When we establish a position in the marketplace, we define ourselves—draw a line around ourselves—within that marketplace. We let people know what we do and for whom we do it.

Which means, by definition, that we also let people know what we don't do—and for whom we provide no value.

And that strikes fear into the hearts of marketing and non-marketing business people the world over. Exclude someone? We can't do that!

Oh, but you must.

A marketplace of “everybody” is no marketplace at all.

Positioning Is Making Choices

Establishing a position is a process of both inclusion and exclusion. Mount Blanc serves as an easy example. Its positioning includes people for whom a pen is a fashion statement and a status symbol, probably more than it is a writing instrument. It excludes people, even affluent people, who don't want to pay more than $100 for a pen.

Positioning, in other words, is sacrificing some portion of the marketplace so that you can focus on the marketplaces of most value to you—and bring clarity of message to those markets.

Sacrifice is difficult. It's financially difficult and emotionally difficult, especially for those whose “baby” the product is. The notion of leaving money on the table is terrifying. The notion of telling someone, “This product that I love isn't for you” is even more so.

But it has to be done. If you don't exclude, you can't include.

And it happens all the time.

Consider the Segway.

The Fear of Exclusion

Here we have a perfect example of the fear to exclude. If their Web site is any indication, the Segway people believe that their marketplace consists of anyone who can reach the handlebars.

This is pure self-fascination—product omphaloskepsis at its finest.

And this kind of fascination with product and fear of turning aside from a marketplace creates positioning at its worst.

The Segway's main success to date has been the corporate marketplace. This makes sense to me. Moving across an auto assembly plant would be made much easier with such a device.

Why, then, does Segway's visible positioning—primarily its Web site—focus almost entirely on the individual consumer?

Fear to exclude.

The Segway team clearly believes that there is a mass (as opposed to early-adopter) market out there for a $5,000-a-pop way to go to the corner store for a carton of milk.

Do you agree? Look around. How many have you seen on the city streets? My answer is: none.

In fact, the only one I've seen was being ridden by an Epcot employee across the pavement of the park. It looked darn nifty. But I couldn't figure out how it would add value to my life.

And neither, apparently, have the people at Segway. Here, taken from their home page, is their main value proposition, which reflects their core position:

Cover more ground. Be more productive. Move more intelligently.

I don't know about you, but none of those touch a personal chord with me. When I go from here to, let's say, the store, or to pick up my kids at school, or to take my dog to the vet or to just about anywhere… I'm covering as much ground, being as productive and moving just as intelligently as I need to. I don't need to drop $5,000 to improve any of those.

But if I were the United States Postal Service, or GM, or the division of the police department that writes parking citations, I most certainly would need that kind of improvement.

What I Would Do With Segway

Now, my purpose here is not to slam the Segway but to use it as an example of why good positioning means making tough choices, analyzing the needs of the markets, finding those markets that will get real value from the product, positioning the product specifically for those markets….

And, most importantly, willingly turning away from those markets where the value just isn't there.

I would exactly reverse Segway's focus. Instead of focusing almost entirely on the consumer market, I would focus almost entirely on the commercial market (where, incidentally, its success is better although still not great). Instead of “Personal Stories” from happy Segwayniacs (which will likely not include President Bush), I would focus on ROI and productivity analyses—not bury those issues down the navigation path.

I would position the product directly at the marketplace that will get the most benefit from it, and would willingly exclude—or at the very least pay only nominal attention to—the markets that will get the least benefit from it.

That's what positioning is all about.

There is a scene in E. M. Forster's Passage to India where two missionaries are discussing who or what in the entire universe of animate and inanimate things gets to heaven. The older missionary is rigid—people, he says, get to heaven; end of story.

But the younger one is more inclusive: “Monkeys, jackals, wasps…all, in the end, make it to heaven.” When the suggestion is made that bacteria would also be included, he draws the line. “We must,” he says, “exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.”

Welcome to the sacrifice of positioning.

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image of Michael Fischler

Michael Fischler is founder and principal coach and consultant of Markitek (markitek.com), which for over a decade has provided marketing consulting and coaching services to companies around the world, from startups and SMEs to giants like Kodak and Pirelli. You can contact him by clicking here.