Why Positioning Important and How to Get It Right


Positioning is one of the most critical (and overlooked) aspects of marketing strategy. We talked to Mark Evans of Marketing Spark to get his advice for brands looking to improve their positioning. You can listen to the full interview on the Hot Pursuit Podcast or watch the video below.

Read the transcript.

What is Positioning in Marketing?

Mark describes positioning as the way you set your brand apart in the minds of customers. It is the unique space a brand occupies in a particular market. It’s determined by the distinctive qualities, benefits, and value you offer your target audience.

The Importance of Effective Positioning

In today’s competitive market, good positioning is a necessity, not a luxury.

“There’s just too much competition,” Mark says, “and people don’t have enough time to dig deep into why your product is better than everybody else’s.”

Positioning makes that clear so customers know why they should be paying attention.

The Elements of Effective Positioning

So how do clearly explain why customers should give you their time? Here are four components to consider:

  1. Identify Your Target Audience. Your brand can’t resonate with everyone. Understand your target audience. That includes their needs, desires, and the problems they’re trying to solve.
  2. Define Your Market. This involves understanding the market landscape, including its size, competitors, and prevailing trends.
  3. Determine Your Brand Promise. This is the unique value your brand commits to delivering to customers. It should be compelling and directly address the needs of your target audience.
  4. Identify Your Brand Differentiators. What sets your brand apart from its competition? Is it superior service? Innovative products? A unique company culture? These differentiators should be integral to your brand story.
  5. Clarify Your Brand Personality. This refers to the set of human characteristics associated with your brand. These traits should align with your target audience’s expectations. They should be apparent in every customer interaction.

How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Positioning

Mark advises brands to seek feedback from customers to evaluate their positioning. He also suggests a “quick and dirty” approach.

This involves creating a landing page that utilizes your positioning. Then drive traffic to that landing page with ads to see if it resonates. You can also split test different positioning to see which is best.

Mistakes to Avoid in Brand Positioning

Even seasoned marketers can falter when it comes to positioning. Mark pointed out some common pitfalls to look out for.

Ignoring Positioning

The first mistake that many brands make is not to consider their positioning at all.

“They don’t think it’s important,” Mark says. “It’s not seen as a priority. So as a result, they operate with positioning that is not clear.”

Positioning in Silos

The next mistake brands make is to involve too few people in the process. Someone will have to have the final say, but Mark recommends getting feedback from different departments in the beginning.

“You can’t have to many cooks in the kitchen at the beginning of the process,” he says.

If you don’t solicit feedback from other teams, you may find that you missed something important.

“They announce that they’ve got this great new story to tell. And then the CEO and sales go, that’s not the story. I don’t believe that story,” Mark says. “So one of the things you need to do with an organization is everybody needs to be involved, at least at the beginning.”

Letting Your Positioning Get Stale

The final mistake is to think of positioning as a “set-it-and-forget it” exercise.

“The competitive landscape changes, the economy changes, the way that customers use your product changes,” Mark says. “You have to continually be looking at your positioning to see whether it still resonates.”

A. Being too Vague or Generic

In the quest to appeal to everyone, brands can often become too vague. Your brand positioning should be precise, making it clear to customers why they should choose your brand over others.

Interview Transcript

Below is the full transcript of our interview with Mark.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding Your Customers. One of the recurring themes in the interview was the importance of understanding your customers. Mark emphasized the value of leveraging customer insights to guide your brand’s positioning.
  2. Unique Value Proposition. Your brand’s unique value proposition is vital in capturing customers’ attention. Identify what sets your brand apart and articulating it effectively.
  3. Importance of Brand Storytelling. Mark underscored the power of brand storytelling in capturing your audience’s attention. He says your brands story is one of your brand’s most valuable assets.
  4. Positioning as a Business Exercise. Mark highlighted that positioning isn’t merely a marketing exercise. It’s a strategic exercise that helps align the entire organization.
  5. The Value of Customer Feedback. Mark highlighted the importance of regular interaction with customers and implementing their feedback.
  6. Importance of Sharing Customer Insights. Mark emphasized the need to share customer insights across the organization. The information obtained from customer interactions should not remain siloed within one department.

Roy Harmon

Hey, I’m Roy Harmon and this is the Hot Pursuit Podcast. Today we’re joined by Mark Evans, a growth strategist and advisor for B2B and SaaS companies, helping them get their marketing strategy back on track. Mark, one of the things that you’ve said is critical is a clear and compelling positioning.

Mark Evans

Absolutely. One of the challenges facing B2B and SaaS companies these days is the increasing challenge of attribution. And why is that important? Well, five years ago, a decade ago, a marketer could look at their data-driven dashboard and quickly see what was working and what was not. Our paid ads are doing really well. Our website’s converting at these levels. Here are the referral sources for all the leads that we’re getting.

It was relatively easy for a marketer because they knew which levers to pull. And you saw the rise of growth hackers and people looking for optimization experts. But in the last couple of years, attribution has become hard. And if you listen to somebody like Chris Walker on LinkedIn, you know some of the big challenges that brands are facing with the rise of dark social.

So a lot of marketing activity is happening with brands being totally unaware of what’s going on. So what does that mean in terms of the importance of brand positioning?

Well, in a fast-paced world, you often have one shot and one shot only at capturing someone’s attention. And unless you can make them a little bit curious about why you might be relevant to them and meet their needs, they’re gonna go away. They’ll click away and you’ll never see them again.

So I think it comes down to focusing on the foundation of marketing in a very volatile landscape and making sure you’ve got that rock-solid foundation underpinned by brand positioning. And that sets the stage for everything else your company does, marketing, sales, product development, HR, raising capital.

You name it, it all starts with brand positioning.

Roy Harmon

Getting a little deeper, I know you’ve said that basically if you’re not differentiated as a brand, you’re working with one hand behind your back. And a lot of people hear that and say, “Yea! That makes sense. I’m going to do that!” But when you actually start trying to figure it out and get into the details it’s a little bit more difficult than you realized. Could speak to that?

Mark Evans

I’ll start by saying that brand positioning is completely underappreciated and undervalued by many companies – most companies, I would argue – because their priorities right now are lead generation.

They need to bring in enough cash to stay alive at a time when venture capital is becoming increasingly challenging to attract. So on the list of priorities, brand positioning seems like a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. And that’s a mistake because if you don’t stand out, you get lost in the crowd. And I think this was highlighted a couple of weeks ago when Scott Brinker came out with his latest Martech landscape. There are 11,000 Martech companies on that list. So what it highlights is that you have dozens, if not hundreds of competitors.

And they all have the same benefits, features, and prices. So how do you differentiate yourself? How do you stand above the crowd? How do you convince a prospect that you’re the obvious option for them?

Well, the answer is brand positioning. And using brand positioning to position yourself as different, unique, or better than everybody else out there.

There’s just too much competition and people don’t have enough time to dig deep into why your product is better than everybody else’s. So brand positioning is an easy way to quickly tell the people that matter to you, “This is why you should at least pay attention to what we’re saying.”

And if you can stop them in their tracks, even for a short period of time, at least you have a shot at a conversation or a demo or whatever else you want to do with them.

And from the outside looking in, the process is intimidating, but if you take a deep dive into your customers, competitors, and your offering, you’ll often be surprised about how easily the answer emerges. And that’s the key right now.

Roy Harmon

So what’s the best way to get started? For people who haven’t even started to be intentional about their positioning, what are the beginning steps? What should the focus be?

Mark Evans

So I look at positioning whether you do it yourself or hire someone like me to help you do it. It’s a three-part puzzle that you have to put together. And the only way to make that happen successfully is to take a deep dive into the three parts. Number one is your customers. And as marketers, we are guilty of not talking to our customers enough. We take them for granted. We make assumptions, we make educated guesses. So…

you really have to understand a couple of things. One is, how do customers get jobs done? Because if you sort of step back, they actually hire us, our products, our services, to get jobs done. And the second part would be, how do they, what’s that buyer’s journey look like? What are the triggers? What are their frustrations? What are their interests? What does success look like? And if you take a deep dive into your customers, they’ll tell you what they’re feeling, what they’re doing, what they think.

They’ll tell you what’s important to them. And your job is to see if what you’re good at aligns with what they need. So that’s step number one.

Number two is looking at the competitive landscape. As I said earlier, there’s many, many, many competitors. So what’s their positioning? How did they stand out from the crowd? For example, I did a workshop recently and I used accounting software as an example of positioning. And there were six examples. Five of them said exactly the same thing.

were the best accounting software for small business owners. And the sixth talked about being the platform that helped entrepreneurs realize their dreams. It’s just an example of differentiated position, not to say it’s the best position in the world, but it is a way of saying, hey, listen, we know how everyone talks about themselves and we’re gonna stand apart, we’re gonna be different. There’s risk obviously in doing that, but if you’re not different, then you’re just like everybody else.

And then the third part, and this is the hard part, probably the hardest part about positioning, is taking a hard look at your own product, your own offering, your own services, its strengths, its weaknesses.

What do customers love about your product or service? What are the features that they use all the time? What are the features that they ignore or never use? And what are the biggest benefits that your product or service delivers?

So if you can take a deep dive into those three puzzle pieces, what I find and very really find is that something will emerge, a theme will emerge about how customers use your product or what’s important to them.

And it’s a matter of stepping back and really gaining perspective and looking, okay, we’re really good at this and customers really want that and we’re really different in some way. And you just have to sort of take a deep dive and say, well,

What’s the common theme here? What’s the story? What’s the narrative that comes out of that? It takes time, often, for that narrative to emerge, but it’s just necessary steps you have to go through to make it happen.

Roy Harmon

And what’s the process like after you’ve got something that you’re happy with and roll it out? How do you determine whether it’s working or you missed the mark and you need to go back to the drawing board?

Mark Evans

Well, I would say the first thing is as you go through the journey, the customer competitor offering journey, in an ideal situation, you’ll start to see themes emerge. A hypothesis about your positioning will start to emerge. It’s a word or a theme or an idea that resonates because customers are telling us over and over again, the competitor is not highlighting that particular positioning. And you realize that you’re product is really good at what those customers want.

So sometimes it’s almost like something bubbles to the surface. It’s just a natural part of the process. You’ll get to a point in time where you’ll start to craft that story, that value proposition, which is basically what do we do? Who do we serve? What are the benefits? And how are we different? That story will emerge once you’ve got a draft of that story.

Then there are a couple of ways to see if it resonates. One is you go back to your customers, just interviewing them off the cuff, reaching out to customers that like your product, like your brand, your evangelists, and asking them for their feedback. “We’ve gone through this process, what do you think? Does it resonate with you?” So that’s number one. Number two is when you’re doing sales calls or demos, you start to feed that story into the things that you say to prospects.

See whether it connects with them or not. If they get excited about what you say and they immediately say, “Yeah, that sounds really good to me,” then you know you’re on the right path. If they don’t get excited or it doesn’t resonate, then you’ve got to go back to the drawing board. A third technique that you could use is to create a landing page with your new positioning, with your new messaging, and spend a little bit of money on Google ads or Facebook ads with some kind of CTA.

And use that data to determine whether the ads got conversions and whether the landing page actually worked. It’s just a quick and down and dirty way to see, “Okay, we put this out in the world. This is how people reacted.” And then we can step back and see whether it performed or not.

Roy Harmon

Yeah, I think you mentioned that one of the companies you worked with, the CEO or somebody would be at events and started to tell people about it and noticed that it seemed to be resonating and you hadn’t even gone through the full process, but that was an indicator that you were on the right track.

Mark Evans

Yeah, it was a really interesting process because I was mostly engaged with the CEO and the Chief Revenue Officer. And as the story started to emerge, we weren’t even finished yet. We were probably about halfway through. The CRO started to go, as you say, to conferences and sort of pitch people at conferences and came back and said, “It works!” He was delighted.

We had the three of us talking to customers and other key stakeholders and we came up with this thesis. And he couldn’t wait. He got impatient because he wanted to see whether we were on the right track or not.

And when he discovered in his mini-test that it did work, he got super excited and then we just accelerated that theme. We realized we were on the right track and we just expedited what we were doing and got to the finish line faster than I expected. So sometimes you hit that eureka moment where yeah, we’ve hit it. We don’t really have to spend a lot more time trying to find that story because it’s already there.

Roy Harmon

And what would you say are some of the mistakes that people make?

Mark Evans

The biggest mistake is that they ignore positioning. They don’t think it’s important. It’s not seen as a priority. So as a result, they operate with positioning that is not clear. It’s often very confusing and undifferentiated. So that’s number one. And that’s the biggest mistake that most companies make. They don’t even touch it.

The second one would be, is that they do positioning but it’s done by a very small group of people. So it could be the marketing department is responsible for coming up with new positioning. So they toil away, they do their thing. They announce that they’ve got this great new story to tell. And then the CEO and sales go, that’s not the story. I don’t believe that story.

So one of the things you need to do with an organization is everybody needs to be involved, at least at the beginning. You can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen at the beginning of the process because you want people to feel like they’re part of the process and their thoughts and views and insights are being heard.

Then you can narrow down the players because, at some point in time, somebody has to make a decision about what’s the right path. But you do want a lot of voices and you don’t want anybody to feel that they’ve been ignored or not been included in the process. So that’s the second mistake.

And the third one would be essentially coming up with positioning and deciding that it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of proposition. We’ve done our positioning and now we can leave it alone for whenever, like maybe a year from now or two years, but they forget that the competitive landscape changes, the economy changes, the way that customers use your product changes, and that you have to continually be looking at your positioning to see whether it still resonates.

It could be done on a quarterly basis where it’s a litmus test. You go to your customers or you do some AB testing with advertising, and, “Yep, still working. All good.”

Or you, when you’re doing some monitoring, you realize that there’s a competitor who’s come up with positioning that’s way better than yours. It’s obvious that they’ve got some buzz. They’ve got some excitement. You see it in your sales calls when you lose deals or people start talking about this new player.

And then you’ve got to do a competitive audit and say, “What’s better about theirs or different?”

It’s really a fluid, dynamic process to make sure that your position is relevant, current, and still works.

Roy Harmon

What do you do when you work with somebody and you do a refresh? What is that process like?

Mark Evans

Well, I’d say the first step is really trying to get a sense of why they think their positioning is not working.

Sometimes it’s a gut feeling. Sometimes the head of sales or the CEO or the head of marketing just feels that their story doesn’t have the same impact as before. They can’t quantify it, but it’s something that they know because they know the product inside out and they know the competitive landscape inside out.

Sometimes you’ll see it in the numbers. Lead generations are down, sales are down, or there’s a new competitor that just seems to have more excitement around it. So that’s what I wanna find out first.

Then it’s a matter of revisiting the same pillars as you did before because I think customers are probably the most important part of the puzzle. They often have tremendous insight.

They’re the ones that are on the front lines. They’re looking at alternatives. And the problem with many B2B and SaaS products is that they’re not very sticky. Unless it’s really embedded in your technology stack or your arsenal, people are not averse to change. And if they’re not happy or your product’s not working, they will churn out.

So you just want to go through that process and then see if the story is still relevant. And I’d say that one of the things that we as people who focus on positioning have recognized is that two years ago the B2B SaaS world was laser-focused on customer acquisition.

Everybody was well financed. It was about growth, growth, growth. And positioning was about, we’ve got these amazing benefits. You can do these amazing things. If you want to grow your business, you should do business with us.

Suddenly the economy shifts, the marketplace softens, and growth isn’t as important anymore.

What it’s about is productivity, efficiencies, reducing churn, and so your positioning needs to change because if you’re still on the growth story, if you’re still harping away on that story, then you’re telling a story that a lot of people don’t want to hear anymore.

It’s not important to them, it’s not as relevant. So you have to be telling the right story at the right time. Your positioning needs to reflect how your customers feel and how they’re operating. And if there’s a misalignment, then you risk becoming less relevant to them.

Roy Harmon

What about people who get it, but maybe they need to get that buy-in. Obviously, you mentioned that everybody needs to have some involvement at the beginning, but before you even get to that point, what are some things that people can talk about just to really drive home how important it is to do this? Because some of these things, like for example, doing this research with customers, can be difficult.

What are some things people can do to really drive home the importance of positioning?

Mark Evans

Number one is looking at the state of the business and lead generation because I would say in the simplest terms, better positioning equals more leads. And that’s something that a CFO or a CEO can understand. You can talk to some of your internal stakeholders, the head of sales, your chief revenue officer, and you can get a feel of whether the story is still resonating. Sales will know. Customer success will know because they talk to customers all the time.

And so if you start getting some data points that indicate that the story’s confusing and that when people do demos there are a lot of questions that are just basic about the basic product. That’s clearly to understand what the product does and why it matters to them. Those are some things you can do.

And in some cases, I think positioning is a really good business strategy exercise. You know, many people look at positioning as a marketing exercise.

I was at a conference recently and I was talking to a group of digital marketers and one thing that dawned on me is that, yes, better positioning allows for better marketing, but it’s also a great way to calibrate your entire organization and make sure that everybody understands the fundamentals of the business, which are your customers and your competitors.

So it’s a great way for sales to know whether they’re doing their jobs well enough for product development, to know whether they’re actually creating and building the right products and have the right roadmap for customer success, to understand how customers are using the product, whether it reflects the value propositions that you’re out there saying.

It’s a great way for the organization as a whole to really get a feel for whether they’re on the right track and whether the narrative that they’re telling in the marketplace is actually something that connects the product with customers. And I think especially for smaller organizations, it’s so important because the story is probably the most important asset.

Roy Harmon

So we keep talking about talking to your customers. And I think that’s important in so many areas, not just positioning.

Is there anything that you’ve found is really helpful to help people get into the habit of doing that?

Mark Evans

It’s a really weird thing when you think about it because as you mentioned, a lot of companies are afraid to talk to their customers. They’re afraid that if they approach them, the customer will be reminded they’re actually paying for the product and maybe not using it as much as they should.

So there’s this strange reluctance to connect with customers. And that is a mindset that paralyzes many marketers. They’re just afraid to touch base with people who matter a lot to them. But I think the one thing to recognize is that customers are an amazing source of insight and information if you ask them.

And the other part of it is that customers really do want to talk to you. They want to be engaged. They want to feel like their business is valued. They want their thoughts and ideas to be appreciated. And they’re invested, especially if it’s a higher-priced product. They really feel that they’ve picked you for a reason. And connecting with them is a great way to validate that they made the right decision. So that’s the starting point.

The second thing is that when you’re talking to customers, it’s not a big ask. What you’re looking for is an off-the-record, information-only, 20-minute conversation. That’s the ask.

And from the outside looking in, it’s an easy way for many customers to say, “Sure, I’ll give you 20 minutes because it’s no harm, no foul.”

Whatever they say is off the record, so they can tell you whatever they want. And what you’re looking for is their honest feedback. It’s not a marketing exercise, it’s not a sales exercise, it’s just an information exercise so you can get a better feeling for what they want, what they’re interested in.

And I think many marketers are surprised when the customers go, “Sure, I’ll talk to you for 20 minutes.” And the real trick here is that if you have a good conversation with a customer and you tee it up for 20 minutes, and they get rolling and they get excited about telling you what their ideas and what their thoughts are, pretty soon you’re at 30 minutes or 40 minutes and they don’t even mind at all because they really get into it and they appreciate it.

And number three would be, once you get all this information, what do you do with it? And the key is that you need to share within the organization. You need some way of capturing, summarizing, and synthesizing what customers tell you and then feeding it to product development and your CEO and sales.

Maybe it’s a group information brainstorming session. “So we’ve done all this research here, the key themes. Here’s some of the new competitors that customers are hearing about. Here’s some of the here’s their wish list.” So that everybody within the organization understands the this customer insight and they’re all on the same page.

Because often what happens is marketing will talk to customers and not share with the rest of the organization.. Or sales will have all this information and not share it. That cross-pollination of customer information is super important. Otherwise, you’re wasting a very valuable asset.

Roy Harmon

Can you talk a little bit about your book? Who’s it for? How can it help people who feel they’re not on the right track and they’re trying to kind of get things back in order?

Mark Evans

So, Marketing Spark is a book that I wrote about four years ago originally, and I recently published a second edition. The unofficial working title is “Better Spelling, Less Grammar, Mistakes.” Because as a writer, you go back and everything you write is crap. You look at your LinkedIn posts or the videos that you wrote or your books, and you go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe how bad that was.”

So it really was a labor of love going back and saying, “Okay, how can I make this book tighter and update some things?”

And it’s called Marketing Spark, but it’s not a book for marketers. So it’s a user-friendly way to really understand the value of brand storytelling and positioning.

It’s a guide more than a typical marketing book where you read the first 25 pages and you get the hypothesis. It is prescriptive, it’s got a bunch of worksheets, best practices, and tools. So it’s a step-by-step guide in helping entrepreneurs understand how marketing works and then actually how to make it happen.

And it identifies ten of the key channels that they should be using when they’re trying to do marketing. So when they talk to the head of marketing or the director of marketing, they’ve got a pretty good understanding of what’s involved and how it should actually unfold. So I think it’s mostly a book for entrepreneurs to put on their desks and as a reference all the time, as opposed to something that sits on your bookshelf.

Roy Harmon

That’s the best kind of book. The one you hang on to dog-ear some pages, open it up all the time. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Can you talk to people about where they can find you and how they can connect with you?

Mark Evans

Sure, the easiest way is just to go to my website, marketingspark.co. I offer a variety of services, a lot around fractional CMO, strategic advisory, and coaching.

And of course, you can find me on LinkedIn. Just do a search for Mark Evans, and most likely I’ll pop up at the top of the list. Published a lot of content there. And if you get a chance to check out my podcast, Marketing Spark, I spend a lot of time talking to B2B entrepreneurs and marketers.