Bonus material: Download Marketing Positioning Checklist.

In this guide, I’ll share a proven framework used by B2B tech and service companies that are killing it in highly competitive markets:

  1. lemlist grew from 0 to $3m ARR in 2 years — without external funding — in a cut-throat competitive cold-email market (decimated by GDPR)
  2. Choicely succeeded where much larger companies with huge existing customer bases failed — to market a native app builder, and even build virality into a complex B2B product
  3. iNostix won bids for enterprise projects against the big 4 consulting companies on a regular basis (and got acquisition inquiries from 3 out of 4 of these companies)

You’ll see many more examples — but also hear their CEOs and marketers share the insider tips and backstories in exclusive interviews I did while researching this article.

What is positioning in marketing (with example)

Positioning is about the perception your customers and prospects have of your brand or product in relation to competing brands or products within a specific category.

But positioning is also the process of influencing the perception your customers and prospects have of your brand and your product. This process is the sum of your marketing messaging, campaigns, and the experience your customers and prospects have with your brand and your product.

It’s what you’re all about.

Many B2B executives make the mistake of thinking of positioning as a catchy statement created at a management offsite or by a clever copywriter.

The positioning statement briefly describes your target market, your category, how you’re different, and how that translates into value for your target customers.

But the positioning statement is not the goal in itself. The goal is to make strategic decisions about your target, category, your differentiation, and the value — and to align your product, marketing, sales, and customer success in line with your choices.

Take for example the two cold emailing products below. Do you perceive any difference and value beyond the absolute minimum you’d expect from a tool like that (automate email cadences)?

The cold emailing tools category is, without a doubt, a bloody red ocean. And to make things worse, the market was decimated by the GDPR regulation back in 2018.

And yet, playing in the same market — and right after GDPR was introduced — lemlist grew from 0 to $3m ARR in 2 years — without external funding.

How? They challenged the status quo in the market with declining response rates to mass cold email outreach. Their positioning statement might have been:

lemlist is a cold email tool [category] powering sales teams, agencies, and B2B businesses [target market] to personalize outreach campaigns [differentiator] so their emails get replies [value].

Their key differentiator was going all-in on unique personalization features (and later other features) to help their users get more replies:

Below you’ll get the chance to hear lemlist’s insider tips, but first, let’s address an important question.

Why marketing positioning is a must-have for B2B businesses

“The mind, as a defense against the volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information offered it.”

Guess when this was written?

40 years ago.

In their legendary book “Positioning, a battle for your mind”, Al Ries and Jack Trout described the market conditions in 1980 as a “communication jungle”.

When it was so hard to stand out back then, how will you stand out now, when:

  • Your buyers are in a crisis mode and more critical than ever before
  • Your competition is growing exponentially (e.g. the marketing technology space grew by 5233% since 2011)
  • Your buyer’s attention is under a constant barrage of messages, updates, and, as one B2B exec put it, “desperate marketing attempts by everybody”. And lately even interruptions from their family as they try to focus on their work!

But marketing positioning is about much more than just cutting through the noise of the “communication jungle” out there.

Remember the two cold email tool examples from above:

How would you choose which one to buy?

When your prospects don’t see the difference between you and the competitors, they will focus on the things like:

  • Price
  • Customer reviews
  • Integration

And in our world of virtually infinite supply, this translates into an uphill battle: Your marketing campaigns have low response/conversion rates. Your sales cycles are long. You have to fight hard for every deal — and maybe even give discounts to close deals.

Developing a strong marketing positioning is not nice to have anymore.

Effective positioning helps you:

  • Stand out and cut through the noise of the over-marketed environment and attract your clients without being spammy
  • Win the client when other serious players are bidding on the project too
  • Win the right type of client who will:
    • Value and appreciate your product and gladly refer you to others
    • Partner with you in creating exceptional client results
  • Command premium prices
  • Make your business easier to sell, or to get an investment
  • Feel more confident, congruent with your values, and inspired to think bigger and grow faster
  • Attract the right people and partners to join your mission and build something bigger together
  • Make better decisions with more ease, and say “no” with more confidence, which in turn allows you to focus on the 20% of actions that generate 80% of results

In addition, it allows service-based companies to simplify their proposals and systematize their delivery. This in turn creates more time to work on business development and allows them to shift from being “bodies for hire” to becoming a go-to expert in their niche.

The difference between marketing positioning and value proposition

Marketing positioning is about a place your brand or product occupies y in a specific market category. It’s a key part of your go-to-market strategy and needs to be implemented through marketing messages, campaigns, and the customer experience in line with that positioning.

The value proposition is a key marketing message communicating why you are different and worth buying. Essentially, it communicates why your positioning matters to your ideal customers.

Instapage’s positioning is a “‘landing page tool with unique post-click optimization and experimentation features for Google and Facebook advertisers”. Their value proposition is “Customers like you get up to 400% more from their digital ad spend with Instapage”.

Note how Instapage’s positioning is both vertical (they focus on Google and Facebook advertisers) and horizontal (unique ad optimization features).

lemlist’s positioning is a cold emailing tool (product category) with unique personalization features. Their value proposition is “Send cold emails that get replies”.

The 6-Step process to define your marketing positioning (w/12 positioning strategies and examples for B2B tech and service companies)

If you want to create or update your positioning, what are the practical steps you need to take?

“The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do.” – Michael Porter

The way how you position your company or product is about making a series of strategic choices about what you focus on (and what you say ‘no’ to).

Let’s look at the choices and practical steps you need to take.

1. Choose your focus go-to-market segments

Imagine you’re scaling a SaaS company and searching for a CRM. You’re looking at two options:

  • A CRM that gets your sales organized
  • A specialized CRM that help to organize your sales, track recurring revenue, and the churn rate

Which one will you choose? The second one seems like a natural choice for a SaaS company.

That is the power of market segmentation.

Most B2B companies skip this step and create a customer avatar that’s essentially the lowest common denominator of their potential customers. This leads to two most common mistakes that rob B2B companies of revenue: one-size-fits-a