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To set your long range focus for your business, you must fully understand your customer base. You should know:

• Who are your customers?
• What are their needs and wants?
• What are their problems?
• Can you solve their problems?
• How much is a solution worth to them?
• Are they willing to pay for a solution to their problem?

One of the ways to discover the answers to these important questions is simply to ask your customers. As obvious as this may sound, many businesses do not ask their customers about their problems. There are many very effective and discreet ways of obtaining this information. For instance, if you own a retail store, talk to the customers. Ask them what you can do for them and listen to what they tell you.

However, be careful not to bombard customers with lots of questions. Restrict your questions to just a few. Don’t go the route of the Commonwealth Bank. This company recently sent me a ninety question survey. I have no intention of answering ninety questions. If they had asked me three questions, chances are I would have provided the answers, and so would most people.

One approach which has proven successful at obtaining customer preferences is to ask two questions a month. Customers usually respond well and are even happy that you are so interested in their needs.

I don’t find focus groups too useful either. Larger companies sometimes like them, and they are often recommended by market research companies. My caveat is that they seldom come up with anything new. When designed to test a particular product, focus groups are useful. Otherwise, in my opinion, they produce very little useful information.

Positioning

The concept of positioning your business is about how your market perceives your business and your products. Are you perceived as an expert in your field? Are you a low cost leader? Do you have niche appeal? You can position yourself to be anything you really want. Planning your business’s position involves considering issues such as:

• Competition – How is your business perceived compared to others?
• Market – How do you address the problems and needs of your target market?
• Uniqueness – What makes you different, or better, or unique in your field?

Positioning your business is especially important in fiercely competitive or crowded markets. Differentiating your business from the crowd becomes crucial.

To plan your position, first determine where you want your business to fit in your industry in the broad scheme of things. One strategy can lead you in a completely different direction than another. As you follow each positioning strategy through you need to consider the qualities of your business and products and what price category you want to occupy.

Next, tailor and fine tune your position. Identify any specific benefits your business or products offer your customers. These could be such qualities as reliability, safety, convenience, ease of use, etc. You can even choose two benefits and have a primary and secondary position.

Positioning Statement

To communicate your position, you need to develop a positioning statement. Properly developed, it should state in a single sentence or a few words the entire position for your business. This basic idea should exactly fit your business products and services. It should accurately reflect the needs of your customers and target your audience. A very direct relationship exists between choosing your position and communicating this position to your market and the success of your message. For example, don’t position your products and services to meet the needs of a high end market if your products are actually more appropriate for a lower end audience. In addition, once established, your company message should not change. You will be using it for your marketing messages, the design of your facilities, your web site and all your promotional materials. Choose your correct position carefully in the start and stay with it.

Business Identity

When creating the position for your business, you need to establish the identity or culture for your business. Your business culture combines your company’s vision, mission and position into a cohesive whole. Your culture should communicate everything about your company in your image and style.

Company Vision Statements

The story for your business or your vision statement guides your image and your contribution to society. This story is designed to evoke specific attitudes and images about your business in an emotional way. A great vision statement will enable your customers to understand exactly why you are in business and what you bring to the community. It should outline what you wish to accomplish with your business as well as your plans for contributing to and improving your market.

A very effective vision statement uses a story. It effectively communicates an identity and a history for your business in a unique and friendly manner. To create a story for your business, consider your actual facts. Did you have a dream that you made a reality? Do you have any specific training, experience, or background that you can incorporate as part of your story? Maybe you have a unique history or your business was handed down through your family from your great-grandfather to your grandfather, to your father then to you. Any of these make great stories. They appeal to customers, and build automatic relationships and trust. Customers identify with you and feel they already “know” you and your business.

Stories also have an educational factor. Clients like to be educated. They want to understand as much as possible about what they buy and from whom they buy it. This applies to every industry and every business. So, if you have a story, be sure to tell it. Make sure that your employees understand and can repeat it. If your story is less than compelling, look for ways to enhance it and build it into a better story. But develop your own unique history and company story.

About the Author

“Murray Priestley has 25 years of commercial and asset management experience having served in board, CEO and senior executive positions with a number of global public and private companies.”