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The Positioning Matrix: A Great Marketing Tool

A friend of ours, James McIntyre, is a B2B technical marketer and one of the stars at McClenahan Bruer Communications in Portland. A while back I asked his advice on what I should do in terms of marketing my product. The first thing he said was to put a positioning matrix together. I looked confused; he elaborated.

What is a Positioning Matrix?

A positioning matrix is a document that helps organize your thoughts on how to describe your product (or service) to a particular type of person in a particular market. Whenever you communicate to your market (via a website, e-mail, presentation, sales call, etc.), your positioning matrix can help ensure that your message is consistent and focused.

Parts of a Positioning Matrix

I don’t think there’s a standard form for this, but what we’re using has the following structure:

  • A column for each type of customer/user in your market
  • A Vision Statement row cutting across all users that summarizes the overall product message
  • For each type of customer/user, a positioning statement describing your product
  • Value Statements that answer “What’s in it for me?” for each type of person
  • Differentiators that answer “How is this different from other products?” for each type of person
  • Sound bites that should strike a chord for each type of person in your market
  • A 50 word statement describing the product/service
  • A 100 word statement describing the product/service

Using a Positioning Matrix

To give you a better idea of what a positioning matrix is and how to use it, I’ve posted my company’s matrix here: Lakeway’s Positioning Matrix.

One place where this has already proven valuable was in the redesign of my company’s website. It helped focus our message, especially as we developed the Flash movie on our homepage. If you’re curious, take a look at the movie, compare to our positioning matrix and feel free to let me know what you think.

Composing a Positioning Matrix

It takes a lot of thought, reflection and feedback to draft a meaningful positioning matrix. The company where James McIntyre works offers this as one of their services. If you’re starting out and have funding, I recommend you check them out.

If you’re bootstrapping (as I am), this may not be an option, so roll up your sleeves, block out some time, brew some tea, and start thinking about why your company exists, what it does for your customers, and how it’s different from everything else out there…and make sure you revise it after you start talking to your market!

Where I first saw Star Wars isn’t there anymore

I suppose it’s technically still there. It’s just a Target now. I went there today (visiting family in the Bay Area). It’s much cleaner and brighter than it was in the 70s. I remember where I sat. I could reconstruct the whole thing in my mind. I was sitting in the aisle because there was no room. Lots of kids were in the aisles: my brother, some cousins, a couple of friends. Totally unsafe, but utterly memorable, even though I was too little to understand the story. This morning, I walked over into that space where the movie had played over 30 years ago and could almost see the Tie Fighters and hear the popcorn dialogue.

“I sense something…a presence I haven’t felt since…”

I left the Bay Area in 1994. Since then, I’ve been down every couple of years or so to visit family and friends. It’s always felt a little foreign to me—I think the booming economy and rapid growth never quite fit my memory of growing up here.

This visit feels different. With the economy tanking, state government struggling, water rationing looming, it feels like…home. Music is getting grittier again. People are wearing their hair longer. It’s a weird Proustian flashback that wasn’t triggered by a cookie, but by the whole environment. Kind of like I’m the cookie and the world is having the flashback. 🙂

“California, here we come…right back where we started from”

As I’ve posted before, it’s taken longer than I thought to get to a v1.0 of our product. We’re there now, but we’ve run out of ramp to stay in Portland. We’ll need to sell the house and move back to the Bay Area to keep going. My family has been mentally preparing for the transition, but it will be hard to leave the great friends we’ve made and all the things we love about Portland.

On the plus side, it really does feel like we’re coming home. It will be good to spend more time with our families—something we haven’t been able to do over the past 15 years. It will be good to be in a technology center, a place where things are always happening and the innovative energy is extremely high. I just visited a friend who works at Google (and grew up in Portland) and was amazed at how much he loved being here and how energized he was by the people and the South Bay. I’m looking forward to being a part of this again.

Something I will regret in moving back, though, is having crystal clear childhood memories overlaid and muddied by the new ones of being here. I think I’ll have lost something special that first time I drive by and see only Target and Starbucks instead of Festival Cinemas and Doggie Diner.

It is sunnier, though 🙂

Doggie Diner

Working with kids

I don’t work with kids per se. I work where there are kids around me — actually, they’re my kids.

Working with kids isn’t much different than working in an office

The usual advice to entrepreneurs is to not to work at home, that you should find some type of office space or at least somewhere — the library, a coffee shop — where you can “go to work”. I think the premise is that working at an office is more efficient, especially if you have kids. Having worked at home for the past couple of years, I would actually say that it’s not that different from working in an office:

  • At work, you have interruptions: “Hey, Rino. I was wondering if you had some time to look over this presentation”
  • At home, you have interruptions: “Daddy! Look at what I drew!”
  • At work, you have conflict: “Hey, Rino. I’m blocked on my tasks because Rob has all of the systems booked.”
  • At home, you have conflict: “Dad! I can’t finish my tower because Taz stole all the blocks!”
  • At work, you give guidance: “Steve, I think if we sat down with Paul and cleared the air a little, we can really move forward as a team.”
  • At home, you give guidance: “Hey! Stop hitting your brother!”

Working with kids makes you stronger

My home office is a pleasant, sunny loft. My kids are technically supposed to stay downstairs and let me work. But they love to come visit. A lot. My wife tries to run interference but they are small and wicked fast. Darren Sproles has nothing on a three-year-old with a fresh-drawn picture. The biggest difference between the distractions you have at an office and the distractions you have at home, then, is their frequency. In an office, you may have several distractions an hour. At home, you may have several distractions a minute. Working under these conditions might feel impossible in the beginning, but in the end it makes you stronger. You’ll gain the ability to work where there’s a lot of noise. I think your mind also starts to work faster in order to compensate. I imagine it’s like the pool running athletes do for sprint training. I’m not even joking about this. I’ve found that when I go into an office to do consulting, everything seems to run in slow motion. I can do a month’s worth of work in a week because of my “working with kids” training. And we don’t even have a pool! 🙂

Working with kids is a privilege

At my last job, my commute wasn’t bad at all. It was a 10 minute drive. One day, I was thinking about how a 10 minute commute and a 2 hour commute compared in term the amount of time you could spend with your family. Factoring in the kids’ bedtime, a 10 minute commute worked out to having about 1 1/2 hours of family time per day. For a 2 hour commute, it worked out to be less than an hour of family time per day. If you add that up over a year, the difference is about 26 ten hour days. That means you’ll just plain miss out on a month of your family each year. If you compare this with working at home, it’s more like 3 months each year. Yikes! That’s a lot of time, especially when your kids are young.

I’m not saying that we should all aim to work from home (it’s definitely not right for everyone), but if you do find yourself doing it by choice or by circumstance, there are real benefits. I’m sure what I’ll remember most (in my kid-strengthened mind) from these years of bootstrapping is the time I was able to spend with my sons. As they say, no one ever wishes they could have had another day at the office — unless it was a home office, I guess. 🙂

You are not what you do (for a paycheck)

Hi, I used to be a Software Manager at…

For months after I left my previous job to start a company, I introduced myself as a former Software Manager. This wasn’t who I was, it was just one of my old jobs. Looking back, it seems ridiculous. I was confusing who I was what what I did (not even what I was currently doing). I think most of us go through our careers this way. We are a SW Engineer Level 4 or a Manager Level 2 or a Director or a VP. The funny thing is that we don’t realize this conflation of identity and employment — we don’t even see it in others. I think one of the only ways to really become aware of this (pre-retirement, that is) is to do some self-funded bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping your identity

I’ve been bootstrapping for close to 2 years now. It’s been a creative time and one that’s encouraged a lot of reflection. At some point, “what I did” (or used to do) finally burned away from “who I was”. The ascetic lifestyle is purifying that way. 🙂 I hadn’t realized it, but about a third of my conscious mind had been wrapped up in the roles I used to play. When I got past this, not only did I have more brainpower, but I also had a clearer sense of who I was, what my priorities were, and what I needed to do.

Labels are limiting

I think a lot of people would benefit from a type of bootstrapping experience. I suspect many of us don’t know how we ended up in our current careers. At some point, we were probably labeled as future “doctors”, “lawyers”, “researchers”, “engineers”, or “businesspeople” and we let these labels limit what we did, what we thought about, and what we believed possible. We never fully explored our talents or our skills. We ended up doing what we thought we should do instead of what we were meant to do. We were so busy being what we were supposed to be, we never had a period where we reflected on who we really are.

What a wonderful world this could be

I’ve met people who should have been beat cops instead of lawyers, furniture craftsmen instead of board designers, park rangers instead of middle managers. How much better — and happier — a world it would be if we could all start from who we are and go from there, if we could apply our talents and do what we were born to do. Starting a company helps you do this. It gives you the opportunity to reset your career and refocus your activity, to figure out how to use your talent to improve yourself and the world.