How to organize a positioning workshop with your team

Tonight I'm facilitating the inaugural meeting of the Worcester Area Founder and CEO Meetup. Earlier I wrote that the time is right for the meetup. Now the time has come and we are poking on the issue that probably most startup CEO's spend very little time on. That is positioning. 

If you want, you can follow along with the slides here.

Why Positioning?

As I prepared for the talk I worried that "positioning" can be an abstraction.  How can I show that this valuable and worth spending time on? A quick google search on "why startups fail" turned up some good links (#3).

The first hit was was "20 Reasons Why Startups Fail" infographic by CB Insights. I binned these reasons into 3 categories: Strategy, Operations, and People (#4). And, sure enough 5 of the top 11 reasons trace their roots to poor positioning (and strategy). Without good positioning you can't hire people, investor aren't interested, developers don't know what product to build, and so on.

Fix your positioning and fix your company. But, few startup CEOs see this as a discipline all to itself, requiring significant time and attention, along side building products, visiting customers, and recruiting investors.

Seminal writings on the topic of positioning

I'm influenced early in my career by the seminal book "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind". People have a limited capacity for information and wont allow hyperbolic claims to enter their head. They use their own understanding of the market and competitors to frame new offerings. The best communications use words the customers are familiar with and have a "fit" with their already conceived notions.

The other major influence was "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore.  This book brought tools for marketing to engineers selling complex products to complex enterprises. We use the Chasm "positioning statement template" (#8) as the basis for our workshop.

The Workshop

Some key tools in the toolbox (#9, #10, #11) revolve around getting clear on your "playing field", your own capabilities, and a "gap analysis" at 3 levels: Industry, Customer, Competitor. 

We'll end the workshop with a group exercise (#13). I challenge the teams to use the Chasm template to generate novel positioning statements one or more of the company products, or for a fictional new mobile technology feature that detects "texting while driving". Who is that for? The kids or the parents?