Position Your Company By Writing Down What You Know

19 January 2021
Justin Warren

At PivotNine we often work with startups that have been working for a while and they come to us with a positioning problem.

When new clients approach us, they often have a position already, though rarely on purpose. Sometimes they'd worked out a position a long time ago and it needs updating, but most often the position to take wasn't clear at the company's founding and the lack of a clear position is starting to hurt them.

It's why one of the first things we ask clients to do is to tell us what their current positioning is, in writing.

Their response tells us a lot about the work ahead of us.

Write Down What You Allegedly Know

The first stage of turning hunches into research is writing them down.

This sounds a bit glib, but the act of writing things down tends to clarify your thinking. You're forced to put into words the vague thoughts and feelings that you think you know. It's often surprising, and a little terrifying, when you have to confront the fact that what you actually know isn't nearly as much as what you think you know.

It's also a key part of communicating your position to other people, as we covered in Position Based Decision Making.

A good positioning statement takes a couple of sentences, at most. If you can't write down your positioning clearly and concisely, it's unlikely that anyone else is going to be able to know what it is either.

We use a simple template to structure the process, which looks like this:

For [target segment] that need [their need] we offer [your offer] that unlike [next best alternative] our thing provides [quantified benefits]. We do this by [how we do it] as demonstrated by [proof points].

As an exercise, try writing down your positioning statement using this template.

How did you do?

Follow The Process

Our clients often tell us that part of the value of working with PivotNine is the process we take you through. The end result of a clearly established position is also nice to have, of course, but the process of getting there is, in our view, the important part.

The simple template above helps us to push clients to clarify a lot about what market they think they're in (and why), who their target customer is (and why), what makes them special (and why), and why anyone should care. For a simple tool, it's remarkably effective.

We've seen clients discover major issues with their company structure, or the product, or their market assumptions, as we work through this process. Uncovering and addressing these issues one by one removed a number of obstacles to their progress, and we've seen founders become much more energised as a result.

Once you've worked your way through the process, it's usually pretty obvious what needs to be done next. Ironically, trying to take a shortcut and skipping steps in the process tends to make everything take much longer, because you're missing critical information about what you need to do, and end up making a lot of easily avoidable mistakes.

There are already enough risks and unknowns in building something new, so why create more by accident?

So grab a piece of paper and a pen, take a deep breath, and write down what you know.