Positioning Your Way Out of Obscurity
Let’s get back to the challenge that started this module: how to position and differentiate a company in a crowded field of competitors.
You’ll recall that you have a swell job at a newish events management company called Shindiggity. The company is struggling to find ways of setting itself apart in a crowded and growing field. At the company retreat, you have an opportunity to suggest some strategies that can help Shindiggity stand out from the competition. You also have a chance to impress your divisional VP, who is assigned to the same brainstorming and breakout group as you.
Now that you know something about positioning and differentiation, you step forward to lead your group through the positioning process.
Step 1: Confirm Your Understanding of Market Dynamics
Once your breakout group gets going, you start with a discussion about what you’re all seeing in the market generally. You ask your VP, to share perspectives from the executive team about where it plans to target growth for the company in the coming year, and whether there are particular industries or segments it plans to focus on. She says that the company has seen particular growth potential in the health care and pharmaceutical industries. Shindiggity has several clients in these segments already, and you know from your experience with these events that they can be quite technical and specialized.
In fact, recently Shindiggity won three proposals for health-care-related events that you helped write. You recall from the selection process that two factors helped push your proposals over the finish line: 1) knowledge and experience required to produce and manage an event with significant industry-specific technical needs; and 2) strong, established relationships with industry thought leaders whom Shindiggity could bring into the program at relatively short notice. As you share these insights, you realize the conversation is already moving on to the next step in the positioning strategy.
Step 2: Identify Your Competitive Advantages
You ask your colleagues to share what other factors are helping Shindiggity win new business. They agree that industry-specific technical knowledge and strong relationships with thought leaders are important distinguishing factors. While many other event management companies seem perfectly competent, there is an extra level of confidence customers express when they know Shindiggity has the expertise and connections to pull off highly technical, industry-specific events.
Someone mentions that since Shindiggity is a smaller firm than many others, it has lower overhead costs. This generally translates into somewhat lower pricing, which customers like. Kara, your V.P. expresses concern: “I don’t think we want to compete on lowest price. That just doesn’t feel like the right path.”
This is a perfect opportunity for you to jump in. You back her up and say, “Positioning as the low price alternative would be a mistake, since our customers don’t make their decisions based on price alone. But what about positioning Shindiggity as offering more value for the money?” Kara and the others seem to like this approach. It acknowledges the reality that pricing exercises important influence in technology decisions, but it doesn’t force the company into uncomfortably low budgets or profit margins.
Step 3: Choose Competitive Advantages That Define Your “Niche”
The group rounds out the discussion of Shindiggity’s strengths and advantages: creativity, caring people, strong partnership with clients to achieve all their goals for the event. Next you suggest listing out the company’s key competitors and their competitive advantages, to give everyone a common picture of the competitive landscape.
The list on the whiteboard runs long—nearly twenty companies are on it. As the team begins to enumerate the competitors’ strengths, a pattern emerges. At least half of the competitors have noted competitive advantages related to the industries where they do the most work: media, sports and recreation, finance, apparel, and automotive, to name a few. If this survey of key players is any indicator, industry expertise is a great way to establish a place for yourself in events management.
While Shindiggity is not the only company with particular expertise in health care and pharmaceuticals, it is the only smallish company that has established this expertise as a competitive advantage. The handful of others tends to be larger firms with higher overhead, and, according to client feedback you heard recently, they tend to be more “cookie cutter” in their approach to events, rather than going the extra mile to give clients exactly what they want. All this talk of relative strengths and weaknesses is exciting: you’re starting to see a positioning strategy come together.
Step 4: Define Your Positioning Strategy
After a short break, your group gets to work again. Kara observes, “We’ve got a great list of Shindiggity’s strengths here, but what do we want customers to remember about us? What’s going to make them seek us out and choose us over all these other companies they could work with?”
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. “For our positioning strategy,” you say, “I think we should focus on owning a distinctive benefit, something we do better than anyone else, linked to Shindiggity’s strengths and competitive advantages. I’m not sure of the wording yet, but I think it’s a combination of our health care and pharma expertise, and the way we partner with clients creatively to make events feel unique and visionary. How does that sound?”
Your proposal generates excitement because it taps into what makes people at Shindiggity so enthusiastic about their jobs: creativity, vision, and the challenge of designing events that are out of the ordinary. Kara remarks that it’s a good sign when employees get this excited about a positioning strategy.
Step 5: Communicate and Deliver on the Positioning Strategy
Your breakout group needs to consolidate its thinking to share back with the rest of the company. You suggest translating the positioning strategy into a positioning statement, using the tried-and-true formula you learned in your marketing class:
To [target audience], Product X is the only [category or frame of reference] that [points of differentiation/benefits delivered] because [reasons to believe].
After a few minutes’ work, the group hammers out a positioning statement worth sharing:
To health care and pharmaceutical companies, Shindiggity is the only visionary partner that produces top-notch events health care professionals love to attend because they bring together great minds, enriching activities, and a dose of the extraordinary.
Heading back into the main meeting room, Kara compliments you on your great ideas and suggests that you be the spokesperson to share your group’s work with the rest of the company. “You should be proud,” she adds. “I think we’re really on to something here.”