How to Unlock Rock-Solid Positioning in Three Steps

After my talk at Traffic & Conversion, a guy approaches me.

“I love your blog, Drew. It’s helped!”

“Thanks! What’s the business?”

“Well, we find drop-ship products to sell on Amazon.”

“Yeah? What products?”

“Well it changes, like, every couple weeks.”

I see this all the time. When I ask for a show of hands at ecommerce conferences, I get this break-down:

  • 20% of my audience are drop-shippers,
  • 20% are Amazon sellers,
  • 20% are T-shirt affiliates
  • A measly 20% are straight-up direct-to-consumer brands.

(The remaining 20%? Dudes who walked into the wrong auditorium.)

In this case, this guy represented the first two categories.

The first three categories might be making some quick cash now, but they are in for an uphill battle. No differentiation, no barriers to entry, no brand, no business.

And the goal here is to create a cash-flow lifestyle business, right?

Brand Versus Brand Positioning

“Wait, Drew — you said in a previous post that brand doesn’t matter.”

Well, it does matter, but not in the way most first-time entrepreneurs think. Most first-time entrepreneurs think brand means business cards.

And logos.

And getting all one’s creative sync’d up.

That window-dressing doesn’t matter. What’s more important? Being able to drive a visitor to your site to buy.

But once you drive a visitor to your site, what’s your message to her? How do you make it a complete no-brainer that she buys?

You start with brand positioning. It’s how your business differs from the zillions of other shmucks sitting out there in the T&C auditorium. And it’s how you can make that differentiation crystal clear to potential customers.

When it Comes to Brand, Focus on Your Brand Positioning First

Without good positioning, you are nothing. Potential buyers will lump you in with every other company in your category.

And then these same potential buyers will make their decisions based on the lowest price . . . which is not where you want to be unless you are Walmart.

No, you want to be so fricking well-positioned that it’s a complete no-brainer for your target customers to pick you.

Your conversion rates will increase across the board. Your acquisition costs will plummet. All other marketing will become easier as you leave your competitors in the dust.

It’s a good place to be. But how do you get there?

Ideal positioning: Making a uNique, Compelling, and cRedible Promise

Many positioning frameworks exist. I like one from McKinsey consultant (and Stanford guy!) Victor Cheng.

Cheng says that the best positioning makes a Unique Compelling Credible Promise to a potential buyer. Make your brand promise those three things, and you are golden.

Let me explain as it might apply to a direct-to-consumer brand or SAAS company:

1. Your promise must be unique

No “me-too’s” here. The first step in winning a customer is being unique in a field of sameness. To achieve uniqueness, riff on the Who / What / Where / Why / When / How of your offering:

  • Who do you serve? Amazon and Beard Brand both sell beard oils. Beard Brand targets guys with beards, Amazon doesn’t. Easy, right? Same in SAAS: Netsuite and Stitch Labs both deliver ERP software. Stitch targets theirs at Etsy sellers. The marketing becomes much easier if your customers are all hanging out in one place. Niche down your category to get at a unique target segment.
  • What do you offer? Do you want pet food? Go to PetSmart. Do you want the premium organic grass-fed dog food? Go to CountryPet. Change up your offering to deliver a different, more focused what.
  • Where are your sales happening? Human gets their healthy food product into businesses via vending machines. Graze takes the same product and distributes it direct-to-consumer via the postal system. Similar product, differentiation on the where. Mailchimp sells email services online. Bunk1 also sells email services. But people only hear about Bunk1 via a snail mail letter that your kid lugs home from summer camp. And Bunk1 is a seven-figure business! Doing (only) what Mailchimp does!
  • Why do you do what you do? Zappos sells shoes to make customers happy, Tom’s sells shoes to help kids (and make customers feel good about it). Same product, different why. Happens in SAAS too. I’ve been looking at the religious software category recently, and it’s fascinating. That category has taken almost every leading SAAS product from Stripe to Mailchimp to Shopify and duplicated it feature for feature. The only difference? The versions targeting churches give a part of proceeds to Christian charities. Very basic differentiation on the why, and it works.
  • When do you fulfill? I get my alcohol from MiniBar delivery, not the corner package store. Why? Because MiniBar can get me a Bulleit Bourbon at midnight after three hours of playing whack-a-mole getting my kids to bed. The packie’s closed then. Minibar wins on when.
  • How do you do what you do? Take that same bourbon and fold it into a gift set. Now you have BroBaskets. Drip and Infusionsoft sell a similar product, but one is self-serve and the other requires working with integration consultants. Very different hows.

2. Your promise must be compelling

If you’ve been following along with this lifestyle series, you are starting to collect some serious customer feedback.

Now is the time to use it.

Whatever you are promising has to solve a customer problem in an

overwhelmingly compelling way

Are you going to help me learn to eat healthy (weak!)? Or are you going to help me lose 10 pounds so I look hot in my speedo for the beach wedding that I’m going to in a month?

(Dramatic pause…I’ll wait until you get that disgusting image out of your head…ready? Good.)

Review your customer feedback. What are the searing problems? Do customers just want to learn to be healthier? Or are they disgusted by how they feel when they look in the mirror and have anxiety about an upcoming big event where they need to look great?

Make your promise compelling. Address the searing problem head-on. Use the language your customers use. Mirror your solution back at them.

Take this approach in all your sales copy, your ads, and your site.

3. Your promise must be credible

A unique and compelling offer means nothing if your potential customer doesn’t believe you.

It is asking a lot for a brand-spanking new visitor to take out her credit card and buy from you on the first visit to your site. This lack-of-trust is a big reason why conversion rates are so low!

You have to build credibility around your brand, fast. Here are some best-practice ways to do this:

  • Show customer testimonials. Check out what BOOM does on its product pages. The page is chock-a-block with customer testimonials, reviews, and selfies. I know Ezra tests the bejesus out of his site, so the testimonials must be working.
  • Get specific. The more specific you are, the more people believe you. Why? I have no idea, but it works. We’ll get it there fast? How fast is fast? Better: we’ll get it there overnight by 2 PM the next day. For my Conversion Playbook, I get specific on the results: a 30% lift in your conversion rates. It allows my potential buyers to set their expectations. It also allows them to figure out if the price of the product is worth it to them (and for most it’s a no-brainer!)
  • Offer free trials. This is a huge credibility booster. If I can test drive the car, I can judge for myself whether it fulfills its promise. This is par for the course in SAAS. Potential users can trial software for a month and experience the value before deciding to pay for it. I am seeing this more and more in ecommerce too, especially with subscription products.
  • Guarantee your product. At Teamwork, we have a no-questions-asked 90-day guarantee. If you use our products and don’t like them, we’ll refund you up to 90 days after purchase. Same thing with my Nerd products. If you don’t find them valuable, I’ll give you your money back. Are you super confident in your offering? Then try a risk reversal guarantee: offer to refund the customer AND give her a fee out of your own pocket if your product doesn’t meet her expectations.

At the end of the day, the value of a brand is that customers trust it. So the first step in earning that trust is making your positioning credible.


Do you want to make life easy on yourself? Nail your brand positioning.

Get off the Amazon / drop-shipping / t-shirt arbitrage treadmill and start thinking about how to make your offering a no-brainer to potential customers.

I love Cheng’s three-step approach, but there are others out there. Pick one and do the thinking involved to carve out your own positioning. Every other aspect of running your business will become easier.