Mark Zuckerberg didn’t try to build a better Friendster, Instant Messenger or email. He had a different point of view. Zuckerberg famously told TIME magazine, “I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us … what we’re trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships.” Zuckerberg called this map a “social graph.” He built his company, product and marketing around the point of view (POV), creating a new category of social network. As Facebook developed and marketed the value of a social graph, it became one of the fastest growing companies in history, killing MySpace and Friendster while creating a whole new Internet experience for over 800 million people.
Larry Ellison didn’t create the number-three software company on the planet by building and marketing a better database. He had a different point of view based on the insight that relational (vs. flat-file) databases running on multiple hardware platforms could be game changing. His POV made his product and company unique. And it was powerful positioning. He did not attack IBM head on. He disrupted an existing category with a POV in order to create a new one. This tilted the game board to Oracle’s advantage. Today the relational database category is over $20 billion a year. And Oracle enjoys approximate 48 percent market share.
CEOs of legendary businesses take positioning seriously. They make a choice to be different, purposely positioning their companies to create or disrupt a very big market category. They know the real power of marketing is to catapult the company into a dominant, defendable position in a hot category. That’s how they achieve higher growth rates, margins and market caps (valuations) than their competitors.
Six secrets to positioning with a point of view
1. Different, not better
Many tech CEOs fall into the “better” trap. They truly believe winning is about having a better product and sales channel. To win big, you must be different. Different works because it is intriguing and believable. Customers understand it. Choosing between different offerings is easier than choosing between similar offerings. “Should we have pizza or ice cream?” is an easier decision than choosing between two similar pizza brands. Different also protects your price. When two companies say their products are better than the others, customers conduct proofs of concept and often break the tie with price.
To make being different work, you also have to be clear about how your difference is clear, tangible and valuable to customers, partners, employees and shareholders. Apple’s products and marketing are both different and awesome; you can feel it when you walk into their stores. Different sticks. Better doesn’t.
2. Disrupt or create a massive category
You cannot build a dominant, defendable market position by playing the same game as your large incumbent competitors. You have to change the agenda in the market to give yourself a fighting chance.
Netflix destroyed Blockbuster by disrupting the movie rental category with a different business model and service offering. Then Netflix got disrupted when Amazon reframed the delivery model with on-demand content. Chrysler created the new category of minivan in 1983 with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. A quarter century later, they still dominate with 49 percent market share in the category they created.
The best way to create or disrupt a category is to take a step back, understand what category you are in and decide where you want to be. Then execute an aggressive thought leadership and POV strategy using targeted PR, social media and word of mouth marketing. Your target audience must feel surrounded and see evidence of the category uptake.
3. Market your POV, not your company or product
Most tech CEOs are in love with their products/services. They truly believe that if customers could just see the capabilities of their product, they’d buy it. Wrong. Whether you are creating a new category (Chrysler) or disrupting an existing one (Oracle), you must make customers believe that your POV about the market is right. Only when they believe in the what, will they buy your how. Said a different way, if you want people to buy Bibles, first they have to be Christians.
4. Turn your positioning into a POV
Your POV must be expressed as a story. And stories matter because before someone buys your product, service or stock, they must buy your story. Messages, goals, product plans and slogans are abstract and forgettable without a powerful narrative.
With a two-word story (“no software”) Mark Benioff communicated his POV and created the cloud-computing category. The positioning worked so well that he crushed CRM market leader Siebel Systems. Today Salesforce.com dominates the $10 billion category it disrupted. Your brand is literally a story that unfolds over time. If you want your company to win, turn your positioning into a legendary POV.
5. The POV is the product
As soon as you interact with a product that is guided by a POV, you know it. The service Facebook delivers is the living embodiment of Zuckerburg’s POV. The minute people see it, they get it. And they are attracted to it.
The same is true for the products/services built by Herb Kelleher, Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz. Southwest Airlines, Virgin Airlines, Apple, Amazon.com and Starbucks all deliver a unique customer experience that is rooted in a POV. Any frequent flyer can feel the difference between Virgin Airlines and American Airlines instantly. One is a company run from a POV about delivering a unique travel experience and the other is run by bean counters who view the market through a spreadsheet. You can buy it, taste it and feel it.
To win, your product has to be the POV. If not, you’ll end up competing on price and features.
6. Your POV sets your market cap (valuation)
The value of your company is driven by the facts about your business and the way people feel about it. Powerful stories create powerful emotions. People relate to and remember stories, even people who make a living analyzing facts. A powerful point of view sets the context for interpreting your quarterly financials. This reality makes the story about your business more important than the facts about your business. Sound outrageous? Maybe, but it’s true. When commenting on a stock, Wall Street analysts often say, “I like the story” or “I don’t like the story” – further proof that emotions are the seminal drive of stock prices.
Your story to investors must communicate the size and growth rate of your category and how you are positioned to win in the category, not just your numbers.
In conclusion, legendary companies have one thing in common. They achieve dominant, defendable positions in market categories that matter. That’s why they have higher growth rates, margins, and market caps (valuations) than their competitors. Your POV sets the strategic context for your business. It’s how you communicate your strategy and value. It defines what category you’re in, what makes you different, and why people should care. Ultimately companies that have a powerful POV stand a much better chance of creating significant, long-term value than companies that don’t.
Christopher Lochhead is a veteran CMO turned strategy advisor who is a co-founder and partner at Play Bigger Advisors.