Who Do You Serve? Defining Positioning

The first problem any service business needs to solve is deciding who they are going to serve. Being a generalist makes marketing harder. If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.

Other consultants Philip Morgan and Jonathan Stark advocate for what they call the fool-proof positioning statement:

I help $TargetCustomer solve $expensiveProblem. Unlike my competitors, I $uniqueDifference.

So when I decided to start building a new agency brand, I decided to start by tackling this problem.

Debunking the “Big Idea”

I’ve spent years floating around in startup circles, and there is still the pervasive myth that businesses start with a “big idea.” I can and has worked, but I don’t believe it’s a repeatable form of success.

Instead, I believe in finding the perfect group. Marketing buzzword types call this “community marketing” Once you have a group of people you want to build a solution for, you can ask them questions, you can research their problems.

You don’t have to come up with a big idea from scratch. You can let the market point you in the right direction.

Don’t Be a Buridan’s Ass

One problem with choosing a target market is that there are so many options available. If you don’t feel the same, you’re just not looking at it hard enough. Look up. Look sideways. Look down.

To put in another way:

  • Who have you served or worked for previously?
  • Who are your peers?
  • Who are similar to you, but at a lower skill level?

Answering these questions (which I’ve taken from Amy Hoy & Alix Hillman’s 30×500 course) lead to a litany of options:

  • Tech startups
  • Software-as-a-service business
  • Online Marketplaces
  • Hosting Companies
  • eCommerce store owners
  • Amazon Sellers
  • Freelancers
  • JavaScript Developers
  • Agencies
  • Ruby Developers

The word decision means “to cut.” Choosing to focus on one of these markets ignoring the other nine. It makes the decision difficult. This analysis paralysis can lead to the Buridan’s ass problem: A donkey standing between two equally appetizing piles of hay chooses neither and starves to death.

The reason decisions can be hard is because of the cutting. Choosing one of these audiences means that I’m also choosing not to work with any of the others.  It’s scary. I firmly believe that positioning increases marketing opportunities, but to our lizard brains, it feels like the opposite. How can I overcome this fear?

De-Fang The Fear 1: Any Positioning Is Better Than No Positioning

Not moving is death in this case. I needed to pick one market. Without choosing a market, talking to people in that market, doing research, and crafting targeting marketing messages is impossible. If that’s not enough, there were a few other realizations I came to that helped me get over the fear.

De-Fang The Fear 2: Positioning Isn’t Permanent

If I choose a market, do some research, and can’t make any sales, then I can always change. The internet has a short-term memory. Remember when I used to try to make money doing Warrior Forum affiliate marketing bullshit? Yeah, me neither.

De-Fang The Fear 3: Positioning In Public, Payment in Private

What if an excellent opportunity comes along that doesn’t fit my ideal customer?

I’m going to work with them anyway.

I have pride, but I also have a mortgage.

Positioning is a marketing play. It is focusing effort in a single direction. Just because I am trying to land Shopify owners as clients doesn’t mean I will turn a SaaS client away if I need to make some additional income that month.

Setting Some Criteria

Now it’s time to make a decision. Which means it’s time to cut some of our potential audiences reality show style.

Criteria 1: The Buyer Needs to Hire Consultants

To get this business off the ground, I need people who typically hire outside help.

  • Freelancers
  • Ruby developers
  • Javascript developers

These are all great markets to serve with products, but I think building a service business around them would be difficult.

Criteria 2: These Companies Need What I Have

  • Amazon sellers
  • Software-as-a-service-industries

While I’ve working in marketing departments, I’m a developer at heart. I’m looking for companies that I help with code skill, even if I am not selling myself as a programmer. In my experience, SaaS companies look to hire full-time for these kinds of roles. Amazon sellers don’t own their platform, so there isn’t much need for custom development.

Criteria 3: There are Large Companies With Large Budgets

  • Tech Startups

I’ve built several MVPs for startups, but there are a couple of issues with this market: They tend to operate on a shoestring budget, and 90% of them fail so it doesn’t make for a repeatable client base.

The Final Four

  • Hosting companies
  • Online Marketplaces
  • eCommerce store owners
  • Agencies

Of the four, I settled on eCommerce stores. I’ve always been interested in ways code can be leveraged to directly impact the bottom line, so an industry with the sole focus of selling things seems like fun.

Time to dive in!

From eCommerce —> Shopify

Looking around at the eCommerce space, Shopify in particular seemed attractive for a number of reasons:

  • The Shopify partners program, an ecosystem of support for people who support shopify store owners.
  • The Shopify Experts program, where Pokemon-evolved partners with street cred get featured as a Shopify value proposition.
  • An App store and Theme store, which means there is opportunity to build cash-generating assets.
  • Several experts in the space have mentioned that it’s a growing marketing with plenty of opportunity for developers in the future.

So there you have it, now I can say that:

I help Shopify Store Owners solve $expensiveProblem. Unlike my competitors, I $uniqueDifference.

And I can start researching to determine an expensive problem to solve, and a unique difference I can use in my marketing.


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