Stop Pretending You’re Well Positioned

Prentice Howe
Aug 6, 2019 · 3 min read

By Prentice Howe, Principal, Door №3

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Quick, tell me your company’s brand positioning statement in 12 words or less.

If you recited it clearly and without hesitation, stop reading this article and go pour yourself a drink. The rest of you, stay after class.

Not having a positioning statement is bad, but not nearly as egregious as having an ineffective one that you deem to be good enough. The reason for the latter is because too many marketers are forced into a state of denial. And for good reason. They’re busy. They have fires to put out. They have to drive sales NOW. Plus, self-reflection isn’t for the faint of heart. Crafting a powerful positioning statement is a lot like starting a workout routine after years of only lacing up your running shoes for Target runs. You have to begin buck naked in front of the mirror and ask, “Alright. Sooooo, what do we have to work with here?”

Challenger brands that are winning in today’s marketplace all have one thing in common: a crisp, concise brand positioning that has been activated from the inside out. Their employees live it, their customers believe it and their prospects understand it.

Southwest didn’t shake up an entire industry solely by offering cheap plane tickets. They democratized air travel in every way imaginable.

Allbirds isn’t just a $1.4B direct-to-consumer shoe brand. They’re setting the standard for a sustainable supply chain.

Tushy isn’t merely selling bidet attachments. They’re disrupting health and hygiene through straight talk and high design.

A poor positioning statement is often the result of one of three things:

1 — It’s puffery. I was in line at the airport behind a business traveler who had his company’s elevator statement emblazoned across his luggage tag. He worked for an upstart energy company in the Midwest. The copy was about 100 words long with over 20 adjectives and 10 commas. It read more like the ingredients list on a Cheetos bag than anything related to a brand. If your positioning inspires marketing messages that are laden with superlatives and run-on sentences, it’s time to bust out the red pen.

2 — It’s non-committal. Author and advisor, David C. Baker, makes the case that companies without clear positioning are driving around in a white van with a stack of interchangeable door magnets inside, each one touting a different service. You know what I’m talking about. You’re selling lawn care services one day and roofing the next. Oh, you need pet sitting? We do that too! His point: you need to “paint the van” and be one thing. Committing to who you are and what you do best may close a lot of small doors, but in time, it will open one very big door.

3 — It’s inward-facing. It’s time to place a moratorium on phrases like “industry-leading,” “innovating” and “fastest-growing.” That’s like going on a first date, carrying on about yourself and failing to ask any questions about the person sitting across from you. If the job of a brand positioning is to uniquely connect to the customer in a way that is wholly distinct from your competition, then meaningless chest-thumping has no home here.

I’ll leave you with this: A winning brand positioning brings clarity to your internal communications, marketing strategies, advertising campaigns and promotional tactics. It doesn’t just say what you are — it says why you are. It’s a mix of rational and emotional. It differentiates. It’s concise, believable, memorable and motivating. Get it right and you’ll carve a path that will have you toppling giants in no time.


Editor’s Note — Prentice Howe is Principal at Door №3 and author of Amazon bestseller The Empowered Challenger Playbook: How Brands Can Change the Game, Steal Market Share and Topple Giants.


Door №3 is an advisor to challenger brands. Based in Austin, Texas, the award-winning advertising agency represents a diverse stable of growth clients including Cirrus Logic, Maine Root, ShippingEasy, Drunken Sailor Spirits, NIC USA, NorthStar Financial, FirstCare Health Plans, Alen Air, Cintra US and Centennial Bank. Services include strategy, brand positioning, integrated campaign development and media planning/buying. Door №3’s work has been recognized by national publications such as The New York Times, Communication Arts, AdWeek, INC., Entrepreneur and The Wall Street Journal.

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