Many people talk about personal brand as an important thing to build. I don’t disagree with them and have really built a career off my personal brand.
The crunchiness that I bring to any project, organization or relationship is pretty fundamental to the value I provide.
It’s one of the components that make up my ability to build an engaged audience on Twitter.
But here’s the problem with a personal brand: it’s such a vague, nebulous concept that it’s really hard to articulate what you should do to build one.
I believe that personal positioning is a much better concept for several reasons:
- It’s extremely easy to find
- It provides a more meaningful framework for making life choices
- Defining and evaluating it is a systematic process
In this article, we’ll take a look at why personal positioning is valuable in building a career, how you go about defining it and then how to use it in the real world.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a framework that you can use to discover and apply your differentiated personal positioning.
Why is personal positioning more valuable than personal brand?
I spend a huge amount of my time helping B2B SaaS companies think about their positioning.
Positioning is particularly crucial in crowded markets where there are a lot of people saying the same stuff.
Take the project management tool market:
In this market, it’s almost impossible to compete purely on features: everyone has the same features.
It’s hard to compete on pricing: there’s almost always someone who can do it cheaper.
What most companies do is compete on brand.
And one or two people will win with this strategy.
That’s why Monday.com invests ungodly amounts of their cash into YouTube advertising. Everyone recognises their name now and thinks of them when they need a project management tool.
But here’s the rub: only a few people can win on brand.
What about the rest of the companies? What about the rest of us?
We need positioning.
How brand positioning translates to personal positioning
When clients ask me to explain positioning to them, I usually tell them:
Positioning helps companies communicate to customers how they solve their pains differently to all of the other options available to them.
There are many variables within that one statement and that is part of its strength.
The goal of a positioning exercise is to align the following into a coherent narrative:
- An understanding of the competitive marketplace
- A well defined segment of the total addressable market
- A set of customer needs
- A set of unique insights you have
- A set of features
This is not dissimilar to building a career. In fact, it’s almost the exact same thing.
A productivity tool like Teamwork is for small to mid sized creative agencies who want to involve clients in the work process and know that they will be more effective if they run their whole business off a single tool.
You are a person with a certain set of skills and insights that help you solve the problem of your ideal customers in a way that is unique and differentiated to the other people they think about when they need to solve the problem.
Personal positioning is important. Without it, you make bad investments of time, attention and energy.
With it, you get make good choices about where to spend your most precious resource: life.
Why does personal positioning help so much?
Recently, I asked for recommendations of copywriters to help out with a landing page for one of my clients.
I was inundated with DMs from people who wanted to use their copywriting skills but almost all of them were complete strangers with the bio ‘B2B SaaS copywriter’.
I ended up hiring two people. Those people came directly recommended by someone I trust based on their very unique positioning.
One was a person who has made their career around applying differentiated messaging to competitor comparison pages for B2B SaaS companies over $5M in ARR
The other had the slightly broader niche of delivering well positioned – but not dry – copy for SaaS companies and has built this whole position into their personal brand too.
This, I think, illustrates my long held belief that there are two ways you can go through life:
- You can fill out the application form and allow a potential employer to put their world view onto you (in which case, who knows?!)
- Or you can control the narrative for yourself.
Good positioning helps you work out what’s relevant to you and invest in long term coherence. It allows you to assess opportunities and say: ‘is this me or is this for someone else?’.
And it allows other people to do the same thing for you – exactly like my friend who got those two copywriters hired. He knew exactly who I needed because they had positioned themselves beautifully.
There are not two other people who are doing what they do, for the people they serve, in the way that they do it.
One concern that people tend to have is that they will lose their market value by becoming too niche in their position.
I’ve spoken to companies of close to $100M ARR and people just getting started in their careers who have expressed this exact concern.
But here’s the thing about markets: If you develop a position that is truly differentiated, then you are a differentiated operator and command a significantly higher price.
If there are many B2B SaaS copywriters who describe themselves like that, then they are commoditised and I can afford to reject their proposals if I think that I could get their services cheaper or differently elsewhere.
On the other hand, if there’s only one of a thing, the market tends to place a significantly higher value on that thing.
Both of the copywriters I mentioned above come at a premium. But I will happily pay them because I understand that they are specialised and are well positioned to solve my specific challenge.
In the next section, we’re going to look at a framework for developing your personal positioning and even if you don’t think you have anything different to say, stick with me because you do!
You’re a masterpiece, friend ✌️🍵
How do you develop your positioning?
We’ve just looked at how personal positioning can unlock value for your career by helping you be top of mind for specific tasks (so you get better opportunities, more frequently) and increasing your market value (so you get paid more).
Now let’s look at how to take your wonderful individuality and organise all the whacky parts (we’re all uniquely different), into something coherent – but crucially: uniquely coherent.
At work, I use this framework and I believe it is incredibly effective.
It goes into a SaaS positioning canvas that looks like this:
I always tell clients that there are two sections:
- About them (the whole top row) – what your customers look like, what they’re struggling with, what they believe to be true, what they’re hearing from the market as a whole
- About you (the whole bottom row) – what makes them unique, what experience shapes their narrative
This model actually translates pretty well to personal positioning and I’m going to walk you through how to pull out the key insights you need to develop personal positioning.
I’ll use myself as an example because I’m intimately acquainted, obvs.
What kinds of companies do you work with?
Let’s start by answering the most obvious question: what kinds of companies do you work with?
Why is this obvious? Mostly because we’re doing this exercise as a way to position you in your career. There are other ways to think about this for your personal life. We’re interested in building your career path here.
For me, after a career of veering from one thing to another, I’m extremely happy to be able to land on the following answer to that question:
- B2B SaaS companies
- They’re likely still between $1–20M ARR or have a realistic trajectory to get to that in the next 12 months
- They tend to have a small marketing team but don’t necessarily have a person who thinks of themselves as a SaaS marketer
- They have good product-market fit and can demonstrate it by introducing me to some of their customers
Take note here, I could have stopped at the first bullet point and it would have been a C grade on the quality scale. At least a C is a pass. I’d be able to start to market myself but the magic really comes in when I position myself more exactly.
B2B SaaS companies at less than $1M have a whole heap of problems I just don’t want to spend my career solving (been there, done that, got the stress lines to prove it). Equally, I don’t really want to work with companies that are above that (unless I’m the one who grew them to that point) because I don’t love dealing with organisational strain (again, been there, done that, life’s short!).
I know that my default operating mode is: work it out. So it makes sense that while they have a team of ‘operators’ in place, they maybe lack someone who can pull the parts together into a strategy – more about this in a moment.
I also added the product-market fit bullet there. That’s because I know how awful it is to try to grow a company that doesn’t have it. I also know that the way I approach SaaS marketing is very pragmatic and relies on deeply understanding the customer. If they can’t intro me to some customers, it’s going to make it super hard for me to do my job.
Why aren’t they making progress?
Not everyone who hires you will be stalled in their growth. But lots of them will be experiencing an obstacle of some kind in growing and understanding what the typical reasons for that can be helpful in positioning yourself.
For example: when I work with people, they typically have a couple of successful growth plays but they’re looking to for the next steps, the strategy that’s going to take them from $3-5M to $10M.
That’s just one example.
You shouldn't have to do this for each person you end up talking to. You should be able to generalise with a couple of responses here.
I’m thinking of a friend who just got a new job. Companies who he was talking to before he accepted those roles had a couple problems:
- They wanted someone who could own a content strategy and deliver content nimbly, quickly
- Others had issues with their content production workflows
- Occasionally they had good content but needed someone to improve the rankings of their content in search
My friend was able to weed out opportunities based on discovering these obstacles.
What have they already tried to grow?
Differentiated positioning happens in relation to other options available for solving their pain points.
A recent example was a CRM for construction companies. The options in their ideal customers’ consideration set were:
- Do nothing – astoundingly common
- Use a spreadsheet
- Use one of 2-3 common software tools that have similar functionality to my client’s
- Use 1-2 competitor products specialised in CRM products for construction companies
It is important that when you are positioning yourself, you develop an understanding of how your ideal customers, employers or clients perceive you in relation to all the other things they could do.
For SaaS marketers, here’s a fairly standard set of ‘competitors’:
- Marketing agencies
- Hiring new team members
- Using existing in house resources
- Focusing on other problems instead of solving their issue (you would definitely want to ask yourself why they’re doing this if this sounds familiar)
Amazingly, there’s very few things that SaaS companies can do to solve growth and marketing problems other than those things.
Understanding how they might have already used or attempted to use some of those resources to grow can help you understand the pain points that they’ve experienced more clearly.
A classic example of this would be a SaaS company who has unsuccessfully hired an agency to help them crack paid media channels. You’d expect to hear that they had been promised reliable results, performance or even pay-for-performance but didn’t get the results that they were promised and maybe even burned a lot of cash in the process.
Guess what? That’s an amazing piece of insight into the pain that you’re positioning yourself to solve.
How do you solve these problems differently from other people?
Now that we’ve covered off a pretty good foundation of understanding your ‘customers’ pain point, we need to get a clear understanding of how you solve those problems differently from other people.
Quick aside: I used quotation marks there because you could be positioning yourself internally, externally, for promotion or for something else entirely. I’m generalising and calling the person you’re speaking to your customer
The answer to this question becomes a lot more clear when you ask two sub-questions:
- What’s your unique genius?
- What’s your unique career path?
What’s your unique genius?
Unique genius is a way of saying: what are the skills or mindsets that you bring to solving problems for SaaS companies that other people don’t have or have differently.
When running a positioning exercise for SaaS companies, we use a framework that corresponds pretty well here called ‘difference chunking’. We say that there are 5 ways that companies tend to solve problems for customers:
- Strategy: In what ways do you strategize differently than your competitors?
- Structure: How does the structure of your business relate to how effective your product is?
- Systems: How do your systems allow you to create a better product or service that delivers on the promise being made to the customer?
- Shared Values: What values do you share with your customers and how do they affect how you deliver your product?
- Style: How does your unique style of delivering your products or solutions affect the customer experience in reaching their “Aha!” moments?
This actually translates really neatly to SaaS marketing.
Take copywriter Lianna Patch. There are many SaaS copywriters, but Lianna’s unique genius is that she is also hilarious and knows how to liven up dull copy with humour:
Or my friend Ronnie Higgins (hi Ronnie 👋). Ronnie’s the Director of Content Marketing at Hopin. His unique genius is in applying concepts from film to content marketing. No-one does that as well as Ronnie (if you’re into that concept, here’s a masterclass I ran with him)
My unique genius is that I am a great communicator and can make it really easy for people to understand difficult concepts (hopefully after reading a thousand or so words of my copy here, you agree!).
How do you discover your unique genius?
Write down in bullet points things that people seem to love about working with you and then add to that list all of the things that you feel energised by when you’re working on a project.
In my experience, the answer is almost always in there.
What’s your unique career path?
Career plays a huge part in helping people frame your likelihood of success in solving their problem. It’s not always a dealbreaker but understanding what kinds of experiences you’ve had in your career can help people choose between different solutions on the market.
Here’s my extremely unique career path:
I studied European Union Studies at university and didn’t think I wanted to go work in the European Commission after graduation. My Dad told me I was a pretty good writer and I ought to think about journalism. I enrolled in journalism school and specialised in magazines and writing deep profiles of people. While I was there I started a magazine and then spun a customer publishing model out of that into a business that I sold to public sector organizations. I ended up doing communications work for those kinds of clients – all the while coming up with ways to help them build better narratives. Eventually I stumbled into SaaS marketing by becoming a founder and needing to learn how to grow a business. After years of doing that, I got tired and decided I wanted to only do SaaS marketing. That’s when I joined PBS as the Head of Growth to help our clients build big ol’ businesses based on SaaS marketing and growth.
There is not a single person in the world who has had that same set of experiences. There are people who are similar, probably, but there is no-one who has had that exact career.
Why does this matter? Well, here’s some things people read into me based on that narrative:
- I’m extremely good at creating copy
- I know how to relate to people – I interviewed hundreds, I sold to clients, I persuaded investors to give me cash
- I see problems and solve them – no-one asked me to build a startup, I just did it in response to a problem
- I’ve run a business – I can’t express how valuable this has been to my career. It’s opened beautiful, hard to open doors for me!
- Lots of people have trusted me with a lot of responsibility – I’ve been the voice of multiple big brands over my career, many different people have trusted me to solve big problems for them
Those things contribute to my differentiated positioning.
But what if you haven’t had a career yet? That’s totally fine.
Firstly, kudos to you for thinking about how to position yourself early. I can tell you that if you’re taking this seriously, you’re likely to go places. (side advice: say yes to a lot of different things in your first few years, narrow down later :))
Secondly, go back. You got here somehow. Tell that story instead! What are the life experiences you’ve had that led you to decide to become a SaaS marketer or growth person?
Everyone is unique. I genuinely believe that.
What’s your track record of solving this issue or how can you create confidence if you don’t have a track record?
You’ve identified a problem and explored how you bring different traits and experiences to the table that will help you solve the problem.
Now for something absolutely crucial: You need a compelling narrative that builds trust in your ability to solve the problem for your ideal customer.
The goal here is to be able to persuade someone that given everything they’ve heard from you so far and what you’re about to tell them, that they could hire you, give you their business, follow you, buy from you etc.
So let’s dive in. What are some results that you’ve generated for clients in the past? List this out in bullet points too. Here’s some of mine from my current job:
- Working with clients between $5M ARR and $75M ARR and delivering strategic demand gen programs for companies like Basecamp, OpenPhone, AdvisorEngine, Rally, Reltio and MyCase
- Built predictable and high quality pipeline for one of the world's leading SaaS marketing agencies
- Developed and built a podcast strategy that has generated more than 10x ROI
- Increased brand awareness leading to high quality pipeline – 12.94% increase in direct traffic
- Generated millions in pipeline with 44.87% increase in SQLs over a 12 month period
Sounds convincing, right?
You have wins like this. Results you’ve generated in your career. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything meaningful to contribute because you’ve never worked with high ARR businesses etc.
It honestly doesn’t matter. I got this job based off my boss understanding my personal positioning because I was able to share much more lowly but still trust building results from my startup:
- Build product led go to market strategy
- Grew organic conversions by 1330% in 12 months
- Scaled no-touch revenue 17% in six month period
What do you do if you’re doing this exercise to win your first piece of business, or to start building an audience or to get your first marketing leader job?
You don’t have the results to show off. But you do have stories that show directionally how you are able to make stuff happen.
Share anything that shows how you use your skills to produce results. Even if they’re not specifically related to what you want to position yourself as.
Once you get your foot in the door, you’ll be able to swap out stuff.
How do you summarise this in a short statement?
A positioning statement is good because it gives you something to quickly reel off when you’re writing DMs to respond to opportunities, add to your LinkedIn Profile or generally use to answer the question: what do you do?
Unconvincing positioning statement: ‘I’m a content marketer specialising in SaaS’
This is unconvincing because almost anyone in content marketing or SaaS could say this.
It totally removes all the uniqueness that makes your life shine. It’s literally dull.
Instead, run from the top of this exercise and summarise the whole narrative.
Here’s the summary of my narrative:
B2B SaaS companies who have grown to $3-5M eventually find that they hit a ceiling in their growth where nothing really moves the needle in getting them to that sweet $10M ARR. So they try hiring contractors or even ICs in their team to run tests, optimize stuff. But my whole career has been based on working out what the problem is and how to solve it. For example, at my startup, I used my journalism experience to build content that converted to trial at 20% and then optimised the business model to convert those 20% into revenue. Then I applied those skills to working with clients of between $5M-70M ARR getting them repeatable, systematic growth.
Then take what you come up with and complete the statement, “so I...”
I help B2B SaaS companies scale from $5M to $10M by finding the most strategic opportunities for growth, developing content that converts visitors and removing friction from their funnel to turn visitors into customers
See how straightforward that is? And yet it also says a lot:
- My ICP
- Why my method works
- How I execute
A statement like this can be rolled out as an intro to the conversation. Then you can fall back on the answers that you’ve written down for all the other questions in this exercise to flesh out the narrative, build trust and ultimately get the things you want in your career.
How do you apply personal positioning?
We’ve developed a personal position for you here. But the question you have to answer now is: What do I do with this?
I think that there are really two things you can do with this right away.
The first one is immediate and entirely in your control: Audit all the messaging you have about yourself on the internet and ask whether it lines up with your differentiated position.
This list could include:
- Professional social profiles
- Tweets and LinkedIn posts
- Blogs on your site
- Copy on your website
- The communities you take part in professionally
- Anywhere else that people find out about you
Whenever you find a piece of information that doesn’t align with what you’re positioning yourself as, update it or remove it.
The second thing that you should do with this exercise is use it as a way to assess all the opportunities open to you.
If you’re an IC at a SaaS company and a job opens up that looks attractive to you, ask yourself:
- In what ways does this align with my positioning?
- In what ways does it diverge from my positioning?
- Will making this job move help me strengthen or weaken my positioning?
- In the case that you find it’s an opportunity that will change your positioning, you should question whether or not that’s an attractive change
Personal positioning is an incredibly valuable exercise. It will improve your value in the marketplace no matter what opportunities you’re trying to go for.
Use the process and prompts in this article to help you find your differentiated positioning.
Then audit your messaging and make changes to make it crystal clear:
- Who you are
- What problems you solve
- Who you solve them for
- How you solve them differently for your ideal ‘customer’