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Talking About Business Positioning
Netpreneur's Get Themselves To Grow, Change And React

Statements made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Morino Institute, Netpreneur.org or any of their affiliates, agents, officers or directors. The transcript is provided "as is" and your use is at your own risk.  

Copyright 2002 Morino Institute. All rights reserved. Edited for length and clarity.  

(March 26, 1998--Washington, DC) The Netpreneur Program showed that it practices what it preaches at the March Coffee & DoughNets meeting, held at the ANA Hotel in downtown Washington. Penny Lewandowski announced strategic developments that will expand the program this year, which became an appropriate lead-in for Mario Morino's presentation on Business Positioning.

Penny said that Coffee & DoughNets is hitting the road in May, for an evening session in Baltimore co-hosted by Johns Hopkins University. She added that Business Challenges, a feature of many previous Coffee & DoughNets, will be re-introduced soon, however, they will be held as separate events in smaller groups in order to enhance the audience interaction. In addition, outside partnerships will add depth to the program's offerings and bring more outsiders to the table. These include the upcoming co-production of an event series with Covington & Burling on legal issues and a tighter partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) that will mean more investor awareness for netpreneurs.

Netpreneur success stories followed, beginning with Paul Albert of RouteLink who announced that his company was chosen as one of 24 to present at Comdex, under the auspices of Red Herring Magazine. Other successes included:

  • Neil Harris said that Simutronics, an online interactive game company, has entered a revenue-sharing partnership with Excite. In exchange for promotion on Excite's Web pages, Simutronics is paying Excite for each new customer that clicks through from Excite.

  • Jason Baranowski of Gr8 announced that his company has won a "best site design" award from Internet Week for their work on the National Gallery of Art Web site. He also mentioned that a potential partnership is being explored with SynchroMedia, a contact made through the Netpreneur Program's Action Net bulletin board.

  • Russ Williams of The Training Place said that a white paper by his company will be published in the May issue of The Multimedia & Internet Training Newsletter.

  • Matthew Pittinsky of Blackboard said that his company is going to be moving to bigger digs in downtown Washington, and that Microsoft has hired Blackboard to set the learning technology standards for their company.

  • Kent Johnson of Internet Information Services said that his company recently completed a major engagement with Iridium LLC, deploying a wireless satellite-based messaging system and extranet for the company.

  • Alain Chetrit of First Regional Telecom said that his company recently received its Virginia State CLEC license, allowing the company to begin providing local telephone service.

Mario Morino began his presentation by pointing out that the first step is to realize that Business Positioning is not just about marketing. Positioning is a broad way to define who you are, where you are going, and what you've got to do to get there. Positioning interacts with everything about a business: how it is branded, how the product or service is distributed, how it is designed, and what kinds of partnerships your business takes on.

For small companies, said Mario, positioning is largely about projecting a perception about the future of your company—the day you will fill an eight-story office block, rather than the present, when you're working out of your garage.

Positioning is founded on a number of business truths which Mario has elaborated on in the past: decide whether you are selling a product or a service, because it's unwise to split your marketing and development focus on both. Decide whether you are selling business-to-business or business-to-consumer, because the channels vary greatly. Know what need your product or service fulfills, and know its limitations. Use the advice of friendly (and unfriendly) outsiders to help you target and capitalize on what's really great about your product. Use already-available market data, from analyst reports, trade publications, securities firms, and the like, to help define your business opportunity. Always be on top of the information about your industry. Don't be afraid to give away a product that has outlived its usefulness to you, even if—or perhaps especially if—you think it has market value to somebody else.

He said that positioning is not just about direct sales but also about establishing your name in people's minds. Write articles for trade publications, offer a free newsletter on topics in your industry (or your target clients' industry), or offer low-cost surveys or audits to your target clients to assess the current solutions they implement in your sector. Use language in your reports, articles and audits to influence thinking on your industry. Make sure that the name you give your solution (for instance, "web conferencing") is what they think of when they think of your industry (rather than, for instance, "online discussion tools").

Mario said that one of the mistakes which short-sighted technology entrepreneurs make is to become what he calls "tea leaf readers." They create a product that depends on their personal expertise and excitement in order for it to be viable. Because the product is less viable by itself, it loses its place in the market once the business grows and they can no longer be the support, sales and development staff all by themselves.

One major tool of positioning is the "landscape," or the overview of your market sector and the companies with whom you share that sector. Mario defines the landscape as "the roadmap for understanding market opportunities, competition, and expansion routes." A well-mapped landscape helps you to determine what your product is and how to realize it through internal development, strategic partnerships or acquisition. It also helps you to decide what product ideas to walk away from, maybe because the market is saturated or a big competitor would eat you up once you show the niche's potential.

To create a landscape, first think of the broad sectors served by your offering. For instance, in the field of online community-building tools, a company might fall into the Web Communications or Web Publishing sectors. Then, break down these sectors into their component products, things like chat and document management software. Place your current product in the appropriate product category, and write down the names of the companies that are players in each category. This process will:

  • force a discipline on you to understand the markets in which you function.
  • help you identify, understand and convey logical areas in which you could expand.
  • uncover the "consolidator" or "bundler" in your market. If you're a component solution, beware the consolidator, who offers the consumer a "complete" solution.
  • help you target your competition and where competition will inevitably come from.
  • help you understand your partners and your competitors.
  • give you the planning "checkerboard" to target what you have to do and how to do it, whether that means develop the product, buy it from another company, go into partnership with a company that provides it or skip it altogether.

The landscape fits into the larger picture of business positioning, as articulated in Mario's "Positioning Checklist." This set of seven guidelines are: Define Your Vision and Mission; Define Your Product or Service; Know the Customer and Market Trends; Describe the Landscape; Articulate the Opportunities and Threats; Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses; and, finally, Strategize. Thinking through this checklist will define your business's positioning and the foundation for its future success.

Many people in the audience affirmed and embellished Mario's points during an extensive Q&A. Several netpreneurs offered their own examples of using business positioning to clarify their company mission and product., such as Arnold Kling of homefair.com who said that his company started out by offering real estate listings as part of their product line, but realized they were never going to dominate that market because of the competition from big companies with established names. homefair.com decided instead to license their complementary content to those big companies.

The complete transcript of Mario's presentation and the accompanying Q&A will be available shortly.

Past Coffee + DoughNets Articles:

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