Positioning Fetish

Stating “The client is always right” is like volunteering for slavery. It’s diminishing.

If that’s your fetish you should visit another kind of site. My fetish is to help YOU be the dominator in your business.

It is a positioning problem. It shows that you desperately chase your clients and that you rely on luck to close a deal. It tells how rare prospects find you attractive, or proves that you are just a commodity. That there are many like you, that the client has a lot of alternatives and that you only survive by competing on price.

This fetish is expensive and not sustainable long term. It eats your soul.

Instead, you could be in a position where YOU are always right. Where the client chases you to solve a problem and where you are the best solution.

For this to happen, you need to figure out the problem you want and can solve for a specific group of clients. How unique and stringent the problem, and also how narrow the group of people confronted with that problem is, will determine your success.

THEY have the problem! You have the solution! If that’s not stupidly clear for everyone, you need to reposition.

When that’s done, you just need to make yourself visible. To reliably show up in all those places where the clients can see you.
And let THEM chase you.

Now, what is that going to do for your pricing? How about your soul?

Positioning against stress

How do you make decisions? And how can positioning fight stress?

We are wired to make decisions by comparing stuff. It’s how our brain works.

Comparing details and finding differences is what we constantly do, sometimes without even noticing. But you will notice tension and stress rising if you fail to find something that will help you make up your mind.

Similarly, finding yourself in front of too many choices, is confusing and stressful. Mainly because, if nothing stands out, you’ll have way too many details to compare before reaching a conclusion.

For that reason, behavioral scientist and smart marketers alike will advise limiting price options to three while making the middle one stand out. It satisfies decision-making (and ego), while providing the obvious and easy choice. It’s relaxing and rewarding.

Now think about your business. Order an audit if you are biased. How many options do your customers have? Are you one of many, offering the same or similar product? Can you differentiate yourself from competition? Are you clearly communicating those differences?

In other words, are you making it easy for your customer to choose?

The set of actions that will allow customers to tell at a glance that you are the obvious choice, is called positioning.

Yes, it’s not only a buzzword, it’s a great success insuring strategy. And, along financial benefits for your business, it will also ease your customers’ decision-making.

One way or the other, positioning is a fantastic way to reduce stress.

Setting price expectations

If you find yourself in a very competitive market, without setting yourself apart from others, you will rather sooner than later find that your only leverage is to compete on price. That is fine if you do it on purpose.

But here is how I find most of my clients.

Margins are low to start with. That is a self-regulating mechanism in a crowded niche. It’s normal.

To counter the small margins, you have to sell more items. And how do you sell more if you don’t differentiate yourself from competition? Make a special offer. You choose some products and go as low as possible. Sometimes even lower.

But that is unsustainable long term. You only manage short bursts from time to time. You hope, you can win the hearts of your customers. But you don’t. You just set another level of expectation. So does your competition.

It’s the perfect procedure to teach customers that lower prices are possible. That’s irreversible.

This has been done so often, that people have learned to hunt for offers. They expect low prices now. And you helped set this low price point.
Congrats! You just earned yourself a name on a price-comparison website.

Why do startups fail

“Eight of out 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months” was the myth spread by Forbes in 2013.

Don’t let this journalistic marble scare you. It’s not that bad. Jet, the real numbers still show you have to do your homework. So lets start right now:

Half of new businesses fail during the first five years, of which 30% in the first two years, … seem to be the accepted rough numbers across multiple institutions and media. For me, that is still a lot of failure waiting to happen. It’s what I want to help you with and what I have done for so many years. It’s what my advisory firm does.

Combining my experience with a lot of research, I compiled the most serious causes that can shatter your chances of success:

1. Lack of Brand Platform and Strategy.

The Brand Platform is where it all starts. It sets the values on which the whole business will operate: why you do it, who’s problems you are going to solve and how you approach everything. Brand building, positioning, value proposition, target audience, corporate identity and communications are all materializations of the Brand Platform. Getting this wrong is like starting in the wrong direction.

As a side effect, and if done right, the Brand Platform can serve as proof of concept because it forces you to know your customers and your market extremely well. Therefore, it significantly reduces the risk of failure.

I’ll only touch briefly on positioning here although it is a huge strategy decision that can lift or bury your business pretty easy.

Positioning is the art of putting yourself in that sweet spot where your product or service is unique enough to largely cut down on competition while still maintaining a niche rich enough to sustain your business. You don’t want to be a commodity fighting for a place in price comparison charts and you don’t want to be so focused that only a handful people will buy your products. In this article I touch a bit on that sweet spot: Competition Audit.

For all the reasons above, you need to settle on your Brand Platform upfront. Unfortunately, too many startups ignore this part completely. It’s the perfect setup for short-term failure.

2. Wrong market evaluation / business model.

Or in other words “Presumption is the mother of all fuck-ups”.

It’s not enough to establish the core values through your Brand Platform and to understand your audience’s needs. You also want to find out if it can sustain your business. Can your customers afford it and is are they willing to buy? It’s a matter of numbers, not suppositions.

There is a lot of other stuff you could get wrong here: number of customers that really need your product, their capabilities, scalability, competition in your niche, pricing of your products and timing just to name the big ones.

Another set of presumptions often made when evaluating the market is about customer acquisition. How easy it is to acquire new customers and how much this action will cost, needs to face the total value the customer is returning.

Technically speaking, that is the CAC/LTV rule (cost of acquiring the customer/lifetime value of customer) and it’s pretty evident: CAC needs to be less than LTV for a profitable business model.

You also wouldn’t want to ignore the time needed to recover the cost of acquiring your customers. Put that against your capital and you already have a better chance to estimate how the few next years will look like.

3. Product problems.

You can make the best market evaluation and identify the best product or service to satisfy the need of your customers, but you also have to deliver. If your product doesn’t meet the needs of your customers, if it is faulty, badly supported or any other product related issue, you can’t be expecting a lot of success are you?

If you are smart and can dig up the resources, it’s a great practice to test your product in advance at a smaller scale, collect the reviews and improve. This is not always possible but correcting mistakes in a quick manner is essential. You could even win a few points in your customer’s eyes if executed properly.

If you did a good job setting the values of your company and understanding what your customers expect, your product should be fine. Then, it’s only a mater of fine-tuning.

4. Deficient management.

It all boils down to leadership in my eyes. Being a good leader means having happy employees. Happy employees make happy customers. It’s that simple.

Jet I see the opposite all the time: miserable company culture, inadequate payment, lack of communication, stress, hate and unfair competition among employees. Nothing can thrive in such an environment.

Leadership is something you should figure out if you aspire to be an entrepreneur. I give you a hint: it’s a lot about compassion. Otherwise, you should be smart enough to step aside and hire someone that does it for you.

The more technical side of management is how well organized you are and how efficient you are at administering the company’s resources. Time management belongs here, too. Management is something you can learn. If that is not your thing, again, find someone who can.

It’s a matter of self awareness. Don’t let your own ego destroy your business.

5. Poor Communication.

You should have figured out what you need to communicate in the first phase, as you built the Brand Platform. But the values of your Brand only give direction and set the tone, the voice of your communication. How efficient the message can be delivered, is a matter of technique and tactics.

Firstly, you need to understand that attention is an asset. Where is the attention of your customer? Is it on social media, on television or on billboards? That’s where you need to be. Even if you don’t like it. And if you don’t show up in those places, how would your audience even know you exist?

By the way, a website, even a great one, is not going to be enough for most businesses in 2020 and the trend shows it’s getting worse. That shouldn’t mean, you don’t need a website or that it doesn’t have to be built well. It is still one of the most important touchpoints for any business, not only for startups. One that should communicate the values of your company.

6. Displeasing Touchpoints.

Touchpoints actually belong to communication but the situations where they are mismanaged and where customers are treated inappropriately are so common, that I want to hammer it separately.

Take support centers and guarantees for example. Those are touchpoints where your customer comes “begging” for help and is so often let down. If you want to stay in business, you can’t afford the bad experiences your customers have to go through. You will lose them for good. And what is worse, they will also tell others about it.

Now, imagine the opposite: delivering such a great experience, that your customers will convince others to join.

A more abstract approach to touchpoints and therefore to communication, is to look at every business-client interaction as a good opportunity to communicate your values. It’s those small things, but they add up to your brand.

Take your Logo for example. Does it look amateurish? Is it communicating your values and can be easily remembered or does it communicate you don’t care?

How about packaging? Did you just consider price or did you invest some thought on how it will be opened. Did your stupid molded plastic packaging just cut my finger?!? Fuck you, cheep company!

7. Persistence and patience.

If you figured the previous points out and business is still slow, it’s usually a matter of persistence and patience.

To a certain degree, you could beat time with a beefy marketing budget and by brilliantly covering all the above points. Especially communication. That would move the needle faster. Otherwise, be prepared to invest some time and perseverance.

On the other hand, business doesn’t have a finish line. You can’t arrive at the “I’m the best” finish line and end the race. There will always be someone assessing your weaknesses trying to surpass you. This is a race that never ends and you constantly need to improve in order to stay ahead. Then, you just need to outlast everyone.

There can be other causes that could contribute to a business failure. Some, you could say are industry specific. Sometimes luck plays a role, although, you should to be prepared for at least some unfortunate situations.

Other than luck, it’s all in your hands. You can’t blame others for failing. It’s just knowledge and the way you apply it. I guarantee you: if you score high on all the points above, you are going to be in business for a long time.

The expert position

You want to be respected?
You own the business but don’t feel like your own boss?
You want to be The One in your industry?

Position yourself as an expert!

This is good advice for life in general, but I find it important for business in particular and critical for service providers.

As a result, you won’t be pushed around or micromanaged and your recommendations won’t be questioned. You also won’t have to pitch because they will turn to you asking for help, therefore allowing you to charge more.

There is always a hierarchy game between people. Establishing a position in this hierarchy isn’t always a conscious process, but your actions will determine it. So, if you don’t clearly occupy (and maintain) a high position, someone will.

This is such a basic concept, that one could easy extend it to products too.

The process of determining your rank sums all the impressions and feelings one person has gathered about you. That includes how you look, talk, walk, dress and so on. Do you behave like an expert? Are you a pro?

Reputation is very powerful. People care about what other people think of you. You should control and use that. It lets you set your level in advance. That is why social media and testimonials are so powerful.

So how do you achieve the expert title? There is no workaround: you have to grow into one and also show it.

That is what this “For My Brand” blog is all about. To help you become The One.

Competition audit

You can’t ignore competition. It has the power to destroy or boost your business, depending on how well you understand its position in your market. The way to start understanding it, regardless if you are a startup or a seasoned entrepreneur, is through an audit.
The competition audit is one of the best tools to help you assess your business and the environment in which you operate. Whether you do it yourself or bring in an expert, here is what you should learn from it.
Firstly, how many competitors do you have? Knowing that there are many or just a few is not enough. You need a number. Make it as precise as possible.
If for no other reason, this is a precise way of learning how your niche evolves in time. If your niche is a goldmine, you might find, upon repeated auditing, that the numbers are flying up. Is that a concern? Sure, if it doubled in a year.
Or, on the other extreme, you dominate the market, so that half of your competitors give up. I’d sure want to see the numbers if that was the case.
Knowing the extent of your competition will also help classify the feasibility of your niche and how efficient your positioning is.

Too many competitors, might indicate that others see the business potential too. That’s good, it’s not just your wishful thinking. 

It also shows that you are targeting a large pool of customers. Once you know this, you can simply narrow your focus by targeting a more specific audience. This balancing act is a great way to thin out your competition, to specialize and to become the expert in your market.

If the number is very low, you might ask yourself if the niche you are in, is viable. Is the business idea any good? Are you being to specific in defining your ideal customer? Fine-tuning your focus is a great way to go from survival to success. You want to get this right!

David C. Baker has a must-read article on this. He even came up with a formula.

Knowing your niche and your business environment is great, but you get even more value out of your competition audit by using it to evaluate yourself. Think of your competition as if it was your own free of charge team. A team that already tested the target audience for you. It already made decisions and reacted to their needs. How did they do?

Speaking of team, are you considering how their advertising is also helping you? Think about it.

Learning the good stuff your competitors do, is a great way to learn what your own customers prefer. You might need to implement the findings in your own business or find ways to improve on those points.

Learning the mistakes your competitors do or did is even better and can help you avoid failure. To better illustrate that, let’s say you find out that the support your competitors offer is terrible. There is your opportunity: offer flawless support and make it your competitive advantage. Your customers will repay you with fidelity.
By deeply evaluating a thorough competition audit, you instantly recognize the strong players. Who is really serious about their future? Who are the ones that truly care about their customers? Which are the ones that invest in brand? Those are your worthy rivals. Know them well. They will be around for a while.
So you see, just by reframing how you look at competition changes everything. Don’t waste time and resources trying to beat the competition. They are your team. They are there to help you get better.

And getting better every day is what this is all about.

Communication principles

Communication is vital, jet so many misunderstand and misuse it with regularity.
Here are some arguments to raise your awareness:
Without communication, we wouldn’t be.
Society was built through communication and every relationship is a communication game. We communicate with ourselves and our organs communicate to each other. So are our cells. Even microbial invasions depend on communication. 
Disrupting communication is an efficient way to destroy almost anything.
Being able to communicate better than others is how you gain leverage.
Communication is everywhere. In how we look, sound, smell, feel, and even taste.
How we behave is communication.
A loud fart in a full bus is how you communicate you’re a jerk. The answer, is how the others communicate what they think of you.
Who we choose to be is communication. It’s a choice.
Jet, every day, we see bad communication at work. The manager who can’t lead a team, the husband who fights his wife, the parent who doesn’t know how to deal with a rebel kid.
Organizations are no exception. Even huge corporations fuck up communication every day. Shameless lies, misleading advertising, unclear statements, poor design, stupid packaging and terrible support, just to name a few. What does it communicate? “Screw the customer! Profit is our god”.
Scarce communication is also a big topic. I find most of my clients in this state. I can tell by the desperate look in their eyes when I tell them to communicate daily on all major social media platforms. Choosing not to communicate is also a form of communication. Most of the time it is seen as insecurity, not as ”… silence is golden”.
Social media is one of the best communication tools ever invented. How we use it is often wrong.
We get to decide. No one is forcing you to post dumb stuff, or even to use the Internet. It’s on you if you choose to screw your customers, to be an awful boss, to yell at your kid or to fart in the bus.
If your communication tells everyone that you don’t care, why should anyone else care about you?

Short-term vs. long-term business

There are essentially two ways of doing business: short term and long term.
Most don’t think about this. I bet there are in the short-term game.

Capitalizing on opportunities isn’t entirely wrong. Jet, it’s a good way to fail in the long run if you are not aware of its finite life cycle.

Take trends, for example. You could earn a pretty penny out of today’s trend, but be aware, the opposite might be preferred next year. If your organization is not built to handle disrupting direction changes, you might quickly fail and even face bankruptcy.

Trendy for profit might also drive you to become immoral. It’s like playing the wolf in sheepskin. You might get a few sheep this way, but how long can you do this? Could you pretend to be a sheep for the rest of your life if required? And what if sheep would learn your smell? What if you couldn’t fool them anymore? What if sheep go extinct? And if pigs are trendy next year, would you become a pig?

If you’re not into animal examples, take the one Simon Sinek uses: Railroad tycoons. The once biggest companies faced extinction like dinosaurs as airplanes and automobiles came to life. They positioned their business as railway companies instead of transportation companies and perished fighting airplanes instead of owning them!

Long-term thinking is a condition to avoid extinction.

It allows you to position your business above trends and to transform trends in opportunities without being a fraud. You even get to set new trends. It comes with appreciation, followers and a solid, successful future.

Long-term business is achieved by building a brand. Great brands are led by outstanding leaders who are driven by high purpose, not profit. Great leaders are also fantastic human beings. Fantastic human beings can build a better world.

See how it all connects? Now, you have to decide. Quick profit or great legacy?

The Grinch

Merry Christmas everyone!
I’m having a great time this morning being the brand advisor of The Grinch himself 🙂

First thing I notice, is that being the Grinch isn’t the worst thing. Being unknown is far worse.
And having Santa as a rival is also a good thing: it’s just one.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who don’t like Christmas. There are plenty of reasons for that. Take religion, for example. And then there are the folks who hate the traffic around Christmas or the ones that have a problem with all the resources spent for organizing the Holidays. There are even some who just don’t like the red dressed oversized old Santa and even some who are afraid of him.

So, there is a niche and plenty of followers. We just need to identify them. Building those personas would be a fun exercise.

Now how about brand strategy?
It wouldn’t be a good brand strategy to just turn everything upside-down. Advising the Grinch to become nice and to love Christmas would be a big mistake. The Grinch couldn’t ever compete on niceness with Santa. It would be against his beliefs and the ones of his fellowship.
As a result he would instantly lose his advantage.

The point is, a brand doesn’t need to be nice and jolly. As long as you find and serve your people, you also have a business. Being the Grinch is not that bad so don’t be grumpy. It’s still Christmas.

Ho, ho, ho…

Positioning for Value Based Pricing is THE key to success and prosperity

Value based pricing is by far the most discussed and most interesting pricing method out there. It’s also the best.
In theory, it could be applied to almost any pricing situation. Depending on your business, value based pricing can be a game changer, however, you need to be aware of its limitations.

There are two main ways to understand value pricing.

The more classical one, is usually applied to products and productized services that only have some differences when compared to competition. “It’s the same, but mine is better because of X, Y, Z.”
If those differences have a value for certain buyers, you can set a price on them. Determining who this people are and the value they perceive, is the task you end up with. Communicating those differences to the right people is how you position yourself.

The other way of applying value based pricing is more suitable for custom services or even custom-made stuff. In this scenario, you solve a problem for the buyer. If the problem is big enough for the buyer, you can charge a lot for solving it.
Only the perceived value counts, not how much you spend to solve the problem.
For some, it won’t be that big of a problem, so you might not be able to solve it and still make a profit.
Solving big problems for “big” people is where you want to be positioned.

If your business isn’t positioned properly, value based pricing can be even impossible to implement.

By not differentiating your product from others, you put the buyer in a difficult position: having one to many choices. Choices complicate decision-making. It’s a conflict that needs to be solved.

There is a solid chance your buyer wont toss a coin to make the buying decision. To solve the dilemma they will search for some differences. If you ever researched for hours before buying something, you know what I mean. This is natural. Comparing stuff is how our brain functions. Finding even tinny differences and establishing a hierarchy for the buying options, is how we solve the conflict.

This is why price-comparison and product-testing websites have thrived.

So, if your product is a commodity (others sell it too), you are most-likely forcing the buyer to compare prices. You are competing on price. You’ll need to “go low”. I don’t need to tell you how that ends.

A good positioning makes your product or service unique in the eyes of your buyer. This “One of a kind”, adds value to your product or service and this perceived value is what it’s all about. It also helps solving the buying decision conflict. They will thank you for this.

Here are the best positions to sell from:

  • Expert: you are seen as THE expert in your field – you are the safe option, most likely to solve the problem, the buyer can’t afford the risk
  • Brand: you have grown a brand name, so even if others sell the same stuff you get all the love
  • Problem solving: you solve a problem that others can’t – even if you are not THE expert in you field, if you’re the only one who can solve this, you get to be the only choice
  • How you do it: the way you solve the problem is unique in some way. For the ones that appreciate this, you are the one.
  • Demographic: you are the only one that can speak to this people – language, culture, tradition, race, sex, age, usually, a unique combination of those.

I realize how exceptional these examples are. Being the number one expert or the only one capable to solve a problem is rare or at least time limited.
The solution is straight forward: use a combination! Be an expert, with a good reputation, who knows to solve a problem in a good way and who is able to communicate to a specific buyer.

Making it easy for the buyer to identify you as the obvious choice is what positioning is all about.
Combining it with value pricing is THE key to success and prosperity.