The art of positioning by Julia Roberts

Do you remember the bit in Pretty Woman (Ok, I watched it for research purposes!) when Richard Gear asks Julia Robert what her name is? Her response is start-up marketing gold dust ‘whatever you want it to be’. Confused or Pretty Woman isn’t in your top 10 DVD list? Let me explain.

How many times have you heard a pitch from a start-up which goes along the lines of ‘our product is unique no one else does what we do’ This is particularly relevant in the b2b world when services are discussed. This then leads neatly into the next classic – who is your competition? Answer: We don’t have any competition as our proposition is unique. Really? I think not and here’s why: the customer.

The customer is king

Hate to say it but the customer is king, not in terms of customer service but as Rowan Atkinson, says in the classic father of the bride sketch ‘there comes a time when the man paying for dam thing has a chance to say something!’ In the customer’s eyes you are not unique, well you might be, but they have to have some frame of reference to compare you against to make a purchasing decision. Given that they have to pay for the product/service they will have a very definitive say on how your product is positioned ignore them at your peril.

Granted your widget/software/service might be entirely different to anything else out there but the customer has to position it against what they currently use, do etc., so they can then decide whether they want to purchase it or replace an existing product/solution. Not trivial in a business setting, when purchase timelines can take ages (see my article on targeting the decision maker for more on this). As a founder/leader of your business, you see things very clearly; you know exactly what you do, how you are different, why you are better. The trouble is people outside your business don’t – if they do you are lucky and be, very, very nice to these advocates – but for the most part they have neither the time nor inclination to work it out. So you have to help them – big time!

Positioning your product/ service in the customer’s mind

In the IT space there is an old adage ‘No one gets fired for buying IBM’ the point here, we know what the company does and stands for – safe bet, easy life, end of. Trouble is as start-ups our job is doubly hard, first to get to the decision maker and then to convince them to trust us and risk money/reputation on what we offer. If the product or solution is positioned in the customer’s mind in a way that reduces this risk, you are half to making a sale. Which brings me neatly to the final point – the pivot.

Ah yes, the pivot, we’ve all done it, and yes you’ve guessed it’s a classic piece of re-positioning. But it’s key to your business. There are times when start-ups create a product or service that ultimately no one needs or offers benefits that are of limited value. When this happens, there are two options: quit or re-position. I worked with a social networking start-up that was aimed at highly regulated industries the offer of a social network was not particularly attractive. Repositioned as a collaboration tool to reduce time to make decisions or support sales the proposition became much, much more attractive. The product didn’t change, but the positioning did. So while you are thinking about to position/reposition your company put the kettle on getting out your favourite DVD maybe that will give you some inspiration.