What sets you apart?

85658802 I typically find myself immersed in at least one strategic client positioning each and every month. And, without exception, the CEO or lead executive will say her people are what separates the organization from its competition. They'll say such things as:

– “Our people are totally client focused.”
– “We have deeper sector knowledge than anyone else.”
Or, my personal favorite…
– “Our people are smarter.”

People are an asset but, almost without fail, they are NOT what sets an organization apart from its competition.

6a00d8341c39e853ef0148c67db778970c-800wiIn her most excellent new book, 'The Art of Managing Professional Services,' Maureen Broderick  defines positioning as: “The FOUNDATION of a successful brand. It flows from all other elements of a firm's management: shared vision, values and culture. A focused positioning attracts both top talent and steadily builds a distinct brand.” I'd add two other points: a positioning MUST succinctly describe the unique end user benefit your organization ALONE can provide. And, it MUST ring true.

Here are three examples of what I consider three memorable positionings (all created by a certain strategic communications firm with which you may be familiar):

– “Disrupt your own organization before your competitors do it for you.” (for a strategy firm that helped clients figure out how to re-create their service offerings)

– “At the crossroads of the spiritual and the secular” (for a church that was equally adept at providing spiritual guidance and networking events for Wall Street executives)

– “What sets us apart from our competition is helping set clients apart from theirs.” (for a nascent PR firm run out of a squalid, one-bedroom apartment)

Every now and then, people CAN drive a firm's strategic positioning. Broderick points to law firm Skadden Arps, whose motto is, “Walking through walls for clients.” Skadden, and Skadden alone, commits to a 24-hour call return policy. Employees will not go home until every piece of client business for the day has been completed. The firm insists upon it and clients hire them for that almost maniacal commitment. They do, in fact, walk through walls for clients. That's an end user benefit and it rings true. 

Mostly, though, we run into clients who want their funky work environment to drive their positioning. Others insist upon hyping their past credentials as a differentiator, (i.e. “Our CEO is a builder of businesses.” Gee whiz.).

The single best way to arrive at a strategic positioning is to interview key internal and external constituents and ask them the same question: “What does The Befuddled Group, and the Befuddled Group alone, do best?” Qualify that answer, make sure some competitor, (e.g. Perplexed & Perplexed, Ltd.) hasn't already claimed the strategic positioning and you're off to the races. But, remember, it's a distinct end user benefit, and not the people, that set an organization apart.

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