Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
Feb. 15, 2023

Brand Positioning: Achieving Growth, Even with Non-Mission Critical Offerings

This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Brendan Dell, Messaging Expert & Tech Executive at Brendan Dell. A positioning and messaging expert to top technology brands, Brendan’s clients include Expedia, ADP, HP, YC and 99 Start Ups...

This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Brendan Dell, Messaging Expert & Tech Executive at Brendan Dell.

A positioning and messaging expert to top technology brands, Brendan’s clients include Expedia, ADP, HP, YC and 99 Start Ups portfolio companies, and many others. His book the 12 Immutable Laws of High-Impact Messaging shares rules for standing out in crowded markets.

Brendan’s new course, $1B Pitch, examines the 8 elements of $1B pitches. His podcast Billion Dollar Tech reaches founders, executives, Venture Capitalists and Private Equity investors globally.

In this week’s episode of Revenue Rehab, on the couch, Brandi and Brendan tackle the critical issue of Brand Positioning: Achieving Growth, Even with Non-Mission Critical Offerings.

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers:

  • Topic #1 What is Positioning [04:00] “Positioning is essentially the act of deciding who is this for? How does it help them? And how do we do it in a unique and different way?”, explains Brendan. He also shares that he doesn’t think it is something that necessarily changes often. Ideally, he notes, you are setting that strategy until that market shifts.
  • Topic #2 Must Haves When It Comes to Positioning [06:53] Razor sharp clarity of focus is key, says Brendan. Whether you are niche or not, a company or brands positioning informs all decisions and subsequently affects it on just about every level. Get crystal clear on the ‘problem’ your company asserts it is fixing.
  • Topic #3 Who Should Own Positioning? [22:24] Brendan says that with very few exceptions the CEO should own positioning. Since 75% of market share goes to the category leader, the messaging needs to be differentiated and clear where everything looks and sounds and feels the same and this should come from the top.

So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

Brendan’s one thing is a simple exercise that requires just a few things.  Book 30 minutes with your CEO he says and bring screenshots of your website and your competitor’s website with the logos blocked out and show them in that meeting. If your CEO cannot tell which is which, you know you have a positioning problem, and you have some work to do.

Buzzword Banishment:

Brendan’s Buzzword to Banish is calling any tool or practice ‘dead’. “It forces a false dichotomy in your thinking like that this no longer works, or this does work”, says Brendan and “the world is much more nuanced than that”.


Get in touch with Brendan Dell on:

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Outro VO  00:06

Welcome to revenue rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita Brandi Starr

Brandi Starr  00:34

Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to another episode of revenue rehab. I am your host, Brandy star and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by Brendan Dell. Brendon is a positioning and messaging expert to top technology brands, with clients including Expedia, ADP, and HP, along with many others. Brendan is also the author of the book 12 Immutable Laws of high impact messaging, where he shares his rules for standing out in crowded markets. Brendan, welcome to revenue rehab, your session begins now.

Brendon Dell  01:16

Cheers. Thanks for having me.

Brandi Starr  01:18

Awesome. Thank you for being here. And I'm excited about our discussion today. Before we jump into that, I like to break the ice with a little woosha moment that I call buzzword. banishment. So tell me what industry buzzword? Would you like to banish forever?

Brendon Dell  01:38

Oh, goodness, that's a good question. I think so I don't know if it's a buzzword. But everybody's always talking about this being dead, or that being dead. And in general, things, you know, it forces a false dichotomy in your thinking like that this no longer works, or this does work. But and that's like effective for social media. But unfortunately, the world is much more nuanced than that. And it's really, in most cases about putting a critical lens to what you're trying to do. And the you know, the execution of whatever the thing is. So people have said, emails dead forever. Email is most certainly not dead email is very high ROI if you do it well, and so forth. So I think that's where I go,

Brandi Starr  02:21

Yes, I am all for making saying it's dead b What's actually dead. Because I do think that that just becomes a buzz when some new thing comes out. It's like, whatever the old thing is, is dead. And it's like really, really isn't now. So I love that one. So now that we've gotten that off our chest, I will make sure to not say that anything is dead today. So tell me, what brings you to revenue rehab today?

Brendon Dell  02:54

Yeah, so as we sit here in 2023, we've got a lot of sort of economic headwinds right now. And people are asking themselves questions about how, you know, how am I this is gonna stand out? How am I gonna get people to lean in and when I sell? And what we're going to talk about is how to position products. So how to position products in difficult markets, how to position on mission critical products, and how do you use positioning to get better traction with your go to market?

Brandi Starr  03:25

Awesome? Well, I believe in setting intentions, it gives us focus, it gives us purpose, and most important, it helps our audience to know what they should expect to take away from our discussion. So I'd love to hear from you. What is your intention? What would you like people to get out of hearing our discussion today?

Brendon Dell  03:46

Yeah, I would like them to understand how they can use positioning as a critical strategic lever in their business, and then how they should be adjusting it so that they can succeed, despite all this going on in the world right now.

Brandi Starr  04:00

Perfect. So I'll start, you know, when I think about positioning and the times that I have gone through positioning exercises, there is usually some catalysts, some things changed in the market, something's changed in the business. And you know, revamping your positioning is like an exercise. It's a thing that you do. And it's almost like a box that you check in, then, you know, the positioning is what it is. But the way that I hear you talking about that, and how you use that positioning, feels like this is not just an exercise. And or it's not just a one time thing. So I'd love to hear how you talk about how positioning gets used on a day to day beyond when we have to define it.

Brendon Dell  04:51

Sure, so I think, you know, perhaps I'm not sure exactly like where your audience is at but we can define positioning and You know what it is? So positioning is, is essentially the act of deciding who is this for? How does it help them? And how do we do it in a unique and different way. And the way this shows up on the day to day is, if you're running an organization of any size, you've got all these different people have to put messages out to the market, that have to help a market understand how you can help them in a way that's unique, different and valuable right now. And they have to do this at some kind of scale. And without clarity of positioning, you don't have that strategy to empower What do we say? Who are we saying it to? And what do we want these people to remember about us? And so your question was one of his positioning, I think, if I'm hearing you, right, is positioning a thing that you do once? Or is it something that you do on an ongoing basis, and from my point of view, so everything has a shelf life, but ideally, you are setting some kind of strategy in place, getting validation around that strategy, that it's effective, and then continuing with it over a period of time until like you say, that market does shift, or we need to revisit it, but ideally, so ultimately, there was a study done several years ago by these gentlemen called Les field, and I always forget the gentleman's name B'nai is is other is the other gentleman who did this study, it was called the long or the short of it, and they looked at, why does b2b marketing work? Like what makes b2b marketing work? And why do people buy things. And when they found when they looked at it, it was optimizing for fame, which basically means are you seen as a leader in your category, and that comes down to trust, right, people don't want to look bad in front of their co workers, they don't want to look bad in front of their peers in front of their boss. So the most defensible thing to do is buy a category leader in any given space. So positioning is simply deciding what are we going to be famous for, and then making sure you are actually famous for that thing?

Brandi Starr  06:53

Okay, and you know, most of our audience is marketing leaders. So this won't be the first time they've you know, heard of positioning, or the first time they've gone through a positioning exercise. So I'm really curious, from your perspective, what are kind of the must haves versus nice to haves when it comes to really figuring out what do you want to be famous for?

Brendon Dell  07:16

So the first step of all this is understanding with razor sharp clarity, because the analogies mixed there. But who is this thing for, because one of the things that I see with big companies and small companies is they've got technology, there's a lot of potential use cases, and they don't want to, quote, limit themselves. And so they try to, you know, draw a broad brush across all the different ways in which they might help people. And what you find is, and so on my podcast billion dollar Tech, I talk with founders of billion dollar companies every week. And the single biggest trend that I hear that when I talk to them about mistakes they've made or like, what what erodes the growth of their business is lack of focus on a clear, precise market? And so the first thing you need is razor sharp clarity of focus? And really, who is this person? And then what are their jobs to be done? Meaning what are the things they do on a day to day basis? How do they describe them? And how in what order? Do they value them? And then how does your product intersect with those jobs to be done?

Brandi Starr  08:25

I love that. And, you know, it's interesting that you're talking to founders and hearing this, because as I talked to a lot of marketing leaders, especially in smaller companies that are PE and VC backed, it seems like the investment firms are obsessed with Tam, what is the total addressable market? How big is it, they want it to be big? You know, having a big enough, Tam is kind of one of those things that helps you raise capital. And what I'm hearing from you is that what works is the opposite. It's really narrowing. And not just looking at who could you be talking to, but really honing in on who should you be talking to, which is a much narrower market. So just really curious on your thoughts there?

Brendon Dell  09:16

Well, so from my experience, it turns out that most very niche markets are actually also very big markets. It's just that like, you take Strategic Finance leaders at growth stage companies, right? That's 10s of 1000s of people at many 10s of 1000s of companies, but that's a very specific person you're talking to. And when you start to get clear on who that person is, and their jobs to be done, there ends up also being some crossover and how you can do that. But the mistake to make is to look and say, Okay, I'll use an example from a conversation I had with a gentleman named Steve Marsh who founded a software company called Smarsh. He's now the chairman it's 20 year old company, extremely six das fully exited a very large number. And he told the story. So his software, I mean, this is like every founder conversation I have, he had this software, he got a good foothold in the financial services space. And then they started to say, they started to look left and right and go, Hey, this thing could work in government, it could work in education, it can work in all these different other verticals. And so they started to add on all these other teams, right to support these different go to markets. It eroded their position, and ultimately, it slowed their growth way, way down. And so we ended up having to eliminate these markets refocus on this hypothetically small market of financial services, and they grew way faster. Apple is like a very famous example of this, where the first thing Steve Jobs did, when he came back in after he got fired was cut, like 80% of what they were doing. And we all know how Apple turned out, you know, just fine.

Brandi Starr  10:55

No, I love that as well. So getting into, you know, more around positioning, when it's non mission, you know, when you're offering something that's non mission critical, or right now, where we are, you know, we have some economic uncertainty. What's your advice there? Because I think that's, you know, the conversation that I'm hearing all the time is, you know, this is something that is a nice to have for our customers. So we struggled to, you know, really get in there, and everybody is talking about the economy. So So what advice do you give to these marketing leaders that are trying to figure out where to focus and how this impacts them?

Brendon Dell  11:36

Alright, so I'll caveat this before I answer, like, how, like nerdy into the weeds with this, do you want to get like,

Brandi Starr  11:42

I'll take it all. Okay.

Brendon Dell  11:46

I, you know, okay, so the first thing you have to do when you start to do this is okay, what kind of demand are we ultimately going to have to create in our market, because everybody approaches a new purchase with an existing lens of what they perceive to be out there. And you can break any given market up into three categories, new concepts, new paradigms, and established categories. So a new concept is going to be an entirely new thing. Nobody's heard of it, there's no budget associated with this thing. They may not even know they have a problem. These are big new solutions, when they work, they often become huge winners. But the thing you have to do, then, like by definition, right, you're gonna have to create a category around what you just did, and you're gonna have to position you know, this new category, for whom is it? What problems does it solve? And you're gonna have to spend a bunch of money evangelizing that it's just the reality. The second is a new paradigm. This is where many SAS tools are. This is where you're saying we're going to retool an existing product or service, right. So you look at somebody like Salesforce. And what they said is okay, Siebel existed already, at that time, they were an on premise CRM, they said, No, we're a cloud based CRM, they said no software, right. So they created a villain and positioned against the status quo. And then evangelized how this was a new paradigm and different than you have established categories, which are red oceans, in which case, you're going to have to niche down, you're gonna have to figure out taking that same CRM category, once that became an established category, and there was a million entrance, copper said, their CRM for G Suite, right, so they niched down and who they were targeting. So that's a very, you know, sort of like in the weeds, discussion of it. But the first step is, what kind of demand do you need to create? Because it influences the decisions that you make that that you're gonna have to make? From there?

Brandi Starr  13:37

Yeah, and that you really hit on one of my questions, because I was I know, we had chatted before the interview just about demand and how positioning connects to demand. So I appreciate you sharing those three types of demand. And to me, it's, like that's a part of the positioning exercise is figuring out which of those you fall into. And earlier, you touched a bit on strategy. And, you know, a lot of times people think about messaging and, you know, strategy, it's like, you have the strategy, and then you have the messaging that supports that. But I know that, you know, you have a position on how that messaging translates into a clear strategy for, you know, teams. And so I'd love to hear you talk about that a bit as well.

Brendon Dell  14:31

Sure. So I think once you determine what kind of demand you need to create, so I think to loop back into how do we, you know, how do we make a non mission critical thing, something that people are going to buy right now? It and then I'm going to I'm searching, I'm circling around your question, I I'm not escaping it, I promise. You then have to determine what are the ways in which you're uniquely qualified? To deliver, right the promise that you're going to make. And the problem that a lot of companies run into, is that they don't have a unique Mesonet mechanism, or they don't really have a differentiator. And this is a core strategic problem for a company, right? Because you need to get clear around the job to be done that you're solving for and how you uniquely deliver on it. And that is what then influences how you're going to develop the messaging and go to market, how you're going to build that out to teams is you need to translate all this into a story that says, This is who this is who we're helping, right, this is the people we're helping, this is how the world is changing around them. This is how we're uniquely going to help them bridge the gap from where they are to where they need to be. And these are the results that we're creating for people like this. Because those results, a lot of times, especially in software, what people are selling can feel kind of like, you know, amorphous and not like that satisfying to sell. It's not something you can touch. And so it's those stories of how you actually help people that really get sales and marketing teams fired up to deliver that message in unique, compelling and new ways.

Brandi Starr  16:16

And you've hit on stories a few times, which you know, it is the key to positioning is really how you tell your story and messaging. And you know, all marketers know that to be most effective, you have to be a good storyteller. Are there ways that you are seeing those stories change right now, based on the current market? Like? Do you feel like people need to pivot and be able to make their non mission critical offerings seem more mission critical? Or is it you know, stay the course.

Brendon Dell  16:55

So when there's a gentleman named Tony, I always mispronounce his last name is Tony Jimu. So I think he's the founder of oyster HR, and strongly successful guy, bright guy. And he said to me, one time that there's too many companies out there with solutions, just looking for problems. And this is, you know, this is what you're referencing, right? Somebody's built this thing that they think is cool. And but what they're not doing is understanding the problem that they're fixing. So right now, you need to get crystal clear on the problem that you're fixing more than anything else. And it can't be sort of a nebulous, far away thing. It can't be a, you know, here's how we might deliver some impact in 36 months kind of a thing. It's got to be like, what is the pain that you're experiencing, that we are going to be able to help you solve a, you know, in the short term, and I believe that for most companies, that's, you know, with exceptions, of course, but for most companies, that's the lens that they're going to be most buyers especially, that's the lens they're gonna be looking through. Someone else said to me the other day, I think this is an exaggeration, but is the CRO of a, you know, a well capitalized venture backed company said to me, nobody, no executives are making tech recommendations right now in any solution that they wouldn't take their job on. I think that's a little exaggeration, a little bit of an exaggeration. But, you know, asking yourself, How do I position this in a way that is going to make my buyer look good to his CFO, CEO, or peers or department. So that it's like, it's obvious and clear why somebody's making this recommendation to buy something, because that's ultimately how it will get bought in an organization.

Brandi Starr  18:43

And I think that's a key part of positioning that everyone doesn't think about, like, you know, when we think about our personas, our ICP, we are really thinking about the role that they are in, but there is a human element to buying decisions as well. And I would agree that it's probably over exaggerated to say, Stake your job on. But if you think about it in, you know, such a polarizing way as that you really can start to uncover like and think about, what is the individual thinking about because there is, you know, I've had, I had a client, you know, we're marketing automation consultants, you know, focusing on on all things that touch Email, and I had a client who I've worked with before, was at a new company, and her, you know, marketing leader was considering changing platforms. And she was like, full stop, we don't need to change. This is right for us. And so I asked some questions and her motivation had nothing to do with the tech. It was because she was like, I'm too far in my career to be learning something different. We need to stay with this one. And so that's very much like a very personal reason why you make a decision. And that is a key like when we're thinking about positioning, you know, someone with a you mentioned Salesforce, someone with Salesforce experience knows they can take that experience to any other company, they're a leader in the industry, etc. And that's not always true, not all texts have a good reputation, or even well known. And so you are asking your buyer to stick their reputation in a certain, you know, to a certain degree on making that choice. And I feel like that has to be a part of the conversation, when you are thinking about your position.

Brendon Dell  20:40

I think this is where, especially with roles too, and sort of job titles, job titles can be very, you know, this is often how people segment their audiences and often how they think about their strategies. And while functional lines are often, you know, at least reasonably clear, like, and this is not even always true, but like, what is sales do versus what does marketing do versus what is, you know, Customer Success do or etc. Titles are almost entirely incongruent, right? Like a director of VP at a small company might be the same thing as like a manager at a big company. And demand gen at one company might be something different at one company versus another. And oftentimes, we even see like sales will own some demand gen functions and other places market like all so what I'm getting at is, how do you really focus on the job to be done? So that you're, you're not so focused on like, what is the CFO want versus a VP versus a director, but instead, Get really clear around the job that you're facilitating, and how you uniquely help them achieve it. Too many? You know, you can go to any number of b2b websites, and you see, it's like, we help you deploy a hybrid cloud, you know, to your organization for a seamless cloud experience. And it's like, what, you know, what did you just say? That doesn't, that's not even English? So, you know, getting clear around what is that job that the person is doing? And how does your thing help? is, you know, somebody could take one thing away from this, I think, that is going to help your positioning, especially right now.

Brandi Starr  22:24

And then one other question, so you talked about getting really clear about the problem that you're fixing, which leads to really define your positioning. Another debate that I see often is who owns that, you know, I see a lot of heads of marketing that are like, you know, I'm a stakeholder in this, but Produktion own positioning, and then some people say, No, it shouldn't be product, because they're too close to the product, it should be marketing, because we have the understanding of, you know, understanding of the whole market. And so there's almost this volley in some companies in where ownership of the positioning should live. And so what are your thoughts on that?

Brendon Dell  23:08

Yeah, for everyone, except, you know, I'll carve like fortune 100 out of this. But for pretty much everyone else, the CEO needs to own the positioning. Because if you're doing it right, it should influence the entire way that your company is viewed externally. It should influence your content strategy, it should influence what your CEO is talking about it events, it should influence what sales says on calls, what their deck says it should influence the way you deliver service to your existing customers and the outcomes that you're helping them achieve. All of this should should, you know, should should follow that. That's how you you create a brand that's unique and stands out in a market and so it should live with the CEO.

Brandi Starr  23:54

Okay, I love it. Well, talking about our challenges is just the first step and nothing changes if nothing changes. And so in traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client some homework, but here at revenue rehab, I like to flip that on its head and ask you to give us some homework. So if you could summarize for me your key takeaways, and give our listeners that one thing if I'm not feeling confident about my positioning, or my ability to drive to drive demands based on my positioning, what's my one action? What's the thing I'm going to do after listening to this episode?

Brendon Dell  24:33

Yeah, yeah. So here's what you do. You you get, you know, 30 minutes with your CEO. And you take screenshots of your website, your competitors websites without the logos there, and you go in there and you put them up on a computer and you ask your CEO to pick who's who, and if he can't tell you which one's yours versus which ones everyone you know, who is everyone else? You have a positioning problem and they will get it Because if they're like, you know, if the messaging is not differentiated and clear, and everybody looks and sounds and feels that smells the same, this is a big problem in a market where 75% of the value goes to the category leader. So that's a simple exercise I've used many times. And that gets, you know, gets people quickly thinking about Wow, we need to think about how how we evolve right now.

Brandi Starr  25:30

I love that such such an easy exercise, but it very much I agree with you. Like if the CEO can't tell the difference, then that should be an immediate red flag that we're not differentiating ourselves enough. Awesome. Well, I have enjoyed our discussion. But that's our time for today. But before we go, tell us how our audience can connect with you. I know you mentioned that you have a podcast. So I'd love to hear shameless plugs so that we can get people to listen over there as well.

Brendon Dell  26:06

Yeah, happy to shameless plug. So podcast is called billion dollar tech. You can find it on, you know, everywhere you find podcasts, as well as on YouTube. You can find me My website is Brendan You can find me on LinkedIn, and on Instagram. I'm at the Brendan dealth. All those all those good places.

Brandi Starr  26:27

Awesome. Well, Brendan, thank you so much for joining me. And thank everyone for joining us today. I hope you have enjoyed my conversation. I can't believe we're already at the end. See you next time.

Brendon Dell  26:41

Thanks for having me.

Outro VO  26:44

You've been listening to revenue rehab with your host brandy star. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenue rehab dot live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at revenue week. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

Brendan DellProfile Photo

Brendan Dell


Brendan Dell is is a positioning + messaging expert to top technology brands, with clients including Expedia, ADP, HP, YC and 99 Start Ups portfolio companies, and many others. His book the 12 Immutable Laws of High-Impact Messaging shares rules for standing out in crowded markets.

Brendan’s new course, $1B Pitch, examines the 8 elements of $1B pitches. His podcast Billion Dollar Tech reaches founders, executives, VCs and PE investors globally.