How Tall A Building Will You Need For Your Elevator Pitch?

If you need a skyscraper to get your "elevator pitch" out during the ascent, you might need a different elevator pitch—one that can be told in a four-story building.

If it takes a pretty thorough detailing of how you are different, you may have stopped short of clarifying that for yourself, so let me see if I can help.

One of my favorite mental tricks is to use the Feynman Technique. The idea is that you truly understand a concept if you can teach it to a sixth grader. Someone that age has a grasp of the language, but also can spot illogical twists in the argument. Richard Feynman was one of the world's most influential scientists, but he spent enormous energy conveying scientific concepts to those were not steeped in the technical language of his fellow scientists. People like me.

If you can't capture your positioning clearly and succinctly, you either don't have one or you are struggling to understand it. So when you think about positioning your firm, the challenge isn't to define your activity, but rather how your activity is unique from the other experts in that space. If I didn't care about differentiation, I could say this about a firm:

NewCo Masters the Brand Positioning of Innovative Companies

That statement contains the two essential things that form a positioning statement: what you do (brand positioning) and who you do it for (innovative companies). But it stops short of distinguishing you from the other firms who could also make the same claim. And, sadly enough, there are tens of thousands of firms who would claim the same thing. If there are more than 200 competitors in the geographic market that you address, you aren't being specific enough. All the marketing firms say they do brand positioning and every prospective client would self-identify as an innovative company, even though in many cases it would not be true.

Here would be a good time to distinguish between vertical and horizontal positioning, and to draw a correlation between these two parts of a positioning statement. The "what you do" part of a positioning statement is the horizontal part, and "who you do it for" is the vertical part. There are some exceptions to this, but it's generally true.

Here's an example statement of a vertically positioned firm:

Branding for B2B Tech

It's focused on doing a broad thing for a very specific vertical niche.

Here's an example of a horizontally positioned firm:

Crafting Progressive Web Apps for Digital-First Companies

It's focused on doing a very specific thing for a broadly defined target set of companies.

Where you can combine these into a horizontal and a vertical positioning, you have gold. Your positioning is nearly unassailable. Here's an example:

Empowering Health Nonprofits to Build Engaging Digital Platforms that Improve the Lives of People

In this example, the lead is vertical (health, but even more specifically, non-profit health) and the secondary is horizontal (digital platforms versus native mobile apps or social media or public relations or whatever).

Those are examples of the statements that you could use in a one-story elevator ride and adequately convey what you do, for whom, and how it's unique from all the other schmucks who can't muster a proper statement. (<— I'm just seeing if you're reading this far.)

I'm making this sound simpler than it is because there are a lot of nuances and testing, but if you are on this journey, I hope these basic principles will help. If you need some outside help, feel free to reach out.

What are the advantages of positioning your firm well?

  • It's easier to craft a marketing plan because you know who to target and what they are losing sleep over.
  • It's easier to justify a pricing premium because you're mastering the supply/demand equation.
  • The focus of your work will make it easier to see the deeper patterns and do better work.
  • Client relationships will more closely resemble each other, delivering greater efficiency and closer adherence to effective processes.
  • You'll know more specifically who to hire to fulfill the promises you are making. Prior experience will be a more important ingredient.
  • You are far more likely to sell your firm some day to a buyer who values the decisions that you have made. Otherwise you're just selling capacity, which isn't all that valuable.

I don't know if I'll write again before the holidays, but if I don't, I wish you the very best. We could all use some inner peace and time off from soul-sucking Zoom these days. If you've made it through 2020 largely intact, you've demonstrated your resiliance and your courage. I'm proud of what we have accomplished and learned as entrepreneurial creatives this year.

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