Step Up: Positioning Matters

In Australia, it’s the start of a new financial year, and many businesses are setting goals and plans for the new year. It’s a challenging time in business, with a lot of uncertainty – including our recent Federal election in Australia, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and a presidential election in the USA later in the year.

But these are all external factors, and we can’t control them. So, important as they are, if you’re setting plans for the new financial year, put those issues aside for the moment and focus on what you can control.

Your positioning matters.

If you’re thinking of launching a new product or service this financial year, your positioning in your marketplace makes a huge difference to your success. If you already have a strong position, congratulations – you have a head start. If you don’t, it’s not a disaster, but I suggest you work on your positioning first, so that everything else becomes easier.

When I say “positioning”, I’m talking about how your ideal customers and clients view their relationship with you.

This is not the same as your brand, although it’s related. It’s about the relationship you have with them.

For example, I remember my parents telling me that when they went to school, their teachers were seen as authorities, and anything they said was taken as true without question. So they were surprised to hear that one of my teachers encouraged us to be sceptical, curious, and even openly challenge him. Now, with so many other opportunities for learning outside school, the idea of “teacher as authority” has been whittled down even further.

That’s what I mean by positioning. Each teacher might have had their own “brand” (style) of teaching, but also had the positioning of “trusted authority” for their students.

What is YOUR positioning with your market?

Broadly, think of your positioning with your ideal clients and customers at one of six levels:

  1. Proprietor: This is the lowest level, where you’re just a business owner. Your market might not even know you exist. Or, if you’re launching a new product or service to an existing market, they might not know it exists. Either way, you’re pretty much unknown.
  2. Promoter: At the next level, you actively promote the product, so your market knows about it. But you’re just one of many promoters in their face, so it’s not easy to get noticed, and even harder to get picked. Even though you have something of value, you’re still considered pushy.
  3. Supplier: When you do get picked, you become a supplier. Assuming you do a good job, you become their preferred supplier, and will continue to get work.
  4. Expert: Even if you’re a preferred supplier, you might lose work when somebody better comes along or your customer’s circumstances change. That’s why it’s better to be positioned as an expert, where you’re recognised as somebody who works with your clients, not just for them.
  5. Authority: Five years ago, expertise used to be enough. But now that so much expert information is available online, you can be displaced by another expert. The next level is to be an authority, where you’re trusted to provide advice, not just share expertise.
  6. Partner: Finally, you can reach the level of partner, where you genuinely work side by side with your customers and clients as their equals. Just as with life partners or (formal) business partners, your customers see you as equal to them.

Positioning gives you leverage.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these levels, but the higher the level, the more leverage you have.

The first three levels – proprietor, promoter, and supplier – are the weakest, where you have to work harder to get business. They are “push” levels, because you’re constantly pushing yourself (and your products and services) to your market. Even when you’re a supplier, you have to keep working at the relationship to ensure you don’t get crowded out by somebody else.

The other three levels – expert, authority, and partner – are more powerful, because the business starts coming to you. They are “pull” levels, because your positioning naturally attracts people to you.

The Six Positioning Levels

Think of it like rolling a boulder over a steep hill: It starts off as a hard slog, gets a bit easier as you gain momentum to reach the peak, then the downhill ride is much easier, and it gets easier and easier as gravity builds even more momentum on the other side.

Positioning Matters

Where do you fit right now?

Your positioning changes over time, because it depends on three things: You, your product/service, and your market.

You might already be a trusted authority with one product in one market, but when you switch to a different market or a different product, you go right back to being an unknown proprietor.

So think about a new product or service you’re planning for this financial year, and ask yourself (honestly) about your positioning.

If you’re not already at the top three levels – expert, authority, or partner – start working on that right now!

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