5 Steps to Get Your Positioning Right

Before you invest money into selling or marketing your product, take the time to figure out your positioning.

You might be thinking… well, I’ve got my messaging and branding down, I’m good to go, right?

Not quite. Positioning is very different from your messaging and branding.

Positioning done right will help inform your marketing and sales messaging downstream. It clarifies how your product is the best in the world at providing some value that a well-defined set of customers care a lot about.

Positioning expert, April Dunford, has an excellent process that I recommend checking out. Here’s a high level of it:

1️⃣ 🛠️ – Competitive Alternatives

First, understand your product’s competitive alternatives. If you didn’t exist, what would people do?

Go beyond just your competitors and include what people will continue to use if they maintain the status quo.

2️⃣ 💪 – Unique Capabilities

Second, clarify your unique capabilities. What have you got that competitors don’t have?

Think about your features and functions that make you unique.

3️⃣ 💵 – Value Generated

Third, figure out the value you create. What’s the impact that your unique capabilities create for customers?

Clarify the tangible and intangible ROI they will get from using your product.

4️⃣ ✂️ – Customer Segment

Fourth, determine the customer segment you’re going after. Who are the actual customers that are a really, really good fit for what we do?

Try to be as specific as you can based on the knowledge, experience, or research you have.

5️⃣ 🥇 – Market Category

Fifth, specify the market category you’re playing in. What is the definition of the market you intend to win?

Think about this from your customer’s perspective. If they were to buy your product under an existing “line item” in their budget, what would it be?

Whether you’re building out a new product or need to reimagine a new pathway for an existing product, take the time to establish your positioning.

Trust me, your sales and marketing team will thank you for it.

For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend April’s fantastic book, Obviously Awesome. 👌💯

Start With Fun When You’re Choosing Your Target Customer

One of the most important things you’ll do early on when you’re designing a go-to-market strategy or launching a new offering is deciding on your target customer.

It’s an important first step because the customer you choose will also dictate how you build your product or service, and the way you market it.

At the same time, I know it can be a challenge to settle down on an ideal customer profile to work with!

If you’re launching something new, you might not have enough information about potential customer needs or you might not want to pigeon hole yourself to the wrong target audience too early.

That said, it’s important to start somewhere and have a hypothesis you’re willing to test. “Spraying and praying” your sales & marketing effort doesn’t work — especially when you’re limited in time, money, and energy.

If you’re having this type of challenge, take a moment and open up your favourite writing tool. I’ve outlined four key questions below to help you get closer to finding your target audience. This activity should take about 30-60 minutes of initial reflection.

1. Who will you have the most fun working with?

You might be wondering why “fun” is at the top of this list. After all, if you’re trying to build a business, and fun really has no place for something so serious… right?

I’d argue that elements like fun, creativity, and joy should be at the top of any important project you take on. In our adult years, we’ll spend more time with our colleagues, teams, and clients than we do with our friends or family (!!!), so why spend that time working with people you don’t genuinely enjoy spending time with?

When you ask yourself this question, an interesting shift happens. Instead of focusing solely on the industry, size of the company, title, etc. of an ideal customer, your focus shifts more to the type of person and organization you’d enjoy working with. In marketing terms, we shift our focus from demographics to psychographics.

When I ask myself this question, a few follow-up questions about my ideal customer emerge:

What are they like? 

What motivates them?

Do they care about the people around them and the culture they build?

Do they value integrity and creativity?

Is the work they do more than just a “job” for them?

Obviously it’s more challenging to find people with a matching mindset than it is to look up someone with a specific title or in a certain industry or company size. 

At the same time, we have more effective tools available these days to attract like-minded people. This blog is a good example of that. If you’ve read my piece this far, it’s likely you care about the same things that I do.

So take a moment to think about the people you might enjoy working with the most. Imagine you have five open seats around a table. If you were to form an advisor panel with these five customers, who would you want in those seats?

2. Who can you create the greatest impact with?

This question is all about the value proposition of your offering.

When you think about impact, what you’re really asking is whether your product or service will solve your customer’s problem. So it’s crucial you spend time developing a solid customer profile and understanding their pains and gains.

Here are the key questions to consider when you start this process:

  1. What jobs are they trying to get done?
  2. What pains are they experiencing?
  3. What gains are they looking for?

If you asked them about their current challenges or concerns, what might they say to the following questions?

  • What are the main difficulties and challenges you encounter? Do you have difficulties getting certain things done, or meet resistance with particular jobs for specific reasons?
  • What do you find too costly for your business? What takes a lot of time, costs too much money, or requires substantial efforts?
  • What negative consequences do you encounter or fear? Are you afraid of a loss of face, power, trust, or status?

On the other side of the ledger, what might they say to things that they want or desire?

  • How do current value propositions delight your customers? Which specific features do they enjoy? What performance and quality do they expect?
  • Which savings would make your customers happy? Which savings in terms of time, money, and effort would they value?
  • What would make your customers’ jobs or lives easier? Could there be a flatter learning curve, more services, or lower costs of ownership?

By going through these questions, you’ll likely get a better picture of whether your product or service will meet the needs for your customers

(For further reading about this topic, I recommend reading Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder for a step-by-step process to create a strong value proposition for your product or service.)

3. Based on your experience, which clients do you understand best?

If you have past experience working in a particular industry or segment, this is a good time to think about where you can leverage this. You already have a good sense of what the challenges look like for this group and you might be able to achieve early success by targeting this group.

One thing I think about is the Blue Ocean Strategy developed by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Instead of fighting for a spot in a highly competitive market (i.e. red ocean) how can you create a unique offering where you create the demand (i.e. blue ocean).

By thinking about the combination of which clients you understand best and mixing it in with a unique offering, you might be able to create a blue ocean for your business.

4. Who would it be most profitable to work with?

Finally, take a moment to think about profitability. 

Insights here could come from your past experience working with different customer segments, research that’s publicly available, conversations with colleagues & peers, or anywhere else you can think of.

Industries that are experiencing substantial change or growth might be a good group to target as they often have unmet needs or opportunities where you can create a Blue Ocean Strategy around.

Profitability doesn’t just mean how much gross revenue you can generate with a customer base. If you have a customer base that’s difficult to work with, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time providing customer support or post-sale services that will eat into your profits.

Which clients will be the most satisfied with your offering just as it is? If customization is required, what parameters can you set so that you’re not modifying every last detail?

Putting It All Together

Whether you’re a leader in Sales & Marketing collaborating with your Product team to create a new offering or you’re an business owner keeping up with new customer demands, it’s important that you nail down the target customer first. I hope the questions above sparked some ideas and thoughts for you to further explore!

Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that all of this is a balance, and the questions above should encourage you to establish principles rather than rules with who you work with. Principles help guide your decisions and are more adaptable than rules which tend to be more rigid. Regularly working with all parts of your business to keep your ideal customer profile will be important as well as major events or shifts in the market may change the expectations and behaviours of your customer.

What was most useful for you in this article?

What has worked for your business in deciding on a target customer?

I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts below.

P.S. I’m running a workshop on Tuesday, November 10th at 12pm EST to help leaders frame any business challenge. We’ll use fun, interactive activities to help you figure out what your key obstacles are and how you can solve them. If you’re working on any BIG challenge or project, I hope you’ll join me there.

Thoughts from Collision Conference 2016

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling down to New Orleans, Louisiana for a start-up conference called Collision. It’s one of the premier conferences in North America for startups looking to receive funding, media coverage, mentorship, etc. etc. I was down at the conference as part of the startup I work for – actionable.co – and had a chance to take in the sites and sounds of the 10,000+ person conference.

Our booth at Collision.

The conference had a pretty solid speaker line-up as well and I had a chance to sit in on a few of them. Below are a mish-mash of observations and thoughts from the conference. Enjoy!


  • Marketing can no longer afford to be siloed from other aspects of the business. Marketing, customer care, and branding all live under the same umbrella and they need to be working together to deliver a great customer experience.
  • New age Chief Marketing Officers need to go beyond taking responsibility for marketing activities and into e-commerce, customer service, research, etc. They need to become customer champions.
  • There is a gap between brand promise and customer experience. How do we fill that gap?
  • Marketing will evolve into the caretaker of the customer experience.
  • The Onion and Upworthy have pivoted towards making more proprietary videos for their content. They believe it’s the most engaging type of content to share with their followers (even if it takes longer to produce).

Customer Experience

  • Customers and prospective customers can find us through a variety of doors. In the past we may have had a couple of doors (e.g. literally the front door of the shop and a website) but now thanks to social media they have tens of doors through which they can come in through.
  • We need to keep a close eye on which doors we currently have open and which ones we have locked to make sure we’re not leaving customers stranded.
  • The customer experience language: Indifferent-Impressed-Gratitude-Love. Courtesy of Ragy from Sprinklr.


  • Only 5 years ago analytics was too expensive for most companies out there but now with services like Amazon Web Services analytics tools are cheaper (and will likely continue to become cheaper).
  • How do you effectively use data? Make sure you’ve thought through three key components: Infrastracture – Staffing – Culture. Analytics won’t thrive unless you’ve got those key components nailed.
  • The analytics sessions at Collision were sparesely attended comparative to other sessions. Likely an indicator that most startups are just trying to get their business of the ground – analytics just isn’t a priority for them (perhaps to their detriment).
  • Marketing analytics – views and impressions for online ad campaigns are not good stats to look at. It’s way too easy to count an “impression” and is a deceptive number. Conversions and clicks are what you should be focused on if you’re running any kind of pay-per-click campaign online.


  • Gusto (a payroll and benefits platform) is a pretty cool company. I thought their CEO & Co-founder, Joshua Reeves, was a pretty awesome guy with a lot of business “soul” to him.
  • Interesting to hear the Co-Founder of Infusionsoft, Scott Martineau, mention that their tool is specifically for small businesses under 50 people. Actionable will quickly get to the point of hitting 50 people so it’ll be interesting to see how the system will adapt to a larger team and more complexity.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) is here and it looks like it’ll stay. A few startups and vendors were pitching their various VR products and services. I tried a VR unit myself and was transported to a Armin van Buuren rave/concert. Not my scene but pretty cool. What was interesting was how I explained the VR experience as “I was at a concert” rather than “I saw a concert”. Pretty powerful stuff.

About to jump into an Armin van Buuren concert courtesy of a VR unit.

  • Keep thinking about ways that you can explain your startup in an interesting way. In a PR-related session, one panelist bluntly stated “most startups are not very interesting.” So if you’re running a startup, think about angles that would pique journalists’ interest into what you’re doing. PR (especially free PR) can be quite powerful if you have the right story to tell.


  • The key to having a successful conference as an attendee is to be fully engaged with the evening events. Lots of great opportunities to network with influencers and investors. If you’re going to be an attendee at Collision, don’t just rely on the conference floor or pitch competitions for connections but also the informal networking opportunities.
  • The way people talked about Facebook at Collision was kind of like the way people talked about Microsoft back in the early 2000s. Lots of awe and respect but also a begrudging acceptance to have to rely on their platform to reach their customers. Some folks were even pretty vocal about finding an alternative to Facebook.
  • New Orleans is a beautiful city. If you’re staying downtown, everything is within a 10-15 minute walk and Ubers are plentiful. Lots of fun bars and places to hit up to keep you busy for weeks! Oh, and don’t forget to indulge in their seafood when you’re down there.
  • The French Quarter is like a more cultured version of the Las Vegas strip. It’s cool – worth checking out – but probably not somewhere I’d spend most of my time when I go back to New Orleans.

To learn more about Collision, you can visit their website here. If your startup is growing and you’re looking for funding to take it to the next level, this is a great conference to be exposed to people who are highly connected in the startup world.