You’ve kept your head down, focused on your work because who knows when you’ll get that next client or make that new sale. When you finally come up for air, you survey the hurricane left in your wake: the hot mess that is your brand. You thought building the foundation of your business was a cute nice-to-have, tossed aside in favor of dollars poured into Facebook ads and cute campaigns that don’t convert. It’s sort of like throwing a dinner party in a house with no floors. Get ready for the lawsuits from all the friends who broke bones from their fall.
But, by all means, crack the champagne.
Brand positioning is never a one-and-done exercise, it’s how your brand shows up in everything you do — what you do, why you do it, and how you do it differently or better than the pack. All of this has to be in service of your customer. You have to prove your salt, the value you add to their lives, which is core to the products you make and services you offer, how you message and market those products and services to your customers.
Value gives your brand life. Value creates conversation, it empowers your customers to stand up and tell stories about you, for you. This is how we get the Grand Puba of marketing — word-of-mouth.
But let’s get real specific: positioning is about you clearly communicating to your ideal customer what you want to be known for and committing to maintaining that level of clarity. You never want a prospect to come to your website and think: What do they do? What do they sell? Why should I buy it? How are they better than what I’ve got going now?
When people visit a website or discover a new product, they’re immediately trying to figure out three things (not necessarily in this order):
- What is this and how is it different/better than what I’m already buying?
- How will this product/service benefit me?
- Do they get me?
Instead of telling our customer how great you are, first acknowledge them. Address their triggers, motivations, wants, and needs, and then demonstrate how your product or service is their best option and ideal solution. And that’s when positioning is key.
I always tell clients the best brands are clear, cohesive, consistent, and compelling (i.e., the 4Cs). They explain what they do in the context of a specific industry (point-of-parity), how they’re different or better than the competition (point-of-difference), and how the end-user benefits from choosing them over a competitor (value creation).
But let’s make the complex simple. Zero in on two points: what you want to know for, and how your customers benefit as a result.
For example, if you want to be known as the go-to copywriter for e-commerce companies, you’ll want to:
- Showcase client work you’re most proud of, the work you want to acquire (not the gigs you took to pay the bills) — this demonstrates your experience and expertise — on your website and/or portfolio. It also communicates your distinct writing style so clients known in advance the “kind” of writer you are.
- Share qualitative and quantitative results of that work in the form of case studies using the CAR format (i.e., challenge, action, results) — this demonstrates the efficacy of your work.
- Create thought leadership beyond your client work. This is critical and so many creative entrepreneurs consider this a nice-to-have rather an essential component of building your brand, farming for business, cultivating goodwill and generosity in your industry community, and showcasing your prowess. Show prospects that you have the expertise, a distinct voice, and point-of-view. Your thought leadership is the place where you have freedom beyond the boundaries of client work to express who you are, what you think, what you stand for, and what you want to share with the world in a voice that is not predicated by a style guide, but one that’s wholly your own.
What does this mean practically and tactically? You have an ideal customer in mind. Become a CIA operative when it comes to your customers by understanding their pain points, preferences, influences, and motivations. Find out:
- What resources and sites in your category do they read, view, listen to, and trust? What podcasts do they listen to? What sites do they visit? Determine how you can show up in these spaces in the form of crafting guest content or pitching them your services.
- How do they prefer to consume content? Do they have a preference for audio, video, visuals, or text? How can you massage the content you create to be a bit more agile or closely aligned with how your ideal customer consumes content?
- What social platforms do they play on? Are they on Medium, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, etc.? Or are they avid newsletter readers and subscribers? Can you design your channel strategy to prioritize where you show up and when you show off your goods in these spaces?
Once you know more about your ideal customer and how you can get in front of them, consider how you create thought leadership to establish yourself as a voice or expert in what you want to be known for. This is where the 4-Cs come in to play:
- Clear: Are you clearly communicating what you do, your expertise and point-of-view in a way that’s clear and accessible?
- Consistent: Is the thought leadership you create to communicate your point-of-view consistent? Are you consistently writing about what you want to be known for, or are you creating content that’s too scattershot? For example, over the past year, I’ve predominantly written how-to and POV articles on brand building, customer analysis, and storytelling. There are a lot of other aspects of marketing I could write about, but I create what I want to be hired to do. I do want to launch influencer campaigns or build email marketing strategies, so I rarely write on topics outside of what I like to call “ the beginning of things” in marketing. I have a strong and distinct POV and a voice that’s unique.
- Cohesive: Are you showing up in every space you occupy with a similar vibe, view, look, feel, and message? Every piece of content you put out in the world — whether it be website copy, initial pitch emails, portfolios, social media content, newsletters, client management, contracts, onboarding, etc., etc., builds a brand. Can clients expect the same level of clarity and consistency in every aspect of your business? This is cohesion.
- Compelling: Are you showing up with your C-game and churning out garbage simply to add to the noise? Or are you showing up when you have something to say? And is your passion and conviction pervasive in what you create? Are you making the best use of your talents in the content you create — should you create videos or podcasts instead of writing because those formats are where you shine? Consider how you can stop people from scrolling with the words, thoughts, and visuals you put out into the world.
Building authority and trust take time. People want to see you consistently showing up and providing value, which makes the decision to buy from you a no-brainer. Be intentional with what you create and share with the world.
When new leads come to me, they’re already warm and receptive. It doesn’t take much to close the deal because they’ve seen what I can do, how I think, and how my work has already given them value before they’ve cut me a check.
Do you want to be the whiny ranter on social media gaining accolades from your echo chamber (what does this do for you, really, other than grant you fleeting validation?) or do you want to be the passionate expert who’s creating work that puts people on pause?
Create and shift perception based on whether you’re consistently providing value or noise. You decide.