April 27, 2020
Storytelling vs Positioning

Can we really differentiate between storytelling vs positioning? It’s easy to confuse the two, but they are not the same thing. I have seen startups come to me for positioning help after they have attempted to use a storytelling exercise to help them get clarity on their positioning. But starting with storytelling without working on positioning first is dangerous.

Structured Storytelling Needs Good Inputs

I’m a big fan of structured storytelling approaches. Recently I read Building a Story Brand, which I thought was great. In my Positioning workshops, we often end with a storyboarding exercise that translates the positioning we have worked on into a sales narrative or “pitch” that embodies that positioning.

But all good storytelling structures start with a set of assumptions. They assume you have a tight definition of your target customer, and what value your offering delivers to that buyer. They assume that any value you identify is differentiated from your competitors, and it assumes you know exactly who those competitors are.

We Can’t Brainstorm Our Way to Good Positioning

But a lot of companies, particularly startups, don’t know the exact problem they solve, or the exact profile of the ideal customer that they can solve it for. Worse, they think they know but, but they are wrong. You can brainstorm ideas inside the office and use a structured process, and the resulting story can be very compelling – but also absolute bullcrap. Why? Because your inputs – the problem definition, the customer profile, the unique value, were the result of an internal brainstorming session and not based on your actual business results.

We need clarity on the inputs first. We need a deep understanding of the real competitive alternatives to our solution, the unique features we have, the differentiated value that those features drive, the segments of customers that care a lot about that value, and the market category where we win before we know what our story is all about. These are the basic components of positioning and we need these FIRST before we craft a story, and just like storytelling, we need a structured process to determine our positioning.

Positioning First, Storytelling Next

Stories that sell must be grounded in our deep understanding of who loves our products best and why. Positioning is not the result of a story. Stories require positioning as an input. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves what the difference is between storytelling vs positioning. We need both. But positioning must always come first.

You need a positioning process that gets you to the reality of who loves your stuff and why. Once you have that, you can make that positioning sing using a great storytelling framework. You simply cannot do it the other way around.