put it off until 2010. You can’t delegate it to your mother-in-law. You need to spend the cycles on this effort. This is how your company will stand for something unique.

Why is this important to do now? Because if you don’t, the market place, your customers and your competitors will do it for you. And you may not end up in a place where you want to be.

Stated simply, positioning is the perception that exists in the minds of your customers. (The important part of that sentence being “in the minds of your customers.”) It is the relative competitive comparison associated with your company and/or solution.

For example, Volvo owns the position of safety in the automotive market. Apple owns the position of creative and innovation in the computer market. These companies stand for one thing, and time after time in customers’ minds all over the world these companies hold a unique position.

To be skilled at positioning you must be able to look at your company from the customer point of view. It has to be unbiased. If you can’t do this yourself, get some help from somebody who can be more objective.

Now, how should you get started? First, take a fresh look at how the market perceives you today. Do an unbiased audit – include customers, journalists, key industry influencers. Conduct a survey. Solicit feedback through your website. Get input from your customers as well as those who use your competitor’s products. Then, identify what within this current position you want to keep and what you want to change. This should be based on a deep understanding of customer needs.

Next, take time to understand what position your primary competitors own. Again, do this from the customers’ perspective – not from your internal (employee) perspective. Once you have completed this groundwork you have the basic building blocks to make an informed decision about the position you want to own.

Remember, if you choose not to position your company, the market will do it for you. Take control of your destiny. Spend the time on this. Spend a half day next week. Spend 90 minutes a week for the next two months. Somehow, some way, find the time and determine the position you want to claim. Determine the one thing you want to stand for. Then go for it! Be religious about cementing this position in the minds of your customers. You’ll be glad you did.