Russ Somers

Marketing ideas for startups, growth ideas for humans

Scalpels vs Sledgehammers in Positioning

Sledgehammer1In my last post I talked about choosing words carefully. Now I’ll cover a case where I advocate (almost) reckless abandon. Consistency, after all, is less important than results.

Many years ago there was a blues duo called Scalpel and the Sledgehammer. Two talented musicians with different positioning. Scalpel: highly precise, cutting guitar skill and a dry vocal style. Sledgehammer: powerful, full-throttle guitar, harmonica, and vocals. Both sang, both wrote.

They were, in my estimation, equally talented. Even if there weren’t, let’s assume for a moment that they were, because it suits the story I am telling.

The end of the story, BTW, is not that one of them became a household name that you’re heard of. C’mon, we’re talking about blues musicians, not One Direction. However, Scalpel now writes code and plays on the side. Sledgehammer is known by blues aficionados around the world, has the occasional European tour in addition to working the road full-time in the US, and – to put it in metrics marketers are familar with – has large Facebook and YouTube followings.

Why? As I said, they’re equally talented.

Positioning is the answer. Positioning is the marketing art of determining how your product is perceived in the customer’s mind – whether it’s a low-priced value play, a unique experience, or something else. Positioning makes carbonated sugar water into the most valuable brand in the world.

Positioning is the most powerful of the Marketing dark arts, but it’s not subtle. Unfortunately for Scalpel.

That means that positioning that is powerful, even overreaching to the point of inaccurate, is positioning at its most effective. Look at the success Salesforce had displacing entrenched CRM players with a “No Software” positioning. Think about that – a software company positioning as “No Software.” So inaccurate that it would be ridiculous, if it weren’t genius positioning.

Because at the time, “software” was positioned in buyers’ minds as “hard to manage, on-premise implementations with lots of expensive IT involvement.” Benioff knew that he had an opportunity to position against that by being willing to throw accuracy and subtlety out the window. I’m sure many scalpel-wielding marketers on the team argued against it. They were so accurate that they were completely wrong.

Is your positioning Scalpel-accurate? Or is it Sledgehammer-powerful?