This week I realized this is my 25th year working in marketing. I love it because it gives me the opportunity to help people grow their business. One the most common marketing problems I encounter is bad or no positioning.

What is positioning anyway?

In my opinion you can position on three levels:

– You can position your business in the market.
– You can position your brand.
– You can position your communication.

The second and the third follow from the positioning that comes at the higher level and it influences how you set up your business and your business model.

Your market position is determined by how you differentiate your business from your competitors, the choice for specific groups of clients, and which place you choose in the competitive landscape. Differentiation is all about the unique attributes you offer that set you apart from the competition, and attract the clients you are targeting.

So positioning is all about making the necessary strategic choices about where you want your business to be. Necessary, as without clear choices there is no focus and without focus, there can be no success. This goes for large businesses as well as for the solopreneur.

Strategic choices are choices about seeing your business’s identity in relation to the other actors in that market: competition, suppliers, customers etc. Just to name a few choices you have to make as an entrepreneur:

– What do you want to be as a business?
– Which audiences to you want to serve?
– How do you want your audience to see your business?
– How can you distinguish yourself from your competition?
– How can you be relevant to your customers?
– How will you deal with developments in the market?
– Will your abilities and personal values let you be what you want to be?
– And eventually, how will those choices influence your positioning on every level, as well as your business model?

Why is positioning important?

With the immense availability of products and services it is more important than ever to distinguish your business and brand from others. With smarter and more unpredictable customers, who have the world at their social networking fingertips this hasn’t become any easier. The necessity to be consistent through all channels and media demands a well thought out positioning. This positioning should be rooted in the entrepreneur’s personal values and competencies, held against the opportunities the market offers. Consistency is especially important if you are in the services business. And which organization isn’t nowadays?

Positioning is also important as an internal compass. It determines what you will and won’t offer to the market. It also determines which audiences you will and will not serve. This compass steers the brand, the way you communicate, and in short how you do business. In day to day practicality it guides which type of image you will or will not choose for your website, the tone of voice you use in your communication, which freelancers or suppliers to work with. Everything should fit together and make sense to people working for the business as well as people on the outside.

Positioning Costa del SolWhere do businesses go wrong in positioning?

Very often it is a case of not making any choices. The most common mistake is not choosing which customers to target and claiming that everyone is your customer. I wrote about that in last week’s blog:  Marketing Rule #1: Know your customer.

Another common mistake is not making choices as to what it is you will offer as a business and to keep on adding services or products to the assortment until it makes no sense to a potential client what it is that your business offers. If you started out as a hair salon and you now also offer advice on SEO that make no sense for people in the audience you target.

It can also be question of not defining your business in the right way. Or in other words, to find an umbrella you can hang your services under. It is hard to find a commonality between hairdressing and SEO, but if that business owner would offer massages or any other kind of beauty and wellness services, you could position the business as a place for beauty and wellness.

Let’s illustrate by another example. If you are Shell or any other company selling petrol at gas stations, you can position yourself as a gasoline company. Shell can also position themselves as an energy company and as such they would be able to work on energy innovations, solar energy, wind energy, or simple household batteries even. The chosen definition could make all the difference for how you set up your business and how others see you. Saying you’re a gasoline company and then selling solar panels makes no sense. Saying you are an energy company and selling the same solar panels, make all the sense in the world.

You may wonder why a definition matters. In my opinion it has to do with being believable and trustworthy. People like to buy stuff from companies or solopreneurs they know-like-trust. If you claim to be one thing people will find it odd that you are doing something else. Take for instance the general response people have when they hear that a model will start acting. People have put this person in the model category in their minds and all of a sudden they have to change that. It is confusing.

A last example. We once had a client once who wanted us to make her website for here. She worked as an independent change manager and did a lot of work for governmental departments. She also taught Pilates and she considered herself a white witch. She wanted all those things on one website. Maybe penny wise, but positioning foolish. If you were in charge of hiring a change manager at the Dutch department of defense, would you hire someone claiming to be a white witch? Doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with (thinking you are) a white witch, but it will probably hurt the perception of your business and brand.

Expat positioning on the Costa del Sol

As an expat on the Costa del Sol trying to market your business to the limited group of other expats there is a positioning trap business owners can fall into. I call it the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ positioning trap.

With a relatively small audience, the market may not be big enough to sustain the business. So business owners, especially the solopreneurs, start up multiple businesses that do not necessarily have a commonality to them. Remember the white witch? These multiple business may seem necessary from a monetary point of view, but running multiple businesses at the same time is hard and it hurts any of your personal brands. Be it that of change manager, Pilates instructor, or white witch. The result is that you become unbelievable at all of them.

Positioning is a reflective process

The process of positioning is an exercise in analysis, thinking, reflection and making decisions. Of course, it is hard to free up time for a good think. ‘Doing’ seems to be valued more than ‘thinking’. However, a frequent time-out for some reflection is something that every business owner should plan in his schedule. Take a breather from doing, to see if you are on track and make changes if you aren’t.

By Pepita Bos