Positioning your brand.
People love to overcomplicate this. Or ignore it altogether because they have no idea how to tackle it.
So I talked to Tim Kopp, General Partner with Hyde Park Venture Partners, about how to break it down into manageable chunks so you don’t have to have an existential crisis every time you try to describe your job.
Tim has been in marketing for 20 years. The first half was in B2C and the second half has been in B2B, so he brings a unique perspective to a unique problem.
He was one of the first 10 CMOs ever in B2B—that’s practically before CMOs were even a thing. But he is one of the most up-to-date on brand marketing, messaging, positioning, and how to define your company.
His simple but incisive framework for drilling down on your brand positioning statement is probably one of the most valuable things for marketers to know.
The Framework: Who, What & Why
The plight of the marketer is that you show up and get a long list of things to do.
Redo the website. Build demand gen. Work with analysts. Create thought leadership. Engage the partner community. And that’s just for starters.
“I’ve described marketing as a bit like an iceberg,” Tim said. “We spend a lot of our time obsessing about the tip of the iceberg that pops out of the water. But what about the foundation?”
The tip of the iceberg just isn’t as important as the meat that sits underneath eye level.
“Every great brand is built off really hardcore, decisive, enduring messaging and positioning,” Tim said. Your marketing’s no good if nobody knows the reason you’re different from your competitors.
“Brands exist over a period of time because they’re very clear on knowing who they are, what they stand for, what they’re about.” And it isn’t just about the company knowing what its brand is about: everyone else has to be able to instantly and completely answer the questions of who, what, and why.
Break the problem down into tiny pieces. You need to be able to say in six to ten simple words who you are.
“Make it one sentence with three bullet points that would sit under that to describe concisely who you are,” Tim said.
As in, literally small enough to fit on a business card.
You’ve got to be able to wrap up in a tiny package the huge idea of what you do. It’ll take a lot of trial and error, but the simplest and most straightforward words are the best.
Again, in just six or eight or ten words, you really need to boil it down to essentials.
“The most important one is why you are different,” Tim said.
After you’ve described your who and what, this should be easier to tackle.
“This really drills into your key differentiators as a company and what really makes you different,” he said.
If you don’t know who you are, it’s really hard to know what you stand for and why you’re different.
“The why you’re different—the last component—if you pull on that thread hard enough, that’s what you can build a great brand around,” Tim said.
Is it design? Product simplicity? Culture? Say what it is and you can really own it. Everybody else in the community and marketplace needs to know what you stand for, too. Very, very clearly.
Positioning isn’t just internal. It’s about how the world perceives you.
Avoiding Buzzword Bingo
If you’re trying to fit all this on a business card, you don’t have space for buzzwords.
Authenticity. Platform. Revolution. Just cross those out.
You should actually play Buzzword Bingo at your office. Just write down anytime you hear those empty buzzwords and eventually, someone will stand up and shout “Bingo.”
But seriously, the question of authenticity (“Bingo!”) is uniqueness. What are you offering that no one else does? That’s your unique factor.
The Dad Test
So take all of that—the who, what, why that encapsulates your uniqueness—and try to explain it to your dad.
That’s the dad test. If you can’t say in a simple way that your dad can understand the one thing that you’re all about, you haven’t passed yet.
“So first describe this in a very simple way for your dad and then we can get into the more complex parts for an executive,” Tim said. “Then you can kind of pivot around it, but you have to get to the core parts first.”
So, your dad says, what exactly is it that you do for work?
Are you ready to answer? (Without using any buzzwords.)
Walk through the framework first, and you will be afterward.
Be the Orchestrator
Positioning is probably one of the most complex things about marketing because everybody has an opinion.
It all has to do with authenticity. “If you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, then how can you be authentic?” Tim said. Unless your position is clearly defined, you’re going to be sending a message that’s close, but not exact. Like one or two standard deviations off.
Which isn’t what you’re looking for.
“It’s the marketer’s job to play the role of chief strategist, pull all this together, define the positioning, and be that orchestra conductor that gets everybody to play on the same page,” Tim said. Orchestrator is a hard job and not a sexy one.
“Nobody teaches you how,” Tim said. “You’ve just got to jump in and figure it out.”
It’s tempting to jump straight to the outcomes and skip the plumbing. But you can’t. Marketers have to be the orchestrators of the whole process.
Sounds easy, but all of this is hard to do.
Start with the who, what, and why.
Eliminate the buzzwords.
Try to pass the dad test.
And get everyone playing the same song.
This post is based on an interview with Tim Kopp from Hyde Park Venture Partners.
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