For most agencies, defining your positioning is a long, painful road. There’s hemming and hawing; bold decisions then second thoughts. We’ve all learned the hard way that being everything to everyone isn’t the answer. But it sure can be hard to pin your firm down and really commit to your market, your offerings… to define what you do and who it’s for.
Even so, you’ve done it! You’ve put in the work with your team, made that decision, and you’re not looking back.
But have you taken the next step? And are you really as committed as you say you are?
We know landing on the perfect positioning is hard work that takes guts. Which is why it’s such a shame to see firms that have defined their specialty, but are failing to actually activate it in their content.
In order to see results in your business, it’s essential to ensure you’re both fully committed to your positioning AND putting it to work in your messaging. Doing this will enable your firm to own its expertise, stand out from the competition, and attract more right-fit clients. Ultimately it will ensure that you’re the captain of your own ship, building and evolving your business in a purposeful way.
How to know when you’re not activating your positioning
When there’s something wrong with your positioning or your commitment to it, there are symptoms that show up in your business and your content. Here’s what that might look like in the day-to-day.
1. You’re having trouble producing any content at all.
Now that you have your positioning sorted, you’re probably eager to get going with content marketing. But the problem comes when you or your team sit down to come up with topic ideas or write articles, and nothing comes out.
We see this happen most often for two reasons. The first is when your positioning is more aspirational than authentic. You may have committed to a market or offering that you don’t have true expertise in. And if you don’t have expertise in something, it sure is difficult to write about it. This could be a sign that you need to get up to speed more quickly on your specialty, or maybe even an indication that you need to revisit your positioning.
The second reason your firm might have trouble producing content is if the firm overall does have the expertise, but the team member who’s been assigned to do the writing doesn’t. Or perhaps they just aren’t well-versed in the narrowed version of expertise needed to serve the new positioning. This situation can be addressed by having an open conversation about who holds the relevant expertise, and either giving that person the writing assignment or making sure that the content writer has access to that person.
2. The content you’re producing is generic and lackluster.
Another common issue is with firms that do have the right expertise, but are still producing content that falls flat. You’re writing your articles with a broad brush, trying to appeal to every possible reader. As a result, the content sounds like everything else out there. Or, in some cases, the positioning is “tacked on” to a piece of writing, instead of being baked into the topic and content itself.
Why is this happening? The most common cause is a fear of “alienating” readers (i.e. prospects), which stems from a lack of true commitment to the positioning. Positioning, by definition, means turning away some so you can better serve others. Which can feel fine in theory, but when you start putting pen to paper, the reality of that commitment can suddenly become terrifying. So you take the “safer” route and end up producing content that doesn’t really appeal to anyone.
Another reason your content might be too generic is if you haven’t positioned narrowly enough. Maybe it’s narrower than it used to be, but not quite as honed as it could be. If you’re still having trouble coming up with specific topics that stand out, consider this a possibility.
3. You’re not landing much business outside of your referral network.
Many firms grow through referrals, and that’s fine for a while. But you’ll reach a point where you’d like to reach prospects beyond your network. Either you’re not getting enough clients, or the clients being referred to you aren’t the right fit for your new positioning. That’s where marketing comes in.
But if your positioning isn’t clear in your messaging, it’s not going to bring in opportunity. If your content is generic or non-existent (as explained above), you’re going to get lost in the sea of other generic perspectives and, sadly, the clients you are so well suited to help won’t actually find you.
This is the ultimate — and most important — symptom of not activating your positioning in your content. Instead of attracting more of your ideal clients, your pipeline is running low and/or contains prospects that fit your old market, but not your newly defined specialty.
How to put your positioning to work
If any of the above scenarios sound familiar, it’s time to spend some more time at the intersection of your positioning and messaging. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Revisit your positioning.
If you’re struggling with content creation and lead generation, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. Is your positioning too broad, aspirational, or arbitrary? Nailing this element is the key to your whole marketing strategy, so it’s worth revisiting if something’s not quite right.
2. Make sure everyone’s on the same page internally.
If you’ve confirmed that your positioning is, in fact, what it should be, the next step is to make sure your entire team understands and commits to it, too. We’re not suggesting that you democratize the positioning decision itself. Rather, make sure that the positioning is clearly communicated to everyone at the firm and that the leadership has demonstrated a full commitment to the specialty in both their language and behavior. When it comes to your marketing, if team members are defaulting to generalist content, guide them back toward the specialist light.
3. Assess and fine tune the positioning pages on your website.
If your positioning is the foundation of your marketing “house,” then your website is the first floor. Your website copy is an essential player in your marketing. It’s the most official version of your firm’s messaging, and it’s where you make a public commitment to your specialty. All of your other content marketing is not only built upon the premises laid out there, but also points back to these pages as you push the prospect along your funnel. Remember that content marketing pages and positioning pages work together to nurture a prospect from research to sale.
If the first floor of your house is wobbly, you certainly can’t build higher. So if you haven’t revisited your website copy in a while, give it some attention and make sure it’s stating your specialty, loud and clear. Remember: we do want to turn some prospects away (the wrong ones), and help the right ones self-identify. And this can’t happen if your website copy is vague or inconsistent. Make sure you especially address your Home, Capabilities, and Services pages, as these are the three main pages that should work together to fully articulate your firm’s positioning.
4. Ideate content based on your prospects’ pain points.
When firms get started with content marketing, they often brainstorm topics based on what they want the world to know about their firm. But this flies in the face of what content marketing actually is. The key to expressing your expertise as a specialized firm is to write content that educates a prospect on topics related to their pain points. And this is the magic of having well-defined positioning; when you know exactly who you’re writing to, you know what they struggle with and how to help them. Begin your ideation sessions there.
5. When writing, aim for specificity.
Generic writing is for generalists. Specialists write with specificity. Give specific examples, use industry-specific language. In short, write your content to be custom-made for your ideal client. With content marketing, it’s not “the thought that counts.” As with any gift-giving, the more specific the gift is to the recipient, the more impressed and grateful the recipient will be. And when it comes to prospects, the more likely they’ll be to trust and hire you.
6. Align your paid media strategy with your positioning.
Paid media is a huge opportunity to put your positioning to work in a couple different ways. First, use your positioning to build effective ads. When you understand your audience’s pain points, you can do keyword research around those issues, then build ads targeting those keywords. Knowing your audience also helps you ensure that the ad’s tone and messaging is right for that persona.
Second, positioning should influence your channel strategy. Choose ad platforms where your prospects hang out, and then use whatever targeting and segmentation tools those platforms offer. For example, on LinkedIn you can build out ad audiences based on industry, demographics, job titles, etc. and really zero in on your ideal clients.
The Only Way to Evolve Your Business
Some firms are content with where they are. They’re generalist firms that get clients by referral the same way they always have. They perform a wide range of services for a vast array of clients and suffer all the pitfalls that come with that.
But that’s not you. You want your firm to evolve, grow, hone its specialty, respond to changes in the marketplace, and become more sophisticated overall. And if you want this, you’ve got to find ways to bring in business that don’t depend on an outdated referral network. (In short, you need fresh blood!)
Therefore, effectively marketing your positioning is the only way your firm can take control of its future and elevate the quality of its clientele.
So don’t give up. Don’t put your positioning in a box and leave it to gather dust.
Instead, put it to work in your content and watch it pay dividends for years to come.