No one person can be all things for all people. Most of us accept this truism when it comes to individuals. But too many professional services firms fall into that very trap by portraying themselves as jack-of-all-trade generalists. They pride their firm on being able to do it all.
Unfortunately, in the world of professional services, a wide-open positioning is the same as no positioning at all.
Yet many professional services firms are still too afraid to narrow their positioning. Why is that? It’s because they assume tightening their focus means reducing business opportunity. After all, they reason, the broader your range, the bigger your audience. And more services equal more customers.
That may be true in theory, but it’s not how it usually plays out in practice. In a saturated market, presenting your firm as “all things” puts you at risk of competing on price rather than on the unique value of your expertise. That, in turn, undercuts loyalty and leads to commoditization—two outcomes you want to avoid at all costs. Rather than cheapening your offerings, your goal is to burnish your brand and elevate your firm’s profile.
Clear positioning is at the center of your legal or financial service firm’s ability to attract your ideal clients and grow your business. And it all begins with a pitch-perfect positioning statement.
Does Your Professional Services Firm Have a Positioning Problem?
Pop quiz: What does your professional services firm do for your clients? And what sets your organization apart from the competition?
Did you stumble around for the right words, or do you have a smart, polished answer at the ready? More importantly, how do your brand and marketing materials fare when put to the same test?
If your website and other marketing assets don’t immediately provide those critical details—clearly and succinctly—you have a positioning problem.
The truth is that many legal and financial services firms (especially those within a competitive set) offer similar services and expertise. Standing out from the pack is a challenge. To do it, each individual firm must identify and amplify authentic and meaningful points of differentiation. Often, that means uncovering subtle nuances with the potential to make a big impact.
All firms (yours included) have their distinct strengths and weaknesses. By playing to your strengths, you can lean into what your firm does best—and attract customers that are looking for exactly what your firm has to offer.
Bottom line? Positioning matters. It’s the bedrock on which you’ll build and grow your brand. And your positioning statement is the glue that holds it all together.
What is a Positioning Statement?
When it comes to defining your legal or financial services brand, figuring out what sets your firm apart is the critical first step. But it’s not enough to simply recognize those unique attributes internally. If defining your firm’s difference is a form of corporate self-actualization, your positioning statement is how you speak your truth. You’ve got to “name it to claim it,” so to speak.
Like a formalized elevator pitch, a positioning statement is a brief, one or two sentence explanation of your business formulated with your ideal prospects’ needs in mind. Because at the end of the day, your positioning statement isn’t just a navel-gazing corporate screed. Instead, it has serious marketing intent. That is to say a well-crafted positioning statement speaks volumes to your ideal prospects; it immediately makes clear that your firm offers just the service or product they are currently looking for.
You should use your positioning statement on your homepage and other important marketing assets to quickly communicate who you are and what your brand stands for. Beyond that, your positioning statement should serve as a home base for your marketing team—a defining document against which all other brand, marketing and communications activities should be measured. It should inform everything from how you design your website and marketing assets to how you talk about what you do in your marketing materials.
For example, if you position your firm as serving the tech industry, you’d want to draw design inspiration from visual references that make sense to that particular audience. As you can imagine, that might look very different than if you were targeting the energy sector.
The Elements of a Positioning Statement
Your positioning statement should include:
- What you do: Don’t be afraid to get specific. Remember, one size doesn’t fit all.
- Who you serve: What is your ideal target market? Who does your firm do its best work for? Depending on your answers, you might decide to serve a particular industry vertical or target demographic.
- What sets you apart: What defining characteristic can you authentically tout that your competitors can’t claim? This could be a particular approach, area of expertise, or even an attitude.
Pretty simple, right? Think again.
The Top 4 Positioning Statement Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)
A positioning statement has a fairly short ingredient list. So why is it that so many professional services firms—even those that embrace the power of positioning—get it wrong? The answer lies in the four most common positioning statement mistakes.
Take a look at your current positioning statement: Could anyone else in your competitive set say the same thing about themselves and get away with it? If your answer is yes, your positioning statement is too generic.
Generic language usually reflects a lack of thoughtful differentiation—or a desire to cling to a generalist’s mindset. Unfortunately, it also makes for an easily forgettable, milquetoast positioning statement.
As you draft and refine your positioning statement, challenge yourself to be as specific as possible. For example, calling yourself “smart” isn’t very meaningful. Your competitors are probably smart, too. In what ways are you smart? And how does that translate to better outcomes for your clients? Dig a little deeper and you just might find something interesting.
Your positioning statement shouldn’t read like a detailed manifesto or a plodding internal document.
Don’t forget, your goal is to quickly orient prospects to your brand and let your ideal customers know they’re in the right place. The best way to do that is by keeping your positioning statement short and to the point. When it comes to your positioning statement, less is more.
Whatever you do, avoid confusing your audience with insider industry jargon, marketing-speak, proprietary terminology, or overly clever language that doesn’t really make a point. These positioning statement traps all undermine the clarity of your message as well as your efforts to differentiate your firm.
Worst case scenario? A convoluted positioning statement can send a message to your audience that you’re trying to hide something.
Even the greatest positioning statement in the world loses its potency if no one sees it. Once you’ve crafted your positioning statement, make sure it’s a highly visible part of your branding and communications portfolio. You should give it a prominent place on your website’s homepage, of course. But don’t stop there.
Your positioning statement should be included in all your most important marketing assets—and reflected in the way you design everything from a social media post to a brand experience.
5 Exercises to Develop and Refine a Rock-Solid Positioning Statement
Even with a clear understanding of what makes for a successful positioning statement, it can be challenging to define one for your firm. Of course, the deeper work really has to do with unearthing your positioning itself. Once you have that dialed in, the statement should practically write itself.
Use the following exercises to get to the heart of what makes your professional services firm unique, including who you serve, your unique approach and the value you bring to the table.
- Define your value proposition. If you haven’t already done so, sit down with your leadership team and document your unique value proposition. What is it that you do for your clients? And how do you achieve those results? For the moment, don’t worry about being unique. Just start with what you know to be true. If recruitment is a focus, be sure to craft an internal and external version of your value proposition.
- Document or refine your core brand values. Next, revisit your brand values. Why do you do what you do? What does your firm stand for? Are there key values around which you expect each team member to rally? What do they say about who you are as a firm, both internally and externally? Do any of those values stand out in comparison with your competitors?
- We are, we are not exercise. Further refine your understanding of what makes your firm different by creating a series of “we are, we are not” adjectives. For each paired statement, pick an attribute that describes your firm. Then contrast it with a “we are not” adjective that allows you to more clearly express what each attribute means to you. For instance, you might say, “We are confident, but we are not arrogant.” Or, “We are strategic, but we are not formulaic.”
- Brand deck exercise. Much like the “we are, we are not” exercise, you can use this Brand Deck to seed your understanding of what defines your brand. The cards in the deck name a number of attributes. Working together as a group, categorize each card in three piles: “you are,” “you are not,” and “N/A.”
- Differentiation Mad Libs exercise. Use the following fill-in-the-blank sentence to craft a rudimentary positioning statement: We help (target audience) who (problem) to achieve/experience (benefit). Unlike (competitive alternative), our solutions (difference).
Your Positioning Statement is a Work in Progress
One final note: Your positioning statement can set the direction of your business’s growth. But just like your business, it isn’t set in stone.
As your organization evolves, so too should your positioning statement. Take time and care in crafting your statement—but know that it’s almost certain to be a work in progress. Plan to review your positioning statement at least once a year. If it no longer reflects your firm’s current trajectory, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.