How PowerPoint Killed Positioning

PowerPoint and the web have gutted our understanding of positioning. That’s a pretty bold statement, but hear me out.

Sometimes you can’t really see the bigger picture while the smaller picture is unfolding. It’s hard to pick out the influences until you look back. Our behavior changes in small ways until all of a sudden we look up, and “bam,” things are different.

Crash mitigation tech on cars means people text more because they know they’ll get a blare and haptic shake when danger approaches. They might eat differently because there are drugs that can curb appetite. They might drink more because there are IVs that’ll lessen the effects of a hangover.

How Positioning Used to Happen

The same has happened with positioning. If you want to dig into this deeper, I talked about it in Chapter 6 of The Business of Expertise, but here’s the essential argument. In the past, you expressed your positioning, especially in this field, with very expensive, elaborate business cards and brochures. These things were beautiful, and I really miss them. The smell of ink, thick paper with a specific cotton rag content, die cutting, embossing, foils. They took 18 months to perfect, because your own branding work was the last to get proper attention, just like today, but wow was it amazing when you got it back. A lot of people would use Hatch Showprint for some of this, which is where I used to arrange a private, behind the scenes tour for the creative directors I was teaching here at our annual Nashville gathering.

That stuff was expensive and permanent. Or at least lasting ten years. It was too painful and too expensive to keep changing, so you thought a lot about it…and then you carved it in stone, so to speak. It was a like a tattoo. (I still hand out a brochure from time to time that was printed 28 years ago. It was timeless design with applicable messaging for even now.)

PowerPoint is a Mass Murderer

Then came this amazing tool (along with the color printer, by the way) called PowerPoint. Yeah, it was foisted on us by that evil overlord Microsoft, but it allowed us to have a different positioning every time we needed it! OMG! No more tough choices that we had to live with for ten years. No more agony trying to shoehorn a prospective client we really wanted to work with into our adjacent expertise.

No, now I could pretend to be exactly what you were looking for. It was like two holograms dating each other, built on the preferences of every nuanced ideal. Here’s how we describe our focus. Here are three case studies we’ve rewritten to apply to your new problem. Here’s a process that emphasized exactly what our inside information told us you were looking for in your current disappointing agency.

The web did this, too. No longer were we required to make tough choices about our marketing plan. Let’s invest in a $3,000 monthly SEM spend to this here landing page. Hopefully no one will climb back out of the nested navigation to see that there are actually five of these totally disconnected practice areas.

If We Were Restaurants

We really love Five Senses Dining in town. It’s a French-inspired restaurant near our farm outside Nashville. The menu, including starters, mains, deserts, and cocktails, changes every season, and usually there’s a sandwich board with the fresh catch on it when you walk in the front door. But the name of the restaurant, and the overall theme, is always the same.

Some of you all are trying to change the name of the restaurant with every pitch you make. It’s got to be exhausting, so let us help you fix this once and for all and build out your entire market-facing approach.

The Good News

But it’s also not been all bad, because those same two things—presentation decks and the web—have allowed us to experiment and refine our actual positioning and how we talk about it.

I’m not going to change anything, here. I don’t have that sort of clout. But maybe I can get you to think differently every time you pretend to be a great fit for every opportunity you meet.

So keep up the experimentation…but then eventually land on something…and stick with it for at least 3-5 years (this used to be 5-10, but the world is changing faster these days.)

See you at the press check. We’ll start at the six-color Heidelberg and then move to the 80-year-old die cutting machine that makes OSHA start sweating.

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