The Seven Dimensions of Positioning

I don’t like reinventing the wheel, so for months now, I’ve been trying to reconcile everything I know about traditional business (think Peter Drucker and the Harvard Business Review) with all the seductive ideas I’ve been learning from the Lean Startup movement (and I’ll admit I am simultaneously attracted to, and wary of, those ideas). Some instinct led me to focus on a single word: positioning.

It seemed to be the key word, and I think my instincts were correct. I’ve concluded that positioning, defined in a 7-dimensional way, is the single most important word in business. So what is positioning? To paraphrase Marc Andreessen, it is the only thing that matters. It is the controlled, but not deterministic, crossing of a threshold beyond which the business suddenly seems to come alive and “work.” The emotion changes from depressed to excited. The energy changes from languid to explosive. The rhythms change from weak and uncertain to harmonious, vigorous and steady. Positioning happens when a business has an “Aha!” moment, and discovers identity, profitability and sustainability.  The business has found its groove and tempo (the business word for tempo is clockspeed) Positioning involves throwing seven firing switches from “Off” to “On” position and all 7 cylinders firing steadily enough that anyone in the business can take a real vacation without everything going to hell.

Seven is not an arbitrary number. I looked hard and that’s all I could find. I’ll tell you about two that didn’t make the cut later. Each of the 7 switches, if it causes successful firing, induces an S-curve (if not, you get a peak and collapse).

If the S-curves are clustered close together in time, you get one big Aha! Otherwise you get a series of smaller Ahas! All 7 must be switched on. Otherwise you’ll get a change in emotion and energy, but not a true business positioning. The characteristic sign is that you get a frenzied, high-anxiety, manic energy tempo instead of a harmonious, vigorous and steady tempo. I call the former the “fire alarm” situation, and it will collapse if it isn’t corrected. Steady rhythms are a sign that you are in a predictable place. So let’s explore the seven dimensions of positioning and see if there’s anything useful to be found.

1. Marketing: Positioning as Hole-in-the-Head

Positioning in marketing is Al Ries’ classic theory of marketing. People’s heads are overstuffed. The only way to get in is to associate yourself with what’s already in there. Avis, We’re No. 2, so we try harder, and The Uncola are examples. These either fill a “hole in the head” (creneau to use Ries’ French term), or reposition an incumbent to create a space for yourself. Nyquil created a position against strong incumbent cold remedies by turning their 24-hour nature against them. There was a creneau that could be created for a night-time cold remedy.

What happens when you get this right? Simple. An anemic demand-driven business turns into an overbooked supply-limited business. This is what Drucker meant when he said the job of marketing is to make sales superfluous.  One killer positioning concept smoked up by some Mad Men can bring the business to you, so you don’t have to pound the pavements.  Your selling costs shrink spectacularly. (Aside to readers who’ve been demanding I watch and write about Mad Men: I  finally caved and watched the whole series to date on DVD over the last few months; thank you all for a great recommendation, and stay tuned.)

Marketing positioning is not the same thing as finding a “repeatable sales road map” in the sense of customer development inside lean startups. Yes, you still have to be agile, and pivot, and get outside the building. But you don’t use the customer development model, which is optimized for sales-led discovery. You focus on typical marketing things like finding good names and taglines. If you talk to potential customers at all, you do so in different ways, to find a creneau. You look for inspiration in pop-culture trends. If it works really well, you may not have to do the sales pavement-pounding and hypothesis testing at all. At the risk of losing half of you, here’s the football metaphor. Customer development is a rush offense. One yard at a time. One problem or product presentation to a customer/group at a time. Effective marketing positioning is a Hail-Mary passing offense. Touchdown in one pass if you are lucky and skillful.

For ribbonfarm, I did no customer development, hypothesis testing or anything of the sort. I just wrote whatever the hell I liked. Then the Gervais Principle happened. Now ribbonfarm is positioned as a blog selling a certain darkly-humorous, realist, dystopian view of life, the universe and everything. Marketing positioning and luck, not customer development.

Getting marketing positioning right is at once liberating and confining. In the case of ribbonfarm, it is liberating because the blog is operating cash-flow positive (not counting my time, which I view as ongoing in-kind capital infusion). It is also enough of a believable insurance policy that I think I could make a living off it if I had to. Constraining because “ribbonfarm” now means very specific things to readers. Now if I want to experiment outside this core, I’ll need a different blog and brand. But within this core, my marketing costs are near zero. The Be Slightly Evil list is a natural line extension, but not a brand extension. With near zero additional marketing, and ONE email to a few readers counting as “customer discovery,” I was able to launch it. And in less than 3 months it is already getting close to 500 subscribers. But I could not have done this if I’d wanted to build a non sequitur or dissonant brand off the ribbonfarm base, like a blog about inspiring quotes or great shopping deals.

2. Operations: Positioning as Rapidly Improving Margins

Chronologically, this notion of positioning came first, with BCG’s pioneering role in the strategy industry (a long story I’ve told elsewhere), and focus on the fact that market leaders grow rapidly, learn and drive down cost curves, setting a pace that followers cannot keep up.  At the heart of it is an accelerating trajectory of increasing margins, generating growth money, leading to more revenues at better margins, a virtuous cycle that leaves competitors far behind until you are the entrenched low-cost leader. Only true disruption (item 7, wait for it) can displace you. Until then, others can fight over your table scraps at the margins. This is the growth curve you get to after Crossing the Chasm. This is a positioning problem start-ups rarely have to solve, since principals often exit before they are forced to solve it. You can get roaring rivers of revenue and still bleed margins for a long time.

This is also not the free-cash-flow positive threshold. It is the accelerating margin improvements threshold. You can limp along with razor-thin margins for quite a while and call yourself cash-flow positive, but until you hit this phase transformation, your position is very shaky indeed. Specific things happen to trigger this phase transformation. Startup types think of it as mechanical “introduce big company systems and processes” but there’s a lot more. You have to find the artistically right kind of systems and processes that can put you on the accelerating margins trajectory. For Zappos, for instance, it appears to have been the decision to move away from drop shipping. So it is not a matter of just hiring a few bureaucrats to create some tedious forms. Big companies know all about this transition. I’ve done work on this dimension, but unfortunately it isn’t work I can talk about publicly.

The fully-refined version of this gets you the classic  positioning model of Michael Porter (the five forces model). Practitioners like to call it “strategy” but it doesn’t deserve that lofty term. It’s operations they are talking about. Very useful nevertheless.

In BCG Growth Share Matrix language, the switch gets thrown when an uncertain “wildcat” (or “question mark”) business suddenly turns into a “Star” (moving from the top-right to the top-left quadrant). From here you can drive down costs faster than competitors can, and move the business into a relatively unassailable high-margin cash cow position.

3. Sales: Positioning as a Pain Point Relief

If you plow through the Lean Startup material, you’ll find that the entire customer development process hinges on one crucial decision: you only go after a small subset of early customers who a) have a problem you can solve, b) are aware that they have a problem c) are actively shopping for a solution d) are actually improvising temporary solutions.

This is a customer “in pain” as it were. Product-Market Fit (PMF) in this narrow sense “relieves” a pain for someone. Focusing on customers “in pain” is a very specific way to find a market.

In an earlier Drucker-inspired article, I defined a customer as a “novel pattern of human behavior” based on Drucker’s notion of “customer creation.” Creation is expensive, but it can be done. But in CD-driven businesses, you don’t create this novel pattern so much as you recognize it in the wild and then offer a less painful substitute. This is significantly cheaper, which is why it is so popular in the startup world.

It is a slightly worrying metaphor, but I like it: in customer development, you domesticate a wild customer.

Here is my example. I was the first employee at Sulekha.com, after the two founders, 10 years ago. Today, it is sort of the Craigslist-plus-Facebook-plus-Fandango of India. I witnessed (and, in modest ways, contributed to) the PMF phase change, when we found our first strong revenue model (online ticket sales). And yes, the script ran exactly as the lean startup people describe it, with pivots and everything. We just used different language to talk about what was happening.

4. Engineering: Positioning as Killer App

Everybody hates us engineers when it comes to the business side of things. Even engineers themselves, when they move over to the dark side, have a tendency to speak disparagingly about the narrow mindset they’ve left behind.  I’ve done the leap, but I don’t do the disparagement. For positioning to work you also need an engineering switch to fire: from platform concept to killer-app.

Visicalc is everyone’s favorite example of a killer app. Killer App is primarily an engineering dimensions of positioning. Engineers, like mathematicians, are lazy. They like to generalize and come up with powerful solutions that can do lots of things. This generality is what ultimately creates value, otherwise we’d be living in a flood of what Alton Brown (in the context of kitchen equipment) calls “unitasker” products. But a journey of a thousand apps must still begin with a first app.

The story repeats itself all over the place. Walk through this trail of killer apps to see more examples (Atari and Pong, Nintendo and Mario Brothers, Gutenberg’s Press and the Bible, and many more).

Brad Feld has labeled “platform” the annoying word of 2010. He correctly notes that you cannot build a platform, anymore than you can make a viral video. The best you can do is build a platform-intent product or service, or a viral-intent video. But platform-intent thinking is crucial. Otherwise if your first and only application idea fails, well, you’re screwed. Nor will a generic “multi-tasking” minimum-viable product do the trick. That gets you a Swiss Army knife. That still has only one shot at success. You don’t just want a multi-tasker product. You want multiple cheap shots at making an application catch on.

Once you ask the question minimum viable product that does WHAT? you’ll see why “Killer App” is a useful separate term. It is that last 20% of the engineering that brings in 80% of the value. First you build a minimum-viable platform, and then you start doing several 20% stabs to find your first killer app. Each stab is a minimum-viable product hypothesis, but each stab is not necessarily a full repositioning or pivot. Think of a startup as a new PC that and each MVP stab as a half-assed app like Microsoft Works.  If you find that a lot of people are using Microsoft Works, well, go ahead and build and sell Office. That’s your killer app. But if it doesn’t work, you shouldn’t have to retool 100%. Only 20%.

Most high-value engineering products turn out to be platforms with applications. So platform-intent is the right strategy. Unitaskers, such as combs or toothbrushes, are rarely enough to build a business (unitaskers are usually made by companies that maintain portfolios based on similarities in manufacturing or service delivery processes).

But don’t let the word “platform” intimidate you. A platform does not have to be as complex as an operating system or a new fighter plane. A knife is a very simple instrument, but it is a “platform” in the kitchen because it can do so many things. The killer app turned out to be “chopping,” but it can still do some mean squashing, stirring, serving and spatula-ing. Some caveman or cavewoman probably started the search for a business model with a stick, and figured out that sharpening one edge created the first “killer” app. Pun intended.

Note: there are two engineering styles which I call “vertical first” (the first app comes before the minimum-viable platform) and “horizontal first” (the other way around). I think both can work, but the risk-benefit tradeoff does favor at least some platform work upfront, in my opinion. Pure vertical-first too easily leads to a series of narrow visions, none of which is worth much.

5. Public Relations: Positioning as Brand Socialization

While a “pure marketing” brand can exist just as a service or product, entrenched and strong brands also become part of the society within which they live. Levi’s is not just a famous (and now trashed through mismanagement) brand. It is part of the story of the American West. Ford stars in the story of American ingenuity, with its role in the growth of the assembly line. The Tatas are the story of industrialization in India. The East India Company is the story of 17th Century Britain.

PR is the difference between a strong marketing position for an unsocialized brand and a socialized brand with a role in the grand narrative of its host society. The story doesn’t just happen. But it can’t be created in controlled ways like advertising either. You have to scan for sparks of genuine social “integration” in the environment and pour fuel on them. Volkswagen’s ongoing “punch-dub” series of commercials is an attempt to do exactly this: talk up something to do with VW customer culture. I am not sure if it will work though, because this is a case of trying to make marketing do PRs job. PR is essentially a hidden and delicate backstage influencer activity. You are trying to co-opt a story that’s already “out there,” in service of your brand. Many people have a stake in that story, so at best you can influence the story, not “tell it.” VW may regret its punch-dub series of commercials. It may have killed the golden goose. Now I bet people who play the game might want to stop. If, on the other hand, VW had spent its money on a grassroots word-of-mouth campaign around the punch-dub game, a lot more could have happened. Groundswell has several great examples. I could be totally wrong on this one. Only time will tell.

Aside: this is why the new continent of social media has primarily been colonized by PR people. The marketing and sales people are talking a lot about the potential, but it is PR people who are making the medium work for them. Good marketing talks more than it listens. Good sales listens more than it talks. Good PR strikes a conversational balance. Social media is fundamentally friendlier to PR than either sales or marketing. In the past companies had to have either marketing or sales cultures. You could not lead with PR. Today you can.This is especially true because rank-and-file employees can be turned into a PR army. To use them in marketing means cheesy employee photos in brochures. Using them in sales means sales people bringing customers in for “insider visits.” Though Word-of-Mouth can work for sales (forwarding discount coupons/referral/lead generation schemes), marketing (contests, “viral” videos) or PR, it works best for PR.

This is where the classic reading of the Google origin myth gets it wrong. The story goes that Brin and Page, when told they had to “choose” between a marketing or a sales culture,  (and this is engineering braggadocio pure and simple)  “chose” to create an “engineering” culture instead. This is wrong on two levels. First, it is a three-way fork today, not two way, and Google is a company built on effective PR. “Don’t be Evil” and stories about great buffets (and ironically, the story of Brin and Page “choosing” an engineering culture) are basically the core of a PR socialization narrative (how many people know Google’s marketing tagline of “organizing the world’s information?” or have encountered its AdSense/AdWords sales face?). Second, culture isn’t yours to choose. Your business model completely determines it, and it will always be a culture driven by a customer-facing function. More on that later.

6. Finance: Positioning as Pricing Sweet Spot

You didn’t think the bean counters would have nothing to say, do you? Pricing confuses a lot of people because they think it is some sort of objective, if inexact science. The most naive people think: “if only I had perfect information and could construct my demand/supply curves, identify my substitutes and measure elasticity, I could price this thing perfectly to maximize earnings.”

Wrong. Economics constrains, but does not determine, pricing design. Economics will make you crash and burn if you get it wrong, but it won’t tell you how to get it right. It’ll just create a canvas. Getting the pricing model right is a positioning switch in its own right.

Creative finance people know that pricing is a positioning art. There are many famous products that made it via the right pricing strategy. Gillette (cheap razors, expensive blades), Xerox (originally, “lease the copier, sell the toner”) and Netflix (no late fees) are examples. And of course the whole world of $0.99, $19.99, “introductory price,” artificial scarcity “limited editions,” and and the like are all pricing design ideas. The entire cloud computing sector is driven by a pricing idea: pay-by-the-sip $0.10 offerings for enterprises that are used to paying by the million. To innovate in the cellphone market, pricing should be your top concern.

I recently tried myfooddiary.com (a great calorie counting tool) for a couple of weeks. They advertise $0.29 a day. Not the equivalent $8.70 a month. Why? Monthly subscriptions are better, right? No. This has to do with the psychology, calibration points and money metaphors at work in the prospect’s mind. See my Fools and their Money Metaphors article. Calorie counting is a daily activity for dieters. Health and fitness run on “daily” tempo mental models. The most effective pricing models are likely to be “daily.” That way you can compare it to other daily health/nutrition expenses like food purchases. Gyms would do well to shift to a daily price advertising model. A $90/month gym membership is a $3/day membership. So I know that it costs me about as much to ruin my healthy day with a slice of pizza as it is to redeem it with a workout. Why would you want me to think about my gym membership with a mental model that contains things like rent checks and phone bills? If some gym uses this daily price advertising idea, I demand a royalty!

Money metaphors are complex beasts. Entrepreneurs think with the entrepreneurship (capitalist) metaphor. But to sell stuff, you must think and talk within the customer’s active metaphor. Get it right, and the pricing cylinder fires.

7. Innovation: Positioning as Disruptive Breakthrough

Disruption theory is the most fundamental explanation of differentiation. It is an innovation model, and while it can seem very close to engineering, it isn’t. Innovation can come from a platform-creating scientific breakthrough, but it can just as easily be an enabling breakthrough along any of the other 6 positioning dimensions. It may be technically major or trivial (or to use the correct terms, radical or incremental), but you won’t know what it enables until after it has happened.

Three conditions have to be met for disruptive breakthrough. First, an innovation is “disruptive” because the place it is born is not the place it can grow. So it needs to be transplanted into a new business unit run by a logic within which the idea is sustaining. Second, you need a grow-in-peace peripheral position next to a major disruptee market, where you are too small to pay attention to, but too big for the incumbent to kill once you gain traction. If you don’t do the first, the business is stillborn. If you transplant, but there is no big disruptee market, you create a small niche business. But if you do both, you can get “breakthrough.”

The theory of disruption is highly evolved, and the relevant phase change happens when your adoption S-curve crosses an older one. Read my primer if you are not sure about what disruption means (and most people who use the term without having read Clayton Christensen’s book don’t know what it means, but think they do).

Is every new business disruptive? Is this an optional switch? I’ll leave that for later.

What Really is Business Strategy?

The 7-dimensions model allows you to view the essence of business in a very simple way. It is a matter of turning 7 switches to the “On” position, and hoping the corresponding cylinder fires. If you’re lucky, you’ll start out with one or more of the cylinders already firing. If not, you’ll have to keep trying each switch till all cylinders are firing.

Are there more than 7 switches? I thought about this really hard, especially about two very attractive candidates for an eighth switch: the “culture” switch (going from an inchoate culture of random types of people to a distinctive one) and an “ecosystem” fit (where the corporation is socialized into a supply chain).

After much thought, I gave up on culture. A distinctive culture is an outcome, not a control variable. How you throw the 7 basic switches determines what a corporate culture looks like. Equally, when a culture seems to be going wrong or toxic, it is almost certain that one of the 7 basic cylinders is misfiring, and the switch has been reset to “Off.”  I think if you try direct cultural design rather than hiring against your 7-switch needs, you are asking for trouble. And once culture has emerged, naming, codifying or ritualizing it is a very dangerous game. All you can do is try subtle things to not screw up a working culture, and to protect it from too much toxic disruption. At the same time, you shouldn’t protect it too much, otherwise the culture will ossify, and when the business environment makes a particular cylinder misfire, the culture will lack the ability to adapt.

The last candidate is ecosystem fit. Normally, this would be part of operational fit (strong, effective and mutually beneficial supplier and distributor relationships are a big part of switching from Wildcat to Cash Cow). But there is a difference between “inside the corporation” fit as processes stabilize and fit into a jigsaw puzzle, and “outside the corporation” fit as a vertical or horizontal integration structure emerges in a sector. But overall, I don’t think this is a meaningfully separate distinction with separate legal control variables. Antitrust laws see to that. When these laws can be bent or broken without consequence, or the government gets involved, then you’ve got an eighth switch. Ecosystem fit design is therefore just a part of organization design. Where you draw the boundary of the “organization” is a somewhat arbitrary legal issue.

That’s it for now. This is Part I of a two-part article (the whole thing was starting to weigh in at over 6000 words, which I’ve decided is too much even for me, so I decided to separate this idea into two parts). I’ll finish and post Part II if people like this one. Call this the MVP of a potential series.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. The razor and blades pricing strategy is an interesting one. I recently ran across the following paper delving into the question of why this pricing worked. It seems that Gillette didn’t use this strategy during the time they had some key patents, but the strategy was still effective when the patents ran out.
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1676444

    Pricing is an art indeed.

  2. Interesting thoughts Venkat. I especially liked the platform-intent and killer app part (number 4). There are various means by which ‘services’ can create platform-intent with so many killer app.

    On Innovation, I look forward to Part 2 on your take. Thanks for the post!

    Manju

  3. Venkat this is the most exciting post you have ever put up, for me anyway.

    In a sense, whack-a-mole is the anti-pattern that goes with this prescription (less than 7 constitutes same effect as whack-a-mole, takes all 7 to win game).

    Brilliant. And probably right, empirically. I’m juiced.

  4. Pete – you seem to be in the minority. I think this post may have been a little too dense and conceptual for most people…I expected more comments. Or maybe it is just dull and obvious.

    Maybe I need to turn it into a more comprehensible parable titled “Whack a Mole!” :)

  5. Ouch, that hurts. This is so clean, so to the point. You can read the whole thing in one infographic – the 7 part switch. The rest is delightfully informing details. Hmm.

    What are we all working for if not to succeed? That’s what this is about eh?

    If what you’re saying is true, I’m reminded of Gregor Mendel’s work with genes in the 1800’s. Totally ignored until 30 years after he died, but it was also clean and superbly predictive. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But this is clean work.

  6. I liked your thoughts on culture as an outcome of other work.

    By trying “direct control,” do you mean a manager / owner who hires new employees by perceived personality fit? (“We need more soft skills around here.”) Suggest that workers adopt certain habits? (Everyone leave at 5pm or study Six Sigma.) Only buy blue furniture for the break room? Any of those?

    • That sort of thing too, yes, but I was mainly thinking of the sort of ‘cultural fit’ interviewing that for example, Zappos’ does (I reviewed Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness.

      I think individual workgroup-level culture fit (“team chemistry”) is probably a good thing to look for. It is important that people get along with the 4-5 people they work most closely with. It is the larger-scale stuff that I think is pretty dangerous to attempt directly. There is no reason sales has to truly get along with engineering in a ‘cultural’ sense so long as there are a couple of bridge individuals who can ‘speak’ both cultures.

      I find companies with many microcultures at team level fundamentally more trustworthy and ‘real’ than companies with one uniform culture throughout.

  7. These are NOT the key to success, only the pitfalls to be avoided.
    You can screw any good opportunity by being too mediocre on any of the 7 points but being good on all isn’t a guarantee of success.
    The most critical skill is spotting the positive feedback loop to ride on: Increasing returns and path dependence in the economy!

    • I’d argue that your ability to hit these 7 switches is proof that you ARE on a positive feedback loop. That’s a given in a sense, a business can be built only if there is a business to be built. But it is telling the real +ve feedback loop apart from false positives (no puns intended) that is the hard part.

  8. D. Matthew Landry says:

    Maybe the subject matter is just not as accessible as an Office analogy — should this be recast as a Dunder-Mifflin parable? Misfiring on sales, finance, innovation, engineering, you name it.

    I’m with Pete on this one, though. Couldn’t stop reading.

    I tend to view the world through the eyes of the wildcat entrepreneur, and I’ve often disdained the managed transition from the inventive MVP to the more mundane, measured, tactical pump into a viable growth operation.

    This post excites me, though! The games and strategies are just as interesting, and the outcome undeniably more productive. Would you rather be the startup with crazy tech that blew up, or the startup with stagnant sales that barely cover expenses? Neither!

    I’d be interested to hear more about the notion of culture failure as a consequence of cylinder misfire. I’ve seen a lot of toxic cultures, and have not pinned it on anything other than “poor management.” Of course, management is ultimately responsible for everything — including sparking those cylinders. So, I don’t know if I can easily disaggregate the misfires from the ancillary socio-political gaffes and/or obstructions.

  9. To Mathew Landry’s comment: True, that. This one lacks all the color of the personalities and foibles that lived in the Gervais Principle work. Recast this in the (yuck) narrative of personal hubris, foibles, and zaniness of what really happens when one of 7 is missing and you might have another hit.

    Glad I caught it in it’s cleaner form though :) Cracks me up, this human world. So maybe it’s an 8 position switch, where the 8th switch is narrative with all kinds of crazy human foibles. Haha.

    Go Venkat! I still think you’re on to something.

  10. I think this is one of your best posts and that’s why I bought you coffee, but I had nothing to add. I considered commenting a speculation on how it applies to free agents, but didn’t bother to work it out.

  11. Put up a “review” of this article which views positioning as a kind of “test first programming” for business. The 7 positions are then the tests, not rules or programs.

    http://betterologist.net/ribbon-farm-business-logic-clarity

    The site is a low traffic site so comments on that perspective would be best kept here rather than there.

    The reason I like this perspective is because it emphasizes the kernel of Venkat’s work here, rather than the supporting detail which may only serve to obfuscate, in the end.

    • Thanks Pete, I like the idea of treating this as a non-prescriptive tests. You’re right about that… I am very wary of prescription. There are many ways to do things and most “rule” authors mistake sufficient for necessary.

      • Way to explode the underpinnings of an entire book genre, Venkat.

        Of course, many people like being told, “there’s a way to do it, and here’s how. Riches will follow.” The lack of an execution flow chart is scary.

        Your framing as switches — labeled but not ordered, strategically and/or tactically controlled — feels like a more sound metaphor. And it leaves room for both luck and skill to lead to respectable outcomes — again, mirroring the real world.

  12. Great article! If only I had an international credit card I’d buy you a coffee, too.

  13. Venkat – I can generally find something (and most times, multiple somethings) that detract and/or entirely eliminate the credibility of most given authors with regard to the viability of their position(s). I have yet to see, however, a more adept integration of the concepts of luminary authors (Drucker, Andreeson, Porter, and Geof Moore) in conjunction with classical constructs containing the fundamental truths of business success (the BCG matrix overlaid on the technology S-curve is truly effective). Moreover, your recognition of the need for Switch 7 (the need to be disruptive) is in perfect synergy with Switch 1 (Ries’ need to fill ‘the hole which already exists in one’s head’). Nice Work – Thank You!

  14. Venkat, I’m trying to think of a way this could be written in a more tits and ass modality, something that would get you the kind of emotion and attention that it deserves, such as with the Gervais Principle (GP).

    What occurs to me is writing the same style as the GP wouldn’t be so impossible, such as was done in a much more scholarly manner with the fantastic book of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. In that book he takes chapter after chapter to outline to where the idiots failed to hold themselves accountable to certain “tests” (my semantics, not his) and failed both dramatically and literally, and compared them also to successes.

    It really isn’t too far from the blow by blow character workups that made GP so volatile and interesting. The only problem for me is that if you made it based on real rather than fictional stories you’d spend kazillion hours doing the appropriate research.

    A fictional version of a dozen dramatic failures with stories of how certain tests – er uh switches – were ignored – especially with plenty of tits and ass and office style goofballs – and you’re back in business as a high traffic attraction on a new and ground breaking topic.

    Either way I wouldn’t worry about your lack of reaction to this one – so far. Tits and ass gets a good reaction. Gregory Mendel – the father of genetics, and his gene experiments, were ignored completely until 30 years after his death. There’s a lesson there.

    • I am not too worried about T&A appeal for every piece actually :)

      I’ll probably flesh this thread out over another couple of installments and leave it be. If a more pop treatment idea occurs to me, I’ll try it. Or not. No real reason to squeeze every possible drop of juice out of every idea.

    • Sex sells, but most of whom buy on sex are looking for a new partner in relatively short order. The beauty of Venkat’s composition here is that it is self-contained. As such, a more consistent and efficient (in the longer term) approach might be to find and put this into the “hole in the consumer’s (/proposed customer’s) head” – as covered in the discussion on “Switch 1. Another popular option would be to play the sex card on a continually changing basis (blondes today, brunettes tomorrow and redheads the next) – probably perpetually, thus reducing the proportion of resources left available for future product development) – or just wait for the critical mass of recognition to build up on its own – say in about 30 years.

      Assuming that you may be moving towards contemplation in a positive and proactive mode with respect to Switch 1- how exactly do we do that. The few of us here could become a formidable force by posting a reference to this blog in every other blog we believe may contain Ries-style marketers – encouraging them to show their stuff over here where its needed. And Venkat – with his acknowledged proclivity towards Ries-ism, would probably have a list of where we could start.

      Switch 8, by the way, is commitment -that is, putting your money where your mouth is. Having all 7 switches properly switched for a microsecond gets you a microsecond of effect. In a competitive environment, you need a healthy dose of Switch 8 to negotiate the climb out of the bottom-most position on the S-curve.

      C’ya.

  15. Rick: Ries?

  16. The use of the word “positioning” for all these dimensions nags at me a bit.

    I love lots of the details in here, though.

  17. Duh, I forgot to offer “flow” as possible alternative to “positioning”. Not certain of that, but it resonates with me a bit more, in terms of hitting a “rhythm”.

  18. Flow and positioning are both great concepts for the narrative, but for me they are both wrapper concepts for a set of tests.

    Certain tests need to be passing or your [program] is going to fail. What you call those tests is important for the narrative, but not important for success or failure of the [program], according this perspective.

  19. Hey.

    I am a 3rd year IMM (International Marketing Management) student and positioning is an important aspect. I wanted to get more info, but I quickly realized that our Dimensions is completely different. We also have 7, namely:
    1.Attribute positioning
    2. Benefit positioning
    3. Use/Application positioning
    4. User positioning
    5. Competitor positioning
    6. Product/service Category positioning
    7. Quality/Price positioning

    I am writing my final exam in 2 weeks, and what now?
    The differ completely?

    Kindest Regards
    Jakes

  20. Well, use your textbook of course. I made mine up, and my analysis is of a business as a whole, not just the “marketing” aspect of positioning. Your list is the classic breakdown *within* marketing.

  21. Dense. Succinct summary. Excellent post. Finally got around to reading (long backlog of ribbonfarm and trailmeme posts to catch up on).

    +1 for Part II of this installment in the same clean format. Think of it as reference posts for future works to build upon. Sure hope that ribbonfarm will have permanent URLs even if you ever migrate; that seems to be one of the only ways to reference “golden nugget” posts from long ago.

  22. Ditto para 1 of of otoburb’s comment. The no. of such posts I seem to have missed out makes me wonder if you are secretly uploading backdated ones :-)

    This is a classic ribbonfarmesque post: combining well known concepts and models with interesting new perspectives and building upon them, triggering many ideas in different dimensions, rigorously maintaining a self-deprecating humility about the thesis…

    The self-deprecating tone just works, though I suspect you attach more importance to the integrity of the argument and thoughts (including prompt acknowledgement, nay, joyous welcome, of holes when pointed out).

    And yes, every idea need not be squeezed out to the max, but too many juicy blobs need not languish unharvested (or unwoven) in the farm/ribbon.

  23. And where does the S curve take you ….. finally?

  24. The question from Joseph seems not to have been answered. Having thoroughly enjoyed this article I am off to track down part II. My 2 cents to Joseph is – The S curve reaches a plateau, representing the “on state”. S curves are a depiction of a transition that “eases out” from the initial state, reaches a peak rate-of-change, then “eases in” to the next (or alternate) state. Speed-up then slow-down, a sinusoidal afair, if you like. As seen in the motion of a piston, or the change from shortest day to longest day between winter and summer solstice, peak rate of change being at the equinox.

  25. Venkat, isn’t there overlap between these “dimensions” ? Particularly innovation.

    And when I start thinking that innovation is actually related to each of the other departments, I realise that the performance of any one department is not evaluable by just 1 functional.