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Positioning in Marketing: Where it Fits and Why it Matters

Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash
Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash

When a company or brand establishes and maintains a distinctive place for itself and its offerings in the market, it’s said to be well-positioned. In an increasingly competitive professional service organization environment, an effective positioning strategy is one of your most critical marketing tasks—and the most crucial one for long-term, sustainable growth.

The positioning process is used to identify what place you want your professional service to hold in your target market segment’s minds. It works hand-in-hand with your differentiation strategy and positioning statement to give you the competitive advantage you’re looking for.

What Is Positioning In Marketing?

If people don’t understand what your service offers them—and why it’s superior to what similar firms offer—they won’t hire you. Positioning is designed to communicate to your target audience your organizations unique attributes. It uses carefully crafted key messages and actions to illustrate to people how you’re positioned to best serve their needs. In short, if you aren’t standing out, you don’t have an effective positioning strategy.

Organizations that are consistently positioned can see a 23 percent average revenue increase. That makes finding ways to differentiate your brand and create a unique market position more important than ever.

Before we move on to how to best position your professional services, keep this thought in mind. While the quality of the services you offer is critical to your success, positioning is not about what you offer, it’s about how you influence a prospect’s perception of the rewards they’ll realize by using your service. For instance, the original Ford Mustang was positioned (and designed) to reach the youth market. Designer handbag manufacturers position themselves as status symbols. Apple sells people on the idea its products are easy to use, inspire creativity, and create a close-knit global community.

Why You Should Consider Marketing Positioning

There are five key benefits of positioning in marketing:

  1. You create a strong competitive position, which gives you an ongoing market advantage and helps you stay ahead of the curve.
  2. More relevant offerings let you penetrate new markets and improve sales.
  3. Positioning allows you to claim a specific benefit or feature so that you appear as an expert in your field.
  4. It puts you in a position to make more effective marketing decisions.
  5. You have the opportunity to directly communicate the critical benefits your services offer and connect them to the specific customers who need them.

Different Types Of Positioning In Marketing

Good market positioning is like good storytelling: it draws people in and then keeps them there because they want to know more. How will the story end for them? Will your service be just what they need to solve their problem? Will it be the start of a long-term relationship with them coming back for other services?

Depending on who you talk to, there are anywhere from three to five types of positioning strategies.

Along with pricing, which factors in for most customers, the most common are:

  • Service characteristics. This is where you highlight your services’ benefits and how a customer will be best served by what you offer, based on their individual needs and wants. A good illustration of how this works is the car industry. Toyota positions itself as a reliable brand, Volvo’s position is safety, and Porsche’s position is high-performance. They seldom, if ever, stray from these core traits when marketing themselves to consumers.
  • Use or application. Associating your services with particular uses is another way to position yourself. An accounting firm, for example, might position itself as the go-to expert on real-estate investments or high net worth individuals. Or they might focus on a specific industry such as manufacturing or eCommerce.
  • Competition. Competitor based positioning focuses on using your competitors as your differentiation reference point. Key differences in your service offers are highlighted in your marketing and emphasize why what you offer is favorable to what others are offering in the marketplace. Some companies also use the competition strategy to offer similar services with similar benefits to a segment of their competitors’ market share.
  • Quality or luxury. With products, luxury and quality often correspond to pricing. But positioning a service as high-quality is different from positioning it based on price. As a positioning strategy, quality is used to create a desire in your customer to want your service regardless of the price.

When it comes to pricing, positioning is not necessarily about the lowest price. Instead, it’s about offering value at competitive prices people are willing to pay. So, unlike supermarkets and grocery stores that often aim to be the cheapest or one of the cheapest options for shoppers, professional service organizations should focus on value-based pricing that captures the extra value a particular client segment associates with a feature or benefit of your services.

Some professional service providers can also position themselves on price if they find a market gap for certain services. When you’re one of the few in your field offering a particular, specialized service, being one of the few options in a certain price range can become your market position.

What Makes For a Great Positioning Statement?

There are hundreds if not thousands of professional service organizations out there, most of whom are offering services similar to yours. What makes a customer choose one organization over another? The answer is fairly simple: no one is looking for a service provider because it can do everything, but rather because it can do something. And that something precisely matches their pain point.

Your positioning statement emphasizes where your organizations services sit relative to your competitors. It is the central theme for all your marketing efforts. But no matter how clever or compelling it might be, it won’t strike a chord with your audience unless it’s used consistently and repeatedly over a long period. That’s because positioning is just like every other marketing strategy in that if you want to claim that mental space in your target audience’s mind, you have to stick with it for a while.

A good positioning statement is no more than two sentences long and quickly and clearly communicates your services’ unique value to your customers in relation to the competition. Before creating your organizations positioning statement, ask yourself:

  • Who is our target customer? You must know who and where your market is before you can market to them. As always, “anyone or everyone” is not an acceptable criteria!
  • What service category do we belong to? Your prospective clients need a frame of reference to evaluate your services. If they’re unable to place your services in context, they won’t spend any time evaluating what you offer.
  • What is the great benefit of our service? One single point of differentiation is better than multiple ones. Stating your firm is a “global leader” is not the same as stating a reason why it’s a global leader. State your differentiator from the audience’s perspective.
  • What is the proof of that benefit? What are your potential clients’ reasons to believe you’ll live up to your claims about how different and better you are? For professional service organizations, these reasons should illustrate your competitive advantage.

There are those who swear by the principle that a positioning statement should be 12 words or less and shouldn’t include your company name. Whichever approach you subscribe to, the point is you want a brief declaration that addresses a problem and states a benefit. Here’s Amazon’s simple but compelling positioning statement: “Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Of course, Amazon is in the business of trying to sell to everyone. For a professional service organization like a CPA firm looking to specialize, a statement might look something like: “We exist to help sustainable farmers meet profit goals and meet production challenges.

No Easy Task

Every professional service organization faces a tough marketplace. But you can break out of the rut by positioning your company as a must-have solution that solves seemingly unsolvable problems. It’s not, however, an easy task.

Today, many professional service organizations lack the understanding, insight, and capability to effectively position their firm. In the spirit of making either safe or easy decisions, many of them follow the lead of their competitors, copying their marketing messages and offerings. Some fall back on tried, true, and boring generic differentiators like “customer-focused,” “most effective solutions,” and “a wide range” of whatever it is they offer.

And therein lies the positioning dilemma. If your positioning statement is the same as everyone else’s, it’s impossible to position yourself as a leader and expert in your field. And if potential clients can’t differentiate you from the other companies offering the same services, why should they choose you?

The bottom line is this approach isn’t positioning. Really, what accounting, law, or engineering firm worth its salt isn’t customer-focused? You must dig deeper and discover what your unique market position is. That not only helps drive your organizations culture and strategy, but increases all your marketing efforts’ effectiveness.

Developing a Positioning Strategy  

Some people say that if you can’t state your strategy in a sentence, you don’t know your strategy. There’s a lot of truth in the statement. So, how do you develop a positioning strategy that can be distilled into just a few words?

Essential to every marketing plan is developing a strong positioning strategy. We firmly believe any professional service provider can find their distinct position in the market. And that, no matter how commonplace your services may appear on the surface, they can be differentiated. There are literally dozens of ways to differentiate your services from other providers, but if you start by understanding customers have different needs and are therefore attracted to different offers, you’re halfway there.

Once you identify the differences you offer, you can position yourself to occupy a distinct and valued place in your audience’s minds. And once your audience understands and appreciates what you offer in relation to your competitors, they’ll be more inclined to hire you.

Positioning in marketing requires time, dedication, and even the courage to step outside your comfort zone. Making the investment, though, is critical, especially when your goal is to increase your client base and revenue streams. It’s the perfect way for your professional service organization to attract and build relationships with new prospects looking for precisely what you have to offer.



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