Later today, I’ll talk with a potential client that was referred to us. In my fifteen years in business, I’ve received few referrals. This is despite having great relationships with clients and working with them for years.

The reason that we received few referrals was because we were positioned based on specialized technical expertise. Our positioning was so narrow that few people understood what we did. Only once someone needed someone with that technical experience would they become aware that our role existed. The result was that we built up our inbound leads through SEO and directory listings.

SEO worked great for several years and then our market tanked. I decided to reposition again. When I repositioned our agency, I tried to apply the advice of the business experts in our field. In brief, that advice was to focus more on selling strategy and less on the actual execution. The result was that our website and marketing framed us as digital strategists.

In retrospect, this was a big mistake.

I created the same problem that we had in the previous positioning: no one understood what we did.

I remember several conversations with people where I led with digital strategy and then had to walk backwards into the end product of website design and development. No one knew what digital strategy meant and no one hired digital strategists.

Right now, we’re updating our positioning again to that same market. Rather than having messaging that we’re digital strategists, we’re communicating that we do website design and development.

I’ve been working on a few referral marketing initiatives this spring and I connected with a peer that I was friendly with from our previous try. We chatted for a bit on Zoom and she looked at our website and said, “Oh! That’s what you do! I was never really sure what you did. I actually know a few people who I might be able to refer to you.”

The referral I’m speaking with today isn’t from that peer. It’s from a virtual assistant we used to employ who saw the content marketing I’ve been doing on LinkedIn. She was able to connect the dots to her new employer, an organization in our target market.

If you read Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book on positioning, it explains that positioning is all about association. People try to place your business into their mental map of the world. If your value proposition doesn’t match a location in that map, they forget who you are and move on.

That means that whatever your positioning is, it must fit into a location that already exists in peoples’ minds.

If it doesn’t, you’re not positioned, you’re in the market’s psychic dumpster.