Positioning is key to generating the right type of business, getting paid more for what you do, and establishing enduring relationships. It's so much more than a set of words.
Great positioning doesn't describe what you do. Great positioning describes the impact you have on your clients.
You don't win more of your ideal clients by explaining how you're different from the competition. You win more of your ideal clients by explaining why you're the best choice for that client.
Growth doesn't start with casting a wider net. Growth starts with zeroing in on why your best clients select you above other options.
Clients you win this way are cheaper to get, easier to please, and more profitable. And, despite charging more, you're nearly impossible to displace.
Most people—especially marketing consultants and agencies—tell you positioning is telling the market how your firm is "different" or "unique." The truth is, potential clients don't care how you're different. They care about why you are a better choice for their situation, their needs, and their resources.
It's easy to be different. Knowing the reasons your best clients select your firm requires seeing the world through their eyes. That's a lot harder. For professionals with technical or specialized expertise, distilling it themselves may be impossible. It's hard because it's not why you would select your firm. Not why clients ought to select your firm. It's why they actually select your firm.
Positioning is not "branding." Branding is what other people say about your firm when you aren't around. You can't control your brand. Positioning is what you say to the market. Positioning that isn't strongly aligned with your brand comes across as salesy and self-serving. How does that help clients decide they want to work with your firm?
I've been doing this a long time, and don't know any magic shortcuts. It takes in-depth interviews with your clients, but the payoff is huge.
The payoff is understanding your secret sauce—why some clients select your firm above other great options. Distilling and bottling your secret sauce is challenging because your secret sauce is the intangible way you work with clients rather than the specific tasks you perform.
If a component of your value is guidance and advice, nailing your positioning can lead to shorter sales cycles, higher rates, and the ability to identify and win more of your best clients. Guidance and advice doesn't get invoiced, and yet, whether you recognize it or not, it's at the root of why clients select you.
Unlike poker, it's not cheating to deal yourself the hand you want. Substance matters. Fancy or colorful language doesn't lead to better positioning. Excellent positioning seems obvious once you find it. But finding it takes work. Much of the work is the challenge of finding the clarity that allows you to be concise.
True story: At the end of a project, a slightly curmudgeonly client said, "So, your recommendations are mostly common sense?" I agreed, adding, "But Ken, you've been at this for 20+ years and you weren't doing it this way." Ken later told me at that moment, what had been complex became crystal clear.