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Being heard is one of the most difficult problems any start-up will face

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Guest Authors:

Being heard is one of the most difficult problems any start-up will face. Businesses are competing with a seemingly endless stream of content screaming for the attention of your potential customers and investors. So, given all the noise, how do you create a message that lands and sticks in the brain of your target customer? You start with your positioning.

What is positioning?

“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.” Trout & Ries, McGraw-Hill, 1980 [1].

Taking this further we’ve defined some indicators that we think shows you’ve nailed your market positioning:

1. Everyone gets what you do and buys

That would be ideal, but the reality is it’s unlikely that everyone you talk to will immediately buy. So we change it to:

2. Everyone gets what you do and buys or refers

Referring gets you the next sale (or gets you the next meeting, the next introduction, the next lead, or any of those things that lead to the next sale).

How do you ensure everyone refers? You create a message that meets this test:

  • your audience gets it

  • and they find it compelling (so they want to refer)

  • and they understand it well enough that they can repeat it (so they are able to refer)

Then, the people they talk to will get it, and the people they talk to will get it, and so on, and so on…

Not sure if you’ve nailed it? Read on. Help is at hand

It’s tricky, and can be hard, especially for complex products, but it can be done with a structured approach and perseverance. We cover a number of tips, tricks, do's and don’t's, and have seen some amazing results.

For example, one tip is to stay clear about when and how to focus on the technology vs when not to. Dale Rogers said it best in the 1990s, quipping that if restaurants marketed sushi the way tech companies market tech, they’d call it “cold dead fish” [2]. Technically accurate descriptions are useful, but shouldn’t be your starting point for most audiences.

Part of figuring out what your different messages are, who they are intended for, and how to keep them consistent, is to recognise that your customers don’t buy technology. They buy propositions (customers do pay for technology, but that isn’t the same thing).

Then follows the style: how you deliver the messages that you have crafted, to portray you in a way that resonates with your customers.

It’s essential to get this right from the outset, and that’s why our scale-up accelerator programme includes a masterclass to help you perfect your market positioning.

Here’s an example of how a small tweak can make a big shift:

We worked with entrepreneur Sophie Walker, COO and Co-Founder of Dsposal. Sophie told us the improvement to our presentation and pitch was remarkable and that making some deliberate tweaks meant their message resonated with more people.

Sophie said “we switched from talking about waste compliance and duty of care to legal obligations, and noticed a massive improvement in people's understanding.” The sessions helped Sophie better convey how her proposition is relevant to potential clients.

This blog just scratches the surface, so if you’re interested in hearing more about market positioning, the programme or seeing some examples of the positioning statements from the companies we’ve worked then get in touch.

About GrowthBuilders and the Authors:

In conjunction with PwC, GrowthBuilders runs an accelerator programme for growth companies which includes a series of masterclasses on topics

from sales and marketing through to international expansion, one of which is on market positioning. Through the masterclass and exercises founders refine their market positioning statements.

Jamie Lennon led the 2019 PwC Scale Retail programme, supporting 9 scale-ups on their growth journey.

David Moloney helps PwC's clients to navigate emerging technology and partners with start-ups. David delivers the Market Positioning Masterclass to help companies develop marketing messages that resonate with clients and result in sales.


[1] Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind: How to Be Seen and Heard in the Overcrowded Marketplace, Jack Trout and Al Ries, McGraw-Hill, 2001, First Edition: 1980

[2] Dale Rogers, Pacific Bell / AT&T, circa 1990



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