Positioning is the spot your startup fills within the head of your customer. It matters because most people already have a go-to brand for most products and services they need. For example, Apple is positioned as the leader for personal technology, for most, non-technical people. Unless you are a developer in which case, you probably prefer PCs and Android phones. They claim different positions for different people and it gives them authority as a an option for people to buy.
Here is where startups go haywire with their positioning,: they play the wrong game. Specifically, this one: they try to look, feel, and act like a large company and go head-to-head with the ones already out there. This trickles into their branding efforts, making them appear sterile, stoic, and dehumanized. Why? Because they see large companies they are trying to compete with do the same thing. Here's the secret: large companies have to act that way so they don't get sued for upsetting people with their character.
As a result, customers long for something more personable (someone to claim a different position). This is something your startup could offer them if you weren't playing the "we're a big company too," game. You will lose every time. But if you gave a minimal amount of effort into giving your startup a personality and stopped trying to look, act, and feel exactly like the companies you are looking to dethrone, you'd win more often.
Play the right game.
I was giving an identity presentation to a client today and everything was going phenomenal. He liked the strategy behind the mark, thought it had a lot of character, and he was overall pleased with it. He did ask if he could see a slight variation of the mark.
What he had asked for was not going to work (I could see it in my head and it would've ruined the integrity of the logo). But, in the spirit of transparency, I replied with "let's try it out, right now."
Within five minutes, we had the options side-by-side and could clearly see that the previous mark was the better option.
If I had said, "ok let me get back to you in a day with these revisions," we both would have been frustrated. It's an unfortunate trope within the design community to never show the client your workspace or your design files. Which I don't understand, because I certainly feel engaged and have more respect for other craftsmen who show me their process. More important, it helps me hold it in reverence and respect the decisions they make.
Design is no different. If we are willing to be transparent and walk clients through the entire process, show them how our opinions are formulated, and talk through the solution, everyone is happier.
Show your work and talk about it. Being creative is simply not enough, you have to be able to articulate your thinking.
Of all the things wrong in this world, telling a lie is my least favorite. Mainly for this reason: it prevents anything from improving.
If you tell a lie about a situation, you are intentionally shoving any prospect of fixing it out the door. In the startup world, this comes in many forms, "we're gonna have a billion dollar valuation," "our financials are steady," and my least favorite "we're the best."
Look, don't get me wrong, I think you should strive for a billion dollar valuation, you should strive for steady financials, and you should put your best efforts forward, but don't let these aspirations replace the truth. Like the fact that your startup is maybe worth $20,000 as it stands. Or that your financials are super shaky and your revenue streams are scattered. Lastly, don't confuse your best efforts with being the best solution available.
Why? Because if you let these lies replace the truth, you will certainly overlook what is stopping them from becoming true.
Without a doubt there are aspects of your startup that are amazing, and that you are brave enough to go out there and make something happen. But you will never get better if you cannot look your shortcomings in the face and accept that things could be better.