Iterative Positioning

by Holland-Mark | January 4, 2012

We do a lot of positioning work, and a lot of work for startup clients. Doing positioning work for startups, though, has always presented some unique challenges… foremost among which is the fact that positioning can be a bit of a moving target in the early days of a new business.

We’ve been trying out a new approach lately, uncovered in close collaboration with our client Kibits.

The essence of it is to recognize positioning as a moving target, and adapt to that reality. Instead of periodic meetings and checkpoint, for example, we actually live on site with the client for a while, to get a sense of things as they unfold on the ground. Instead of engraving One Simple Thing™ candidates on a stone tablet, we focus on moving quickly and writing everything in pencil until we learn what works and what doesn’t in the real world. We ideate together, focus, test, learn, adopt, and lock things down before moving forward.

We’ve centered (for now) on a 5-step process that looks like this:

1.     Immersion – We start with a positioning workshop, then live on site for a week. We also assemble a quick-and-dirty Listening Station, to plug into the conversation about the brand, its competition, and the problem it solves online.

2.     Hypothesis – From there we brainstorm OST candidates with the client, and work our way down to one that meets the standard of being our best guess based on what we know now.

3.     Prototype – Next we use that OST and Message Model to drive a rapid cycle, tactical deliverable… maybe an ad, maybe a PowerPoint deck, perhaps even a 2 or 3 page web site. The operative word here is FAST, meaning we want something professional enough to meet the minimum standard, but not so elaborate it takes a lot of time (and money) to build and launch.

4.     Refinement – Next we release that deliverable into the wild, and listen hard to see how the world responds. We collect the data we can – quantitative and qualitative – and come back together to discuss and agree on what we’ve learned, and how our positioning might be refined to be more effective.

5.     Realization – Finally, with an OST and Message Model in hand that have already been field-proven, we turn to the development of a more elaborate and polished final deliverable.

It’s a different way of working, and the key is that everyone on the team (us and the client) have the right expectations and willingness to “open the kimono” and share. I’d be lying if I said it came naturally to everyone on our team, or that this process won’t continue to evolve as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

But that’s kind of the whole point. We’re all startups now… the winners will be the ones who learn to adapt to a world where change is the only constant. We think this is a step in the right direction.