Brendan Dell | Is Your Positioning Appropriate for Today’s World?

Brendan Dell is the Founder of Spark, a messaging consultancy agency which works with some of the world’s most amazing companies like Expedia and Cvent and helps them with positioning, messaging, and articulating their story. He is also the author of The 12 Immutable Laws of High-Impact Messaging and host of The Hook Podcast.

In this episode, Brendan Dell joins John Corcoran to talk about how brands can position themselves in a post-pandemic world. They also discuss how different brands like Drift and Zuora have positioned themselves to stand out from their competitors and how companies can know when their positioning is off.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • Why companies should think about how they will position themselves post-COVID-19
  • How companies can determine when their positioning is off
  • What brands can do to position what they’re selling even if what they have to offer is not mission critical
  • How Drift positioned and differentiated themselves from their competitors
  • How Salesforce has positioned itself in the CRM software market
  • Implications of the COVID-19 crisis and what companies need to do to adapt
  • Brendan explains what a villain in business refers to and how to test it out
  • How Zuora has evolved and adapted in the subscription business
  • The importance of a high-impact positioning story

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

To learn more, go to or email us at [email protected]

To learn more, book a call with us here

Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran  00:40

Welcome everyone. JOHN Corcoran here the host of the smart business revolution podcast and I talk of course with CEOs founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations like YPO eo activation, Blizzard lending tree, Open Table x offer and many more most of the co-founder of rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects and I’ve got a great guest for you today. His name is Brendan Dell. He’s the author of 12 immutable laws of high impact messaging the founder of spark a messaging consultancy, which helps some of the world’s most amazing, really large companies. Some big companies like Expedia and Cvent and help them with positioning messaging, and articulating their story. Some of the most successful b2b brands are among his client list. He also is the host of the hook podcast as well. But first, before we get into this, you know, this episode is brought to you by rise25 Media and our mission at rise25 is to help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing, and in this post COVID world that we’re entering into, there’s nothing more critically important or valuable, especially if you’re a b2b business than having a podcast because it is a tool that gets you into conversation with smart people like Brandon. And it also gets you a tool for talking to your best customers, your best clients and prospects and referral partners and strategic partner.

So if you’ve ever thought about doing a podcast, especially if you have a b2b business, I’m an evangelist for this medium because I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I absolutely love it. I know you would too. So go to our website rise 25 Media calm, there are lots of resources there so you can learn about some of the different approaches and strategies on how to make doing a podcast a win-win all around for everyone. And, of course, Brendan, I’m excited to have you here because you a fellow podcaster see the value of doing a podcast. But in this podcast, we’re gonna talk about how to position your brand in a post COVID world how to prepare for rebound, because we all know this, we will come out of this just like we came out of 911 came out in 2008 you know at the in the depths of those experiences, people thought we weren’t, but we will. And most critically, how to position your company in a way that you are a must have. So first, let’s just start there. Because, you know, a lot of companies are going to emerge from this and they’re gonna have the same position and have the same story, they’re going to tell the same story. But a lot of times, companies need to, they need to recognize that their customers are in a different world and, and, and the world has changed. So talk a little bit about that philosophy just to tee us off.

Brendan Dell  03:36

So I think, in general, you know, the world is changing, right? And the way people buy things is going to be different after COVID. And positioning I guess to talk foundationally is a marketing term. Some people may be familiar with it, some people may not, but positioning is how do you differentiate your company? Right? How do you create a space in the world content is uniquely yours versus being seen as another one of those, right? And a lot of companies right now have one, me two strategies. And two, they have strategies that are no longer going to be relevant in a world where everybody is looking at their span across all categories consumer in business and saying, What do I need right now? What don’t I What can I live without? Right? And that’s the question we’re going to be asking for the next two years is we will come out of this, but people are gonna ask themselves, what do I need right now? What can I live without? And it’s our job as business owners, as marketers, etc. to figure out how to make sure we’re the correct category there.


That’s great. And

John Corcoran  04:44

so what should we be you know, let’s start with kind of like, how do companies determine if they have a positioning problem? How do they know if their positioning is off?

Brendan Dell  04:56

Yeah, so there’s a couple of different exercises that you can walk through there. But I think the first and most obvious is can you clearly say what it is that you do? And a lot of people can’t answer that question you go, especially if you talk about software and technology, which is where I do a lot of work. But even you take somebody like an attorney now that, you know, they’ll just say I’m an attorney, they won’t have a clear value prop there for you. So can you clearly answer the question? What do I do in a way that makes people lean in and care?

John Corcoran  05:25

And that is like the format of you know, we help or I help blank do blank, right?

Brendan Dell  05:30

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of different ways. So my agency, what we talked about is we create on a normal tech companies, right? That’s a really clear position, you can understand what that means. It doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Can you say that to someone, have them lean in and care about it? Could your employees answer that question? If someone asked them at a party, especially when it comes to technology I hear. I hear so many different people saying, well, it’s kind of this thing that kind of does that right? If you can’t answer that if your people can’t answer that question. We have a positioning problem. Do you get confused looks when you try to explain yourself or your competitors distinct, where you’re another one of those, right? You’re just another commodity version of that, that people where you’re just competing on price and things, you know, maybe time. Right. And then I think, really important as we go forward now is our you must have are nice to have given how the world has changed, right? Are people going to be looking at what you sell is something that’s mission critical in a world where budgets are being scrutinized? Or are they going to see it as well? Maybe we’ll think about that later. But let’s table the conversation. Hmm.

John Corcoran  06:41

And how do you do that? If you feel that what you offer isn’t mission critical or, you know, do you need to change what you’re doing? Or is there a way that I don’t know a doughnut company can you know, or, you know, we were talking beforehand about how we’re in kind of a conference Era, especially while people are sheltered at home. But people want comfort, they were there kind of nesting. They want to be comfortable. Given the negativity and kind of some of the anxiety and fear that’s out there people are, are spending money on some things that make them feel more comfortable. So how do you position something that’s not critical, as critical? Or should you even be doing that?

Brendan Dell  07:26

Well, yeah, that’s a good question. I think you have to think about what you’re selling and find a way to make it important to people, right. And the whole, the framework reuse always starts with the best customer, which is who buys from you the most the most frequently in the least amount of time? And who is that person? And what do they want do they need now? And those are questions you should be able to answer. And I think, you know, all of us are going to be forced to look at our companies and say, are we providing something that people really need now? a donor example of something that I think people really will want to need now because it provides comfort

John Corcoran  08:06

as probably an extreme example, but yeah, another great example that you’ve given in presentations is drift, the company drift. So those who don’t know that they do conversational marketing, it’s kind of a pop-up AI powered chat that exists on websites. And on its surface on a surface, you might say, okay, that’s not critical. So maybe that’s a better example.

Brendan Dell  08:32

So I think, taking a step back, right, let’s talk about how companies often think about differentiating themselves, right? they’ll draw from big companies, but small companies do this the same way, right? A positioning exercise usually in the past would go like this, you’d be looking to answer these questions for insert target customer description. Our product is an insert product category that provides the following compelling reason to buy. Unlike product alternatives, we use assembled X key features, right? So what you’re trying to do is say, we are, you know, for men, we are a razor that provides this compelling reason to buy. And unlike other razors, we have more blades or something, right? Like that’s an example. And in software, you can look at a lot of different companies that are looking for whitespace that way. The problem is now that across all categories, and this is for a variety of reasons, one, entrepreneurship has become the new cool thing, too. There’s been easy access to capital three, technology has become more accessible. We see tremendous amounts of crowding in all categories. And so what people used to do is try to find features and benefits. whitespace say that they were the only ones that can do things. That’s no longer effective, because it’s too easy to replicate features and benefits right and people can’t sort through them all. So what you need to do now is telling a story, right? And you need to find a way to position yourself as an out when you think About the rebound as must have for now, and so the new way to do this, the way that’s going to be effective going forward is to create a story that separates you as one apart rather than another one of those.

John Corcoran  10:16

That’s really interesting. So like in the case of drift, you’re they’re basically positioning themselves against the old way of marketing online. And the old way of marketing was a customer came to a website, there was they navigated around it eventually found a Contact Us page which had a form, they would enter their information, it would generate an email to them into the company, they be entered into the company’s CRM, the company would determine if they’re qualified, and then they would maybe call them back maybe not. And it was very slow, it took days or weeks. And then the new way with drift is takes minutes, if not seconds, you can get a response especially integrating AI and so basically They’re saying like, you know, this is a completely new way. They’re not comparing themselves to old forms, or other ways of market. They’re comparing themselves to a new world that we live in, which expects quicker responses. And do I have it right there?

Brendan Dell  11:14

Yeah. So when you think about drip, you’re exactly right. And I think the big the big thing with drift is that when they came in right now, they’re successful. Right, but like, let’s rewind the clock a little bit to when they came on the scene. They were not the only chat tool in town, right intercom was already on the stage right there another big competitor in the space, they’d already gained a lot of market share. So traditionally, what people would have done right, the strategy would have been, let’s, you know, we’re going to position against intercom unlike intercom we have these features and benefits. But what they did was change the conversation altogether, right? They started this idea of conversational marketing. And they changed the conversation away from how are we better than intercom to we are the only kind of company that allows you to market the way buyers Want to market today? Right? The world has changed. b2b buyers aren’t who they used to be. And we’re going to enable that by telling this story instead of comparing themselves to other people. You know, they’ve done what they’ve done, which is going to be one of the most successful examples of technology, you know, launching your beauty SAS launches in the last 20 years. Yeah,

John Corcoran  12:22

yeah. Now another one is that is a good example of Salesforce. Salesforce is a really interesting one, because they came along and they originally were a CRM, customer relationship management software. And there were other serums out there. I interviewed previously the founder of x software, which is what like the first or one of the first CRMs out there. And so but they It was interesting, the way they positioned themselves into the state position themselves wasn’t based on we’ve got more features and benefits than other CRM.

Brendan Dell  12:57

Yeah, and you still talk about features and benefits. And I think we can walk folks through how to put this together. But the, the way, the way Salesforce did this, again was they positioned themselves first against a change that was happening in the world, just like draft, right. And so this is as we think about how people need to position for a rebound. It’s how is the world different for the people that are our best customers for the people we’re trying to service? What are the stakes of that change, right? And then how do I enter into that conversation? So let’s use so we can use drift as an example to carry that a little bit further. Right. We can talk about Salesforce as well. So drift positioned against b2b buyers have changed, right? This this change has already happened. Right? And there was three ways I think that they cite that people have changed. One they have more access to information right that 68% of the buyers journey is completed before somebody chooses a vendor to a bit more options than ever. And three, they now expect things 24 seven, right? Like whenever they want them, Netflix, Uber, Amazon, etc, right? They want instant gratification. So if you are marketing like it’s before, right using forms taking a week to follow up, you’re missing out on a huge percentage of business, right? They weren’t talking about, wait, we have the smartest AI, right? They’re positioning against the status quo. And that’s what we’re going to all have to think about as we position products coming out of this next change is what is different for people now? And how do we help them understand the stakes of that change? And why we’re going to be the only one who can help them solve for it.

John Corcoran  14:35

I think an interesting one related to that and probably related to number two, the more options than ever option is that your competitor used to be down the street or in your local community in these days, it could be on the other side of the globe. It could be maybe you never anticipated it, but it could be software, you know, the the local bookkeeper who previously you know had all kinds of local clients and was fearful of others. Local bookkeepers now their competitor isn’t bad. It could be QuickBooks Online or other software that replaces them.

Brendan Dell  15:06

Well, if you’ve put your company and this is, you know, I believe this to be true in most cases that if you put your company in a position where they’re googling what you do, rather than who you are, right, if you haven’t gotten to them and built enough brand that they’re not first looking at for who you are, rather than what you do, you’re already losing the game. Right? You need to put people in a position where they’re just looking for who you are, because they already believe that you’re the right solution for them. As soon as you have to start competing. On the tactical search right now you’re you’re immediately getting in a commoditized position.

John Corcoran  15:44

It’s really interesting. So COVID COVID-19 world that we’re in, you know, we were talking about this beforehand, and there’s been kind of this shared experience of going through this and how the world is changing. Let’s talk a little bit more about That and how that’s gonna affect other companies going forward how they need to adapt and change.

Brendan Dell  16:07

Yeah, I think it’s it’s about thinking about so starting with your best customers, right? What is different for them now? Right? What are the implications of all this? And then thinking about how that intersects with the kinds of things that you do, right and what so what are the implications for them so we can continue with the drift example just because it’s something we’ve already discussed, right? Or even so, like, let’s think about what you do, john, I think that that’s a really great example.



Brendan Dell  16:37

In a post COVID world, right, you’re going to see a decline in events. There’s no question about that in the short term, right, you’re going to see people who are more reluctant to travel. Yet all of us as business owners need to find a way to make meaningful connections with other buyers right there. That is an imperative. You want to survive and thrive in the new world. You have to make meaningful connections. So what are you You’re going to do, you’re not going to cold call people, right? You can only tap your network so many times, how do you add value to the conversation? Right? One of the ways is to have a podcast, right? It’s no longer a nice to have it’s imperative to have this channel and way to connect with other people. And let’s use it in a traditional position. Right? You could say, unlike other podcast producers, we have you know what I mean, or we are the cheapest Podcast Producer. Right. Yeah. You know, and I think

John Corcoran  17:29

intuitively for speaking from our experience, we intuitively we felt like that was the wrong way position ourselves from the beginning. We didn’t want to compete ourselves, you know, position ourselves as competing against other companies, in addition to the fact that we add strategy to it, which is a really important piece to it, which most companies don’t do, but you may make a great point. So maybe for many companies, it starts with telling yourself this statement. You know, it’s a changed world and My company is, is I must have not a nice to have for blank reasons, but that’d be a good way to start thinking about it.

Brendan Dell  18:08

Yeah, I think the first thing you do is think, how is the world change? And then to frame this change, it’s what are the stakes, right? So using your company as an example, right? Those who find a way to make meaningful digital remote connections are going to thrive while those people who are still relying on old school tactics, right, we’re waiting for events to come back. You’re gonna die. It’s gonna take too long, right? So what what is the hook there? And then what is the villain? And I think this is really compelling and you can think about the villain is the thing that stands in the way of change of them getting that thing that they want. It’s, you know, you synnex uses mucus, and personifies that as a villain, right and in business, it might be for you guys, you know what you like. There’s some personification some things standing in the way of change for drift. It was forms, right? No one wants to wants to fill out forms and be put into this sales cycle. They just want to have a conversation with people. So what’s the change? What’s the stakes? And what’s the thing standing in the way and that brings up the problem in a way that makes this an imperative, instead of a nice thing, and maybe I’ll figure it out later.

John Corcoran  19:17

That’s really interesting, you know, that I’m trying to think in our company, what the villain is, I mean, it could be either the technology that’s what holds a lot of people back is understanding the technology and knowing how to make a podcast happen technologically or looking at the other thing that we do, which is making sure they have the right strategy. So it’s could be how, you know, having the right strategy, but I’m not sure if that is a way of articulating a villain. Or it could be like a necessity, you know, business being built dependent on in person events, and needing to get on a plane needing to travel to go to conferences or needing to network face to face, which are all things that a lot of people don’t enjoy doing or want to do less of

Brendan Dell  20:00

Yeah, I really think about a villain I would you know, first of all, whenever anyone builds their story, I would be I would recommend it to them that as they outline this, they find ways to test this on their best customers, right? There’s a variety of ways to do that. But you want to get feedback as you build out your story to understand what feels real to people. Because if you have to convince somebody like he should, the story should feel so obvious once you see it that you go. Shit. You know, I do I do need to do something about this. Yeah, it requires a huge mental leap, then you’re losing, right? It shouldn’t feel so abundant. Like when I just did the podcast example. To me, it feels so obvious and real. That you can’t help it but think, man, I need to take some action against this because if I wait to go back to events, I’m going to be waiting a long time right?

John Corcoran  21:01

Yeah, and people might go out of business in the interim? Well, that’s great. That’s a really interesting way of thinking about another company we were talking about before. And you you you’ve used as an example is Zora. Now this is a company that sells technology that enables companies to sell subscriptions software. And rather than positioning themselves as having the most subscription features, they’ve positioned themselves as we’ve entered the subscription economy, this change has already happened. If you don’t evolve and adapt, like many big companies are GE, GE, IBM, then you’re gonna die on the vine. So talk a little bit about that.

Brendan Dell  21:42

Yeah, they’re a great example. And I think so their simple promise, which is another piece of this framework, right is turning customers into subscribers. And when you look at their pitch deck, the second slide is we now live in a subscription economy, right and it continues on to say every industry is shifting and that leaders are crazy. new experiences through a new kind of business model. And they show examples from consumer goods, healthcare, or excuse me, high tech education, healthcare. I mean, across all sectors, right. And then they set up a change in the stakes here. The best companies have reinvented themselves away from products right into subscription businesses. And then they show that in the last 15 years, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared, right? You think about that statistic, if you’re trying to think about how you innovate and survive. And then who has survived this extension? extinction. Ge, right. They went from light bulbs to digital services, Dollar Shave Club at a billion dollar exit, and you can go across categories and see this. So this is where instead of saying we are, you know, we have the the most innovative technology that does this and that you’re changing the story to be about, wow, the world’s already shifted into bio to figure out how to become a subscription-based business, which by the way, they now own this term, because they’ve told the story. I’m going to be at a lot of trouble.

John Corcoran  23:03

That’s really interesting. So, so many companies listening to this are going to have to really think deeply on this one and evaluate whether their positioning is something they’ve been doing for years and hasn’t evolved and changed and whether it has, whether they have adequately found a new way of positioning themselves in this world as a necessity as a must have not a nice to have just trying to recap some of the things we’ve said here,

Brendan Dell  23:32

we’re going to know quickly, right? Because the phone is ringing and they know or it is not, and they have a problem. So it’s gonna be pretty, pretty obvious pretty quickly.

John Corcoran  23:48

Yeah, so just to recap some things here. The goal of modern positioning is to change the status quo. people search for what you do or search for Have a search for you rather than what you do or the thing that you do. Your story should be your positioning, you should be using a story as a positioning statement. It should be a high impact positioning story. And I guess initially, as a ground level thing you should understand whether you have a positioning problem.

Brendan Dell  24:21

Yeah, yeah, I think, you know, a final sort of point here is that 95% of buying and this is this has been, this is not me, this is not Harvard science is subconscious, right? We make these decisions on a gut level. And whether you’re selling software, or you’re selling, you know, apples or anything in between. People are going to have done the research and they’re going to come to these decisions with some gut level reaction. There’s the nobody has time to really evaluate all of the particulars. And so if you can come up with this story about, you know why this matters now and you do it well. You’ve already won that 95%. And all you have to do is not lose it at the very end. Whereas if you try to logic them into the, into the decision, which is what comparing features and benefits is or you know, trying to find some absolute whitespace, then you’re not going to be effective because you’re not appealing to that subconscious part of people that just emotionally believes the story you’re telling and wants it to be true or needs it to be true. It just leaves.

John Corcoran  25:24

Hmm, that’s great, Brendan, thanks so much for doing this. The name of the book is the 12 on 12 immutable laws of high impact messaging. spark is the company where can people go to learn more about you?

Brendan Dell  25:41

Yeah, they can find me on LinkedIn or my name Brandon Dell. They can go to the website

John Corcoran  25:48

Excellent. All right. Thanks so much. Thanks.