Required Reading: Get to Aha! About Your Company’s Identity

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Too many business leaders fail to ask—let alone answer—the most basic questions about their company: Who are you and why do you matter? That’s the premise of Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition, by Andrea “Andy” Cunningham. During her 35-year career, Cunningham has been involved in the launch of a number of technology categories and products, including the original Apple Macintosh. Assistant Editor Sam Del Rowe spoke to Cunningham to learn more about the methods she puts forth in the book for determining who you are as a company.

CRM magazine: As a jumping-off point, you cite the failure of business leaders to ask the most basic questions about their company—“Who are we?” and “Why do we matter?” Why do so many leaders overlook these questions?

Andy Cunningham: Business leaders believe they know the answers to these questions, but they are rarely asked outright, so business leaders never actually have to answer them. If they did, they would pay more attention to them. The answers, or lack thereof, come out in marketing initiatives and communication vehicles. This is why most companies have jumbled marketing messages that are inconsistent. They never force themselves to answer those two very basic questions. Executives always assume everyone knows the answers.

How did you come up with the concept of positioning, and how do you define it? 

Positioning was actually conceived in the 1970s by Jack Trout and Al Ries, two marketing consultants. Their book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, is a seminal piece on the topic and still a business best-seller. Nothing has been written about the topic since then, and a lot has changed in 40 years. I call Get to Aha! “Positioning 2.0.” My book is about positioning companies in the digital age.

You identify three types of companies, each with their own DNA: Mothers, Mechanics, and Missionaries. How did you establish these types?

I reviewed all of the clients I have ever worked with over the course of my career and categorized them at the highest levels so that I could ensure my communication strategies for them were authentic. I found there were only three categories: customer-oriented, product-oriented, and concept-oriented. And then, because I’m a marketing person, I personified the categories and gave them alliterative names.

You lay out a 12-question DNA Test to determine company type. What factors did you consider when coming up with these questions?

It came from my effort to categorize companies. I realized each type does certain things very differently. They organize themselves differently, hire different kinds of people, measure success differently, even talk about different things in meetings. So I devised a test to ascertain the differences.

You also propose a Genotype Test. What factors did you consider when coming up with these questions, and how do the two tests work in tandem?

I discovered in the midst of this categorization work that each of these company types positions itself in one of only two ways. Mothers position against customer segmentation and customer experience. Mechanics position against features and value. Missionaries position against what I call the next big thing, cult of personality. I realized that understanding corporate DNA and realizing there are only two positioning avenues from which to choose made the act of developing a compelling and differentiated market position much easier—with fewer choices—and certainly more authentic.

You lay out the six Cs of positioning. How did you come up with these Cs, and how do they relate to the three company types?

The six Cs of positioning are the lenses through which we examine the company and the market to develop a compelling positioning statement for our clients. They are Core, Category, Community, Competition, Context, and Criteria. Core and Criteria are unique to my framework. Core is your corporate DNA, and Criteria are the key elements you want in your positioning statement. The other four Cs are commonly examined in marketing circles. 

What is the overarching concept that you hope readers will take away from your book? 

Companies are like people, and like people, they have DNA. When you know what you’re made of, you can make something of it.

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