Today more than ever, tech companies are moving a mile-a-minute and marketing executives are looking for quick ways to make a big splash in the market. But as you know, every successful tech company first needs the right foundation — and Step 1 is strong positioning that will engage and win sales cycles, while establishing a distinct, prominent "corner of the room" in the market category.
With that in mind, we've created this handy "Positioning Scorecard"
as a fun way to gauge how effective your company's current positioning is. Your score will indicate whether or not your company would benefit from a positioning project or refresh. We hope you have fun with this, share it with your contacts to compare scores, and tell us what you think!
To cut through the brand-positioning confusion, we have developed a brand and positioning framework. This framework has been successfully used to educate our clients and help them clearly understand the distinctions between branding and positioning and how they play together.
In my last blog post, I discussed the distinction between brand and positioning.
Strong positioning is the lifeblood for every B2B tech company, even the smallest start-up. Positioning is key to engaging and winning sales cycles and establishing a distinct, prominent corner of the room in the market category.
Not every B2B tech company needs a brand identity. However, a strong brand personality can be quite effective driving differentiation in commodity B2B markets or unifying a broad portfolio of different B2B products. Brand articulates the company personality and voice, expresses the ever-lasting experience the customer can expect and speaks to the buyers aspirations. Brand arises from successful product positioning.
We have developed a brand and positioning framework to help our clients better understand the distinctions between branding and positioning and how they play together. IBM and SalesForce are two good examples of this interplay – though one could argue that NO SOFTWARE is closer to positioning than branding.
As you can see, IBM uses SmartPlanet brand to unify thousands of products they have, which is also connected to their product positioning. Salesforce on the other hand has heavily leveraged it’s “No Software” mantra as a provocative viewpoint and rallying cry for the entire company. But it’s open enough to allow it’s positioning pillars to change over time to meet buyer needs.
How does your company stack up in our framework? Have you clearly articulated an answer for each level in the framework? Is it working?
IBM and SalesForce are two good examples of this interplay –
IBM is a sophisticated, well-know example of using effectively using branding and positioning. The “Smart Planet” brand is used as an umbrella and rallying cry that brings together a large portfolio of different products and services. Of particular note: The positioning pillars (“we don’t make decisions on instinct” “you live in a social world, do you work in one?”, etc.) are very good examples of effective value statement headlines.
SalesForce, is another well-known example, though one could argue that NO SOFTWARE is closer to positioning than branding. Please note the way they have packaged their solutions into Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, etc. Simple, elegant, forward-thinking!
Often we get calls from B2B tech companies looking for a brand strategy. Or we receive a desperate call by a tech executive to come in and clean up after an expensive branding effort that missed the mark. This got us thinking about a couple of questions that we hear time and time again:
- What is the difference between Branding and Positioning?
- Do companies need Branding, Positioning or both?
- When is B2C branding helpful for a B2B company?
The terms “Branding” and “Positioning” are often used interchangeably. It is common for B2B tech executives to use the term Branding when they mean Positioning, and vice versa. But while both deal with placing something in your buyers’ minds, there is a BIG distinction, and here it is:
Good positioning forces decisions about category, market segmentation and differentiators. It also articulates the competitive, differentiated value delivered by the company or product so that is resonates and is understandable by the target buyer.
These are the tangible, functional reasons for buying.
Good branding creates an ever-lasting experience in the buyer’s mind as articulated through images, voice, style and feelings. Branding speaks to the aspirations of the buyer. These are the intangible, emotional reasons for buying.
When Is Positioning the Deal?
Every B2B tech company, even the smallest start-up, needs strong positioning. Why? Positioning is key to selling, establishing a distinct “corner of the room” in the market category, influencing the buying criteria and engaging sales cycles. Positioning articulates the value proposition delivered by your product. And most importantly, positioning answers the key buyer questions every tech company must answer – “Why your company, now?” and “How are you different?”
Positioning starts with a product, service or solution. Positioning is the necessary foundation and the starting point for a Brand identity.
When Is Branding the Deal?
A great Brand arises from successful Positioning. Branding brings to life the personality of the company, its cultural identity. Branding gives voice to aspirational associations, and articulates the unique experience buyers can expect.
Branding is particularly effective in commodity markets. Without unique IP, secret sauce or unique product differentiators, branding becomes the unique differentiation and justification for commanding a premium price. This is why branding is so important in most consumer markets.
Branding is also important for larger companies managing a sizeable portfolio of products. Brands provide a unifying identity across multiple products, while providing a singular, differentiated point of view to drive market awareness.
When Should I Do Both?
Brand becomes less important in B2B technology markets with products that have unique IP, or that are continually being disrupted by the next platform or wave of innovation.
However, for some B2B companies and markets, the combination of a strong product positioning AND a memorable brand experience makes sense and can become a formidable competitive weapon.
This is particularly the case in markets that have “crossed the chasm and gone Main Street,” or for companies that need a unifying brand to pull together a disparate collection of different products. PeopleSoft effectively combined its “California Culture” brand with strong product positioning to carve out a distinct position in the ERP days. More recently, IBM’s SmartPlanet brand helps IBM rise above the noise and stand for something while providing a unifying value for its thousands of different product lines.
In summary: while branding’s not for everyone, and works best in specific situations, EVERY B2B tech company needs good positioning as the starting point. Where does your company stand in terms of capturing the heart and mind of your buyer?
Sales thinks your marketing presentations are nice, but they don’t use them.
We recently conducted a survey of 50 technology industry sales leaders to find out if they use the presentation materials they get from marketing, and what their marketing partners could do to improve the quality and effectiveness of what they produced.
To read more, check out Firebrick’s most recent white paper.
After working with almost 300 clients over the past several years, the difference between the winners and losers among technology companies has become clear. The winners almost always share these four qualities:
- They have a specialized focus (like social media management, big data analytics or IT operations).
- They have unique IP or an original approach like distributed architecture.
- They’re leveraging an inflection point in the market (like mobile marketing or IT-as-a-Service).
- And, they have a strong, engaging point of view that captures the imagination of the market.
An engaging point of view stems from a company’s positioning strategy. Look at what successful companies like Box, Jive, RightNow, Salesforce.com, SuccessFactors, Workday and Yammer all have in common. In addition to impressive multiples, they all have powerful, differentiated positioning stories.
Companies need to abandon the traditional product-centric approach to positioning that plagues most stories with me-too feature lists and vendor geek speak. In its place, they should lead with more buyer-centric positioning that answers these three questions:
- Why your company, now?
- How are you different?
- How will my life be better?
Answering these questions is harder for most than they think it will be. Try it out on your company to see if you have a powerful, differentiated story.
Firebrick Consulting: Tech Positioning for a New Era from Firebrick Consulting on Vimeo.
What do successful companies of every size -- from Apple and Cisco to Riverbed and Workday -- all have in common?
They have a compelling, differentiated story. In our work with over 200 companies, we find that very few companies are able to translate their product, service, or IP into a message that resonates with buyers, clearly differentiates from the competition and captures the imagination of the market. Check out Firebrick's new video and find out, in less than 3 minutes, how to create a breakthrough positioning story.
As TechCrunch DISRPUPT kicks off this week in San Francisco, I’m struck by how disruption in the tech industry still seems to be about new products and features. Every tech company aspires to be the next big thing, but the truth is that most will fail. They come out with a blast at launch, but their messages quickly fade into the noise of the market and the sameness of every other story echoed by every other tech company. Nowhere is this clearer than in the B2B realm, where positioning mediocrity has become the norm.
The same old set of tired buzzwords are being thrown about at this year’s TechCrunch. Every tech company is talking about “crowd-sourcing, location platforms, social analytics, flexible API’s, cloud, real-time collaboration, etc.” with a sense of elevated importance and meaning. Meanwhile, in the audience, a glazed look sets in. Nobody is drinking the Kool-Aid.
And yet, a new set of category leaders is usurping the traditional B2B tech leaders and changing the rules of the game. Companies such as Workday, Box, SuccessFactors, ZenDesk, Splunk, Zuora, Joyent and PLEX are changing the landscape forever. But what do all of these companies have in common? Not only have they all placed a big bet on recurring revenue streams – but their success goes beyond products, blended sales models and new consumption choices.
Disruptive Positioning = Disruptive Success.
Every one of these companies has a compelling, differentiated positioning strategy. Storylines that bring their products alive in the minds of target customers. Messaging that captures the imagination of the market and moves beyond geek-speak and tired buzzwords. WOW positioning clearly articulates the value of the technology to solve a big hairy buyer – and resonates with deep memorable impact.
So, what is the secret recipe to DISRUPTIVE POSITIONING? What makes the difference? The answer is simple:
Every truly disruptive tech company successfully answers these THREE QUESTIONS for their buyers:
What is the compelling reason for your company’s existence? Why are you important today (not two or three years ago?) What is the new problem you solve for your buyers? And, why will your buyers lose their jobs if they don’t solve this problem? Create a sense of urgency.
Why can’t existing solutions (your competitors) solve today’s new buyer problem? Why are they limited? What “secret sauce” or IP of yours is necessary to solve this new buyer problem?
That’s it. No need to spout off about all your great product features. No need to blast the world with geek-speak, or the reasons you are the next big thing. No need to tell the world how hip you are, about your company dog or your HTML5 document embedding.
The answers to these THREE questions are the essence to a memorable positioning and true disruption. This is the secret, and every successful tech company understands this. Go for it.
In the course of working with over 200 technology companies during the past couple of decades, I have observed a lot of failed strategies. I’ve also seen quite a few companies turn their strategies into significant drivers of revenue growth. What makes the difference?
The difference is simple. Those that successfully capitalize on an inflection point and change in strategy are able to quickly transition to a new set of buyers. That’s it. However, very few marketing and sales organizations are effectively able to make this transition or fail to deliver revenue fast enough. The success of the old hinders them from getting traction with the new.
Here are 7 deadly sins that will quickly torpedo any change in strategy.
1) You Have No Market Validation: The market does not develop or is not big enough to support a growth business or substantial revenue stream.
2) You “Think” You Understand Your Buyers: Your company does not actually have a good understanding of the new buyers – their problems, challenges, buying process, what makes them a hero, how they are influenced, what technology they have already bought, and which particular buyers have a proclivity to buy.
3) Your Story Stinks: Your me-too story is full of geek-speak, does not resonate with your new buyers, doesn’t create a hair-on-fire or sense of urgency. Your viewpoint is un-differentiated and the story does not answer the fundamental question – “Why do I need your solution, NOW?” ..Its just another blah, blah, blah added to the cacophony of market chatter.
4) Your Sales Ramp Takes Too Long: Let’s face it, your field sales reps follow the easy path to revenue. And if they have been making their number with yesterday’s strategy, it’s very difficult to transition them to selling to a different set of buyers. Strategies fail when the sales team doesn’t have confidence. Sales enablement need to be armed with the conversations that will resonate with the new buyers, effective criteria for qualifying in AND out, pragmatic sales tips as well as the gotcha’s and competitive response to increase their chances of winning.
5.) You Don’t Know How You Will Make Your Number: Strategies fail when companies don’t have a precise understanding of where the revenue will come– which geos, which territories, which target accounts – and/or the sales coverage model is a mismatch. All too often, execs try to address this by hiring more reps, adding spiffs and increasing quota.
6) Your Launch Is a PR Event: Strategies fizzle when the launch of the new strategy is considered a PR exercise or a single, big-bang event that makes employees feel good but has no impact on sales cycles or category buying criteria. News fades fast and most companies will be off the radar screen in a quarter -unless the launch is a 9-12 month consistent drumbeat of programs and momentum campaigns to multiple audiences, not just the press.
7) Your Viewpoint Is Not Provocative: Buyers turn off the same old “blah, blah, blah” – do you have anything substantive to offer your buyers? What is your contribution to this industry? What new way of thinking do you contribute? Failed strategies “sell” products. Successful marketing strategies ENGAGE buyers. Engage them with new ideas, solve problems that make their lives better, provocative viewpoints that make buyers stand up and notice.
For every one of these sins that are made, your probability of success dramatically decreases. The inflection point is missed, revenue comes in too slow or your company doesn’t maximize the revenue opportunity.
There is a better way. A new framework to drive strategy to the point of revenue, faster – and, at these critical junctures, turn new strategies into a successful driver of revenue growth.
A change in strategy changes everything. It cannot be undertaken lightly.
Capitalizing on a change in strategy or inflection point often requires solving a new customer problem, selling and marketing to a different set of buyers and competing against a new group of competitors.
Yet all too often, the effort required to capture the minds and wallets of a new set of buyers is treated casually – but it is the underpinning that makes a brilliant strategy drive revenue growth.
What do all these successful, market-leading technology companies – IBM, SalesForce,Workday, Riverbed, Cisco – have in common?
They all have powerful, compelling, thought-provoking Stories.
For these companies, Positioning has become a core competency and the road to market leadership and revenue growth.
Those technology companies that successfully capitalize on a new product, service or market inflection point have a compelling, thought provoking, engaging story. It’s that simple.
However, very few technology companies are effectively able to translate their product, service, IP and features into a message that resonates with buyers, clearly differentiates from the competition and captures the imagination of the market.
During past year, I have seen hundreds of technology positioning presentations. Over and over again, I continue to see the same positioning pitfalls – and common symptoms that point an underlying Positioning problem that is holding back the company and inhibiting revenue growth.
You know you have a positioning problem when:
1) Your Slide Deck is 30 Slides: your presentation takes too many slides to explain your solution before your buyer ‘gets-it”. Your presentation drags on in a vain attempt to sell and convince your potential buyer.
2) Long Sales Cycles and Lots of “No-Decision”: your message does not create a sense or urgency with your buyers – it’s not a “hair-on-fire” conversation – as a result, sales cycles drag out or the buyers don’t seen any difference between you and any of your competitors, so they don’t make a decision.
3) Ask 3 People What You Do and You Get 3 Different Answers: inconsistent messaging is the death-knell for any technology company. In the absence of a good story, everyone makes one up. The result is predictable. The market is confused and you don’t “own” a position in the minds of your buyer.
4) Blah, Blah, Blah – You Sound Like All Your Competitors: your message and positioningstory sounds exactly like your competition – your buyer could take any of your competitor’s logo and put in on your web site and it would look the same. A glazed look has set in with your buyers – and if your buyer can’t see any discernable difference between you and your competitors, they will go with the bigger, “brand-name” competitor.
5.) Your Company is Not Considered a Player in the Market: your blah, blah, message dissolves into the cacophony of noise in the market – brand awareness has become brand annoyance – if your company is not considered in a every sales cycle or you are off the radar-screen with the analysts and buyers, your positioning strategy has failed and is broken.
6) You Spent a Lot of $ on PR and Got Nowhere: strategies fizzle when positioning is broken and the market is not responding to your message. In response, you spend a lot of money on a PR campaign, thinking a drumbeat and flurry of social media posts, tweets, press releases, white papers and analyst meetings will bring you the attention and market awareness your solution rightly deserves. However, if you don’t have anything interesting to say or your “me-too” story is boring, stale and un-differentiated– no amount of PR $ or social media effort will make a hill-of-beans difference. A provocative, thoughtful, differentiated story is the underpinning essential to drive market awareness and ultimately revenue growth.
7) Your Sales People Call on Anything That Moves: long sales cycles, lots of no-decisions, high “loss” rates, deeply discounted pricing, suspect forecasts – are all symptoms of a positioning problem. Strong, effective positioning focuses the sales efforts by clearly identifying the ideal target buyer – and creating a differentiated, thought provoking story that resonates with this buyer and creates a sense of urgency for them toact. Powerful
positioning is a catalyst, giving the field organization a rallying cry, strong qualifying direction and confidence they have a story that will win them deals.
8 ) You Don’t Have a Viewpoint: you don’t stand for anything – and you are contribution the same old “blah, blah, blah” to the noise in the market. Your buyers have turned off -– do you have anything substantive to offer your buyers? What is your contribution to this
industry? What new way of thinking do you contribute? Failed strategies “sell” products. Successful companies ENGAGE buyers. Engages them with new ideas, solve problems that make their lives better, provocative viewpoints that make buyers stand up and notice.
I was invited to participate in the NASSCOM Product Conclave in Bangalore, India. During my visit, I tried my best to get a better understanding of India and the IT movement in this country. At breakfast with a local tech executive, he told me all I needed to know about India was A, B, C – Astrology, Bollywood and Cricket! After this conference, I think “IT” needs to be added to this statement. As 1200 eager tech entrepreneurs crowded into conference rooms that spilled out into the hallways, it dawned on me that I was witnessing the next economy arising for India.
Last year I participated in NASSCOM and was invited back to sit on a panel and present another workshop on positioning and differentiation strategies. The conference was over-subscribed (again) this year and the number of attendees continues to grow. Despite the positive audience attendance, what a difference a year makes! Last year, all I seemed to see at the conference were copycat products – does the world really need another online meeting or CRM application? It appeared there was a pervasive attitude across the Indian tech community - they were all seeking validation from Silicon Valley.
This year, the rapid adoption of cloud and mobile have opened up an entirely new ecosystem of Indian product companies, bringing in innovative product ideas and disruptive business models. I heard about Payroll applications with a subscription price of 30 cents per user, mobile ad-networks that are actually driving revenue, mobile traffic apps, innovative video platforms, and supply chain optimization.
India seems to be looking inward and applying mobile and cloud to solve the business issues and problems facing Indian companies.
They are building lightweight apps that can be dispersed to millions – confident that if these apps can solve the complexity and scale of the business issues in India – the rest of the world would be easy. I’m convinced, and excited that the next generation of Indian technology companies have been born and are bringing a new wave of innovation to the world.