Gettin' horizontal

Philip Morgan

Horizontal market positions are often suuuuuuper sexy, appealing market positions that can be extremely difficult to market to.

Lemme explain...

A vertical market position looks like this:

A graphical example of a vertical market position

That's someone who would describe their market position as "SEO for construction companies". They're focused on a single vertical, and that one simple change alone is like magic for most people in that it resolves their #1 marketing problem: lack of focus.

It is not like magic in that the benefits take time to show up, but they almost always do.

A horizontal market position is one where you focus on solving a specific problem that is painful, urgent, or costly to a business. Below is an example of someone who has focused on database performance tuning and optimization:

A visual of a horizontal market position

This problem can show up in a variety of market verticals, so it's referred to as a horizontal specialization.

These types of specializations are very appealing to people. Very sexy.

They suggest a "geek James Bond" kind of life, parachuting in to troubled situations to save the day through specialized technical expertise, and maybe a gun hidden in your belt buckle.

A horizontal market position can definitely work, but it suffers the following big potential drawback: how do you find your clients?

When you know where and how to find new potential clients either online or IRL, everything about marketing becomes easier.

But if your market focus is solving some specific problem, the following things will work against you finding clients that have that problem:

  • Few to no leading indicators of horizontal problems —> no sales cycle to align with. You have to help clients find money or be impulse buy-able via what I call micro-services (which open the door to bigger, longer-term relationships)
  • Liability and bad PR associated with publicizing horizontal problems —> no “outreach signals” for you to response to
  • Understanding the scale and scope of the problem requires deep research —> long lead time to develop a horizontal market position

Again, none of these problems are fatal. They just increase the difficulty level of a marketing a horizontal market position.

I know several consultants who have successfully marketed a horizontal market position. One of them is named Elliot Murphy, and he runs a small consultancy called Kindly Ops.

Elliot focuses on the problem of regulated data (stuff like data covered by HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley regulation) in the cloud. This is a problem that can show up in a variety of market verticals, which makes Elliot's market position a horizontal market position.

Elliot is doing very well. His business has grown from just himself to 5 employees over the last year. I know from working directly with Elliot on his positioning and marketing that he's figured out a repeatable way to attract the right kind of clients.

On Wednesday, October 26th at 9am Pacific, I'm going to interview Elliot about how he does it. You can attend the live video call to a) see my interview realtime b) more importantly, ask Elliot questions of your own. Sign up here if you want to attend live:

The interview will be recorded and published to /dev-shop-marketing-briefings/, so the real reason you might want to attend the live event is to ask Elliot questions about successfully marketing to a horizontal market.

This Dev Shop Marketing Briefing will be most useful to people who are currently pursuing a horizontal market position or are interested in doing so. If that's you and you want the chance to run your questions past Elliot, sign up here:

Hope to see you then!

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