The closest coffee shop to my house is literally a plywood and corrugated metal shack. Here’s a picture:

Pony Espresso

Coffee hipsters would be horrified by the espresso they serve there. I, however, love it.

What horrifies me when I order an espresso is getting a tiny cup filled with a dark foamy semi-liquid that basically coats the inside of my mouth leaving almost nothing to go down my throat into my empty caffeine fuel tank, accompanied by a uselessly-sized shot glass of fizzy water.

What I receive at my local coffee place when I order an espresso is a veeeerry long shot. When I get 4 of those shots (as I often do) in one cup, I get what feels like a REAL cup of coffee. Thick, flavorful, and awesome.

The guy who works at this coffee spot kept trying to come up with a catchy name for a quadruple shot of espresso.

He now calls it a “Fourplay”.

He and I have talked quite a bit about what’s the correct way to use this in a sentence. Is it:

    1. “I’d like to order some Fourplay!”
    2. “Do you serve Fourplay here?”
    3. “Hit me with some Fourplay!”

OK, har har. I’ll knock off the immature sexual innuendo now.

One of the evergreen struggles I see generalist face when answering the positioning question for their business is how to refer to their ideal clients? What’s the right verbal label?

I see the following approaches. Not all of them can be successful, and I’ll comment on them as I go:

Market vertical

The most foolproof way to define your target market is based on market verticals.

Check out

You’ll see a list of many (but not all) market verticals. Focusing on one of these market verticals (not a broad one like “manufacturing” but 1 or 2 levels down from the top level of the list) is a very viable way to develop specialized expertise that you can charge a premium rate for and gain a marketing advantage from.

This approach gets the thumbs-up from me.

Client demographic

This is where you attempt to define your ideal client based on some “demographic” factor like business size, ownership model, or even less tangible stuff like values (mission-driven businesses, eco-friendly businesses, etc.).

How successful you can be with this approach depends 100% on how strongly your target market identifies with the demographic factor you’re using to define them.

A good litmus test is to see if there’s at least one national-level conference for whatever demographic factor you’re using, and align your positioning language with the conference’s language.

Ex: I did a quick Google search for conference mission-driven businesses. About halfway down the page was a link that led me to which then led me to that organization’s annual report:

There’s a bit of language in that report about driving change, and that would be a good starting point for positioning statement language for someone wanting to work with mission-driven businesses.

HOW. EVER… I have to point out the big caveat that “demographic” positioning makes it difficult for your network to help you out because many client demographic factors are not apparent to a person outside the company. Ex: looking at the sponsor list for that Net Impact conference reveals names like Toyota, 3M, and DELL. These are not companies I think of as mission-driven companies, unless their mission is “maximize shareholder return”. So if you unveiled your new market position as “Custom software for companies that drive social change” and I was having drinks with an product manager at Toyota (assuming Toyota actually thinks of themselves as a mission-driven business), I would never connect the dots properly and refer you in there.

TL;DR: most of the time a demographic positioning has too many shades of gray to be a clear, effective way to define your marketing or business focus. Yes, there are exceptions, but those exceptions depend on your client’s affinity for the demographic factor, not on how strongly you prefer to work with that demographic. It’s better to use a different positioning approach, build up a strong lead flow, and then cherry-pick clients that match your demographic preferences.

Horizontal problem

There are problems that cut across multiple types of companies and multiple industries. You can market yourself as an expert in one of these problems.

To do this, you need to combine perceived world-class expertise with an economically-valuable problem.

do you feel lucky punk

I’m only halfway kidding about the role luck plays here. This is the most difficult, risky approach to positioning, but it can work when combined with the appropriate amount of research, validation, and perseverance on your part.

Platform expertise

Many generalists are in love with some specific tech stack or software because, as technicians, it’s a wonderful, almost magical tool. This leads them to want to define their positioning based on that tech stack. Ex: “Node web apps for startups”.

While also requiring perceived world-class expertise, this positioning approach is a different risk cocktail. It’s do-able, but what if the platform falls out of popularity? What if one of the core contributors quits their job and starts competing against you?

I live, breathe, and eat this stuff, people. If you want more support with positioning questions like these:

    1. If you need a reference manual –>
    2. If you need a DIY step-by-step process with a little bit of extra support from me –>
    3. If you need “consulting-lite” guidance at each step of the way along with weekly accountability –>
    4. If you need 1-on-1 consulting, email me


Talk you soon,

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