Your company’s positioning, says Lee Wochner, is what determines your marketing, design elements, and messaging.
Get it right, says the CEO of L.A.-based full-service marketing agency Counterintuity, and positioning can be key to setting your business apart from the competition… not to mention help you refine your target market and spot what you’re doing wrong with your marketing… and ensure you aren’t wasting money on campaigns that don’t work.
We take a deep dive into that, including…
- A multi-step strategy to determine if your positioning could be improved
- Why your ideal prospect can help you come up with effective positioning
- A lesson you can learn from Apple’s early days
- How to figure out if your product or company name is sabotaging you
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today, we’re going to talk about positioning and how to differentiate your company in a busy market.
Here to speak with me about the topic is Lee Wochner, who is the CEO at Counterintuity, a full-service marketing agency located in Los Angeles. Lee has over 20 years of organizational consulting experience, both independently and with Counterintuity. He is highly regarded as a facilitator and strategic leader able to bring disparate groups to consensus. Lee, welcome to Performance Delivered.
Lee Wochner: Pleasure to be here. Thank you,
Steffen: Lee, before we talk about positioning, let’s tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in digital marketing?
How Lee Got His Start in Digital Marketing
Lee: Well, I’m a writer and I have a background in the theater and writing and directing for the theater. Business people would come see our shows. They tend to be highly-educated arts attenders. And I started to get asked if I would do some consulting for them, some writing. And so pretty soon, I started writing and directing for different companies and corporations. And then what happened is, I met a theatre producer here in Los Angeles, who had been an actor.
And so I was a writer, director, and she was a theatre producer, actor, who she was doing some web design. And by then, I was writing for agencies as well. And so we decided to form this company. And so she and I formed this company in 2007. And we have other creatives here who are also marketers and business people.
Steffen: Interesting. So when you founded Counterintuity, was positioning a big topic for you? Or did you just decide, you know what, I see an opportunity there in the market in regards to small midsize businesses, I think that’s what your company’s focusing on. And let’s just start out with developing content, buying media, etc.
Lee: Well, I think it evolved. I think most things evolve. I have three children, and they’ve certainly evolved. The, my youngest was just a terrible tyrant as a little boy and we have video to show him. And now he is the easiest going guy. And so things change.
And so when we started, we certainly started talking about who people are and how to write about them and then the branding and positioning started to take off from there because you need to know the company’s position in the market and who their client base is and what they’re trying to achieve. And so we always start with a strategy. But did we start with that immediately when we formed the company in 07? I think we were doing some of it. I don’t think we were directly talking about it in that way, Steffen. So it’s certainly grown and changed.
Steffen: So one thing, what I hear is that obviously, positioning changes over time. Is that a fair statement?
Lee: Oh, positioning absolutely changes. So, and I’ll give you an example. So Apple was started by hippies. I mean, it was clear that Steve Jobs, in particular, was a shoeless hippie. And their first logo was a woodcut design of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, and it looked like it could have come from Whole Earth catalog, which was the journal for hippies who were trying to build and do things. And then from there, it became a home, a personal computer, one of the first ones. And then at some point, of course, when they were in terrible trouble, they came out with the Think Different campaign.
And the genius of that campaign is they had 3% market share and they turned it into an advantage. So we have this tiny little sliver of the market, we’re almost dead in the water but now we’re going to say, well, you have to be different to deserve one of us. And so if you want to be like John and Yoko, or Gandhi, or Thomas Edison, then you get an Apple because you’re different and you’re special. And so they laid claim to being special. And that’s really not where they started. And so your positioning grows and changes and evolves, and pretty much everything grows and changes and evolves.
Steffen: Yeah. So we already talked about positioning, but before we go deeper, can you put in words what is positioning from your perspective??
Positioning, as Defined by Lee
Lee: Sure. So it’s setting your identity in the marketplace, establishing what you do and who you do it for and how you talk about it. And so, my son works for Kroger, which is Ralph’s Supermarkets. Ralph’s Supermarket is very different from Trader Joe’s. So Ralph’s is a rather safe traditional supermarket. I think they do a good job.
Trader Joe’s clearly is rather quirky. Everything is there briefly, you better get it while you can find it because it’s going to be gone. And the flyer they put out is rather different. Sprouts is about freshness and organic. And so you hear that the three of those, although they’re all supermarkets, have very different positions. And so they market differently, they behave differently, they talk about themselves differently, they have a different look.
And positioning, setting that, understanding that, who you are, and what you do, and who you do it for allows you to break through in the marketplace and immediately, it cleaves away a lot of clutter. So we get an estimated 7000 marketing messages a day, each one of us. So the human brain acts very quickly on information. So setting your positioning and your branding, which flows from that, and your design, allows the human brain immediately to make sense of what this is and to recognize it and to seize on the thing that’s more relevant to you.
Steffen: That makes sense. Is it correct to say that positioning allows you to be more targeted with who you want to engage with as a company? You know, you brought up, you know, the likes of Ralph’s, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s. And each of those companies, obviously, they have a focus on a specific group of individuals they want to communicate with. And they’re positioning the way how they communicate and how they place themselves in the market will either help them to be successful with that activity or not. Is that fair to say?
Lee: I think that’s absolutely right. You can’t be all things to all people. And so the Hyundai Elantra is a fully loaded mass consumer car and the Porsche is for a guy with a different self-image. So they’re marketed differently because they’re for different people.
Steffen: Okay, so positioning helps with targeting your audience. What else, why is good positioning also important, other than what we just talked about?
Lee: It’s good to know who you are as a person and as a brand. So it clarifies for you who your customers are and who they aren’t. And so think about your budget. I got a digital ad, this was some years ago, I think it was on Facebook, for a clothing store. And I thought, Oh, that’s interesting. I’d like to check that out. The clothing store was in Illinois. I’m in Los Angeles.
And so I sent them an email and said, you know, you seem like nice people, you’ve done your ad by incorrectly because you’re paying for me to see these ads and I clicked on it. And so it just costs you money. I’m not going to come to Illinois to shop there. And they thanked me for that. So they’re wasting money by accidentally doing their ad spend incorrectly. And targeting, not targeting well, and getting me. Positioning works the same sort of way. Many years ago, Camel, the cigarette company did a bomber jacket. And it was a beautiful, I don’t smoke cigarettes, but it was beautiful bomber jacket.
And the way it was written, it was clearly appealing to men. So the language was, there was a big thick rugged zipper and it said it’s got this and it’s got that. And you hear that it’s written in more rugged language for a male consumer. If this were fashion for someone else, and in particular, let’s say women, it might sound differently. It might say it has. That voice, the way that’s written flows from the positioning of them knowing that that bomber jacket is for men. And it’s for a certain demographic of men.
And it’s probably for men who smoke Camel cigarettes because it also had the camel on it. So the positioning helps you make the best use of your budget and of your time and your customers’ time. The other thing it does is it helps you determine how to behave. So if you believe that integrity is important, for instance, and I do and we do here at Counterintuity, then you act with integrity.
And if you behave honestly, you do what you say you’re going to do and you treat people as you yourself would like to be treated, that is part of your positioning as well. And so you always do the right thing and it makes your business choices easier. The other thing is, and this is probably the main foundational point of this, Steffen, good positioning gives you a sharp edge in the marketplace. Because other people can compete with you, but other people can’t be you. And so if you’re correctly marketing you and yourself, your product and your service, you own that corner of the marketplace.
Steffen: interesting. People are listening. They’re not wanting Well, I wonder if we are positioned wrongly or if our positioning is correct or we can improve on things. How would you recommend then going about that identifying whether they can improve their positioning to have, to achieve better business results?
Lee: You know, in my experience of doing this for quite a while, I would say that most people have a gut feeling that it’s not quite right. They don’t quite know what it is, but they know it’s quite right. And so there are some indicators. The one is, the marketplace stops responding. Your sales aren’t what they should be, you’re not making an impression, you’re not clear who your client base is. If you’re not clear who your client base is, that’s a problem with your position.
If people talk about you in a way that doesn’t match up with who you think you really are, if they think that you are, let’s say, purple, and you’re actually orange, that’s a positioning problem. If you kind of feel crummy about it, if in your gut, you’re saying this isn’t me, not really, your positioning is off.
Steffen: Interesting. Do you have some examples of good positioning? I mean, earlier you mentioned the evolving positioning of Apple, right? Where they, you said started off as kind of a hippie brand. And look at them now, right? The company in the world with the biggest bank account, for example, and expensive products and people still want their products, right?
Examples of Good Positioning
Lee: Well, so I have a client, Casoro Jewelry Safe, and they arrived with that name. I think that’s a terrific name. They manufacture more than one sort of safe and so we work on their maximum security line as well. Maximum security seems to have a different target audience and be talked about a little differently. Casoro Jewelry Safes are high-end beautiful, custom made safes and so there’s some positioning that’s very effective.
We had a client, I’ll give you an example of a positioning challenge. We had a client some years ago, very nice people, large multinational firm, and they were launching a product called Okinawa Life. And Okinawa Life was a nutraceutical that claimed to improve your health and wellness and bring it into line with the people in Okinawa, who are among the world’s oldest and healthiest people.
The first challenge with that was that Americans had zero recognition of the island of Okinawa. So perhaps the Japanese know that the Okinawa health and wellness is something to strive for, but the Americans certainly don’t. The other problem that happened when they got into the market, was that, well, you would have to help people understand why Okinawa was relevant. And it was not an attractive name to people. But the second challenge was that what people really wanted was a diet pill. And this wasn’t a diet pill.
And the offering seemed vague. And so they would see it at drugstore shelves like CVS as an example, and they would see Okinawa Life, I’m not quite clear what Okinawa is or what this does. And then oh, here’s the diet pill, let me get the diet pill. And so ultimately, that got pulled from the market. We did the digital on that campaign. Another agency did the branding and positioning. And again, very nice people, not everything succeeds in the marketplace. That product didn’t make it.
Steffen: Yeah. Do you think it was because of the wrong positioning at the end of the day? I mean, I would assume after you identified that the positioning was incorrect or that the messaging that they were trying to convey doesn’t hit with the target audience that day at least attempted to adjust it.
Lee: I think it took too long to explain everything. And to do a lot of writing for them, I had to dig into what was really beneath all of that, and what was beneath it was actually very attractive. There are a number of Japanese vegetables that are very good for you that we don’t have here. And I’d never heard of them before and they were all in this blend. But we’d never heard of them. You’d have to mark it that.
You’d have to communicate to people why that was so worthwhile and you’d better be able to do it at a glance on the shelf or in a digital ad to get people to pick it up. And what people really wanted was a diet pill. And so the hurdles to this were very high. There, you know, there’s only so much education you can do with a consumer right away. One of the things I tell people is you have eight seconds to make an impression on a website. And that’s if the visitor is over 40.
If the visitor is 40 are under, you’ve got four seconds. Four seconds to make an impression. So you better be able to communicate things very quickly in a way that sticks with people. If the story is complicated, you better find a way to simplify it very quickly. And design has a major role to play here. People aren’t going to invest a lot of time in learning too much about you unless you’ve grabbed them right away.
Steffen: If a company is in a situation that their positioning seems to to be off, what would you recommend should they do in order to fix that, to come up with a new positioning?
Lee: You go right to the baseline. And the baseline is questioning all of your own assumptions. And so you start with the easy questions. Who, what, where, when, why and how about your product or your service. Who is it for? What is it? What is it do? Where does it go? Where is its customer? When do they use it? How do they use it? Why do they use it? All of those great questions that reporters ask, except what we’re doing is reporting on your brand, your product or service. And from those questions, by the way, you get your brand identity. And you also have to add in because it’s essential, the culture questions.
How do we behave? What’s our founding ethos? What do we believe in? From those things, a personality emerges. And that personality is your new positioning. And it’s like a dating service. I mean, I’ve been married for a long time so I’m not on dating services. But on a dating service, you write a profile about yourself, and you’re trying to be attractive. And at the same time, you want to reflect yourself in an attractive way that’s true, because the person you will meet for the date will see through it right away if they don’t find it true, right.
And so one of your characteristics had better be, you are accurately reflecting yourself. So now you know who you are, but you’ve got to find the right people for you. And so if you dressed up your dating profile in a way that didn’t match you, you’ll get the first date, but it doesn’t lead anywhere ultimately satisfactory. As opposed to identifying who you really are, putting that out there and then people responding to it and saying, Yes, that’s the date for me. And that’s how positioning works. That’s the product or service for me.
Steffen: You know, from my experience, I see a lot of problems happening because obviously, when a company puts out their first idea about positioning, it’s about, you know, this is what we think how we should position ourselves and then that doesn’t work.
And then it seems to be really hard for companies to make that adjustment because there’s always a little bit of a bias of this is how we want to be seen, this is where we want to go. What kind of tools or data should companies use in order to adjust and kind of get out of this, I don’t know if bias is the right word, but being influenced by their own thoughts on what should be and then not seeing the reality, if that makes sense?
Lee: Well, you’ve got to be open-minded. And let’s start by saying stuff and, you know, change is hard. The human brain is wired to resist change because change might be the predator in the savanna waiting to pounce and eat us, right? Back to our roots a long, long time ago. So change is hard and change, not changing equals safety.
The challenge with that in the 21st century is that society and the culture changes quickly and if you’ve not adapted, you’re left behind. If you can first overcome the stigma that change is threatening and ask yourself well, rather, I’m not changing from something, I’m changing into something. I’m going somewhere, I’m moving forward, then you’re prepared to do that. And I think the thing to do is disassociate yourself in a way from where you are right now. And so many years ago, I took over a company in downtown Los Angeles and there was a pre-existing staff.
And there were some real problems there. And there was an assistant who every day said, well, that’s not how we ever, that’s not how we did things before. That’s not how we did things before. Well, we never did it that way, every day. And finally, that’s not how we did it in the past. That’s what she said. And finally, one day I said, Well, one thing we know for sure about the past is no one lives there anymore. And so if you turn your thoughts around into how do I grasp the future, things become more possible. And then to more directly answer your question about tools, other people have ideas about you.
And you could ask them, you can survey them, you can ask them on an individual basis, you can send out a survey, you can do a focus group. And you ask them, you know, what is it we do? What’s the benefit of us? Why are you here? Why do you care or not care? And ask them a whole bunch of questions. And then look at it truthfully. It may be painful. It may be Oh wow, I’m not as clever as I thought I was. I’m not as good looking as I thought I was. But you know, over here, I have these very attractive qualities that people responded to. I think that’s who we really are. We should highlight those qualities.
Steffen: And I assume, you know, obviously, there are agencies out there, your agency might do that too, that can help with that, to provide that outside support in view on what the positioning should be, without having any buyers.
Lee: Exactly. And so what we do here is, we try to make this as fun and interactive as possible. I mean, we’re a number of us here are theater people, everybody here is a creative person and so we have different ways of doing it in a fun way. We’ll talk about colors and adjectives and different words and try to break the existing association to ask ourselves, what is it really? And so if you think about great literature, right?
So great literature works on the surface of what’s the plot? What’s the story? What’s going on? How do I feel for the character, right? But beneath that, generally, there’s a theme. What is this really, ultimately about? What is the statement this is making for us? And so the theme, in a way, is the positioning. And so as people who’ve worked in the creative arts, a lot of us here, what we bring to this is the idea that there’s something thematic about your company, and that is your positioning.
Steffen: So once a company comes up with new positioning, how do they spread the word? How do they change the way how people, you know, see them?
Publicly Celebrate Your New Positioning
Lee: Embrace it. Be excited. Go tell the world. Write about it. Talk about it. Generate content, put it on social media. Email newsletters on your blog. Everywhere your customers live and act, you should put that out. And there’s a design component to it. So if you’re positioned upmarket, if you have a consumer product for a six-figure household income, for example, then you want to design to make it look upmarket. Is your brand more rural? Is it more urban? You want to, design can help people understand that right away.
But you don’t want to keep it a secret. When you’ve got new positioning that really reflects who you are thematically, that communicates the meaning of you in those four to eight seconds, you should tell the world. You should put it out there. And what will happen is, look, the world is busy and otherwise preoccupied. They are. We’re all busy. But the people who are right for you will find you because the other people will fall away. And also, of course, I imagine because you’ve search engine optimized all of this content that you’re putting out.
Steffen: So at the end of the day, you take in your positioning, you use the digital marketing tools that you have at your disposal, you either have an in-house team or you use an agency at Counterintuity, and you talk to them about how best to convey the message. What channels to use, what to target audience is that basically will respond positively to this product, to your company, to your new positioning, basically.
Lee: Absolutely. Because you’ve established, the positioning came with it a target demographic. Who are you for? You know, here’s what you’re about. Who are you for? And then where are those folks? And how do you cut through the clutter of the 7000 messages they got that day and how do you make sure it’s relevant to them? Because they’re busy. They, if they can find out about you, they’re interested in what you do, but you have to help them find out. So you have to put content where they are habitually interacting and then you have to make it immediately relevant and useful to them so that they grab ahold.
Steffen: Lee, before we come to an end, what elements or what are parts of positioning? Are there specific things that a company should have when you work on that positioning?
Lee: Well, so we always write a positioning statement. And for us, a positioning statement is a document. And so it’s an on-page document that encapsulates the story of that company. We weave in there how the company was founded because that founding culture is still there to some degree. Sometimes it’s vestigial, sometimes it’s very apparent. The founding company is still there. We tell the story, and part of the story is, who it’s for and what it does and how it does it and why it does it. And all of those things that help bring meaning. And then there’s a summation.
And ideally, the positioning summation, the positioning statement, is about 12 words. That’s what you’re aiming for. And you go, yes, this is us. And so that document establishes a number of things. It establishes the tone of voice of your company. It establishes all of those things we need to know to how to market it, and it establishes, in that final sentence, the way to talk about your company whenever you meet someone at a mixer or even in an elevator for 30 seconds, you now have those 8, 10, 12 words to talk about your company. So they go, Ah, that’s what you do.
Steffen: Interesting. You know, honestly, I think a lot of companies have a problem to really, within 30 seconds, explain what they do, why they are, how they are different, and how they can help at the end of the day, potential customer.
Lee: And, you know, oddly though, the human brain is very good at organizing all sorts of data into quick takeaways. So we, as a species, are predisposed to be able to do it. But you are absolutely right. Too frequently, we don’t do it when it comes to positioning our companies.
Steffen: Well, Lee, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered Podcast and sharing your thoughts on positioning. If people want to find out more about you and Counterintuity, how can they get in touch?
Lee: So the Counterintuity website, which, of course, is counterintuity.com. And then also, if people want to find me in particular, I’m on LinkedIn. And so it’s Lee Wochner, and I get messages on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to meet new people and respond and I would be delighted to discuss positioning with people.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks, everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks everyone, and see you next time.