Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success
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More About This Title Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success


It’s not the best companies that prevail in the marketplace, but rather the best brands. The goal of business strategy is not just to be better, but different. Learn how to build a differentiating value proposition by clearly and carefully defining your brand boundaries: Calling, Competencies, Customers, and Culture.

Positioning for Professionals shows how a well-defined value proposition can help professional service firms create their own success instead of copying the success of others, including such concepts as:

  • How and why professional service brands become homogenized
  • Why standing for everything is the same as standing for nothing
  • Why there’s no such thing as full service
  • Deep and narrow as a strategic imperative
  • Why it’s better to be a profit leader than a market leader
  • Differentiation and price premiums
  • How to map your brand on the matrix of relevance and differentiation
  • How to define a value proposition that will make your firm intensely appealing to the customers who want you for what you do best

Based on the proven premise that the most profitable business strategy is not to aim at the center of the market, but rather at the edges, Positioning for Professionals is written for leaders, managers, and other senior executives of service companies in with a particular emphasis on professional service firms.


TIM WILLIAMS leads Ignition Consulting Group (www.ignitiongroup.com), a business consultancy devoted to helping professional knowledge firms create and capture more value. As a recognized thought leader in marketing, Tim is a frequent speaker for marketing and business organizations worldwide. He is a regular contributor to business and professional publications and is author of Take a Stand for Your Brand, ranked by Amazon as one of the top ten books on brand building. As an adviser in developing professional service brands, Tim has worked with both large and small professional service firms—most notably advertising agencies and other marketing communications firms—in both the U.S. and abroad. He began his career on Madison Avenue working for large multinational advertising agencies and later served as president and owner of several midsize independent firms.


Introduction xi

Chapter 1 Size Is Not a Strategy1

Maintaining Pricing Integrity 2

Better to Be a Profit Leader than a Market Leader 3

Why Bigness Doesn’t Lead to Greatness 5

Hired to Be Effective, Not Efficient 6

Chapter 2 How and Why Brands Become Homogenized 9

The Urge to Copy 10

The Folly of All-in-One 11

Line Extension Is Not Branding 12

There’s No Such Thing as Full Service 13

The Natural Fear of Focus 14

Chapter 3 The Mature Company ’s Identity Crisis 17

Differentiation and Price Premiums 18

Columbus, Not Napoleon 19

The Diffusion of Identity 22

Landing in No-Man’s Land 22

Strategy at the Edges 23

Not Best Practices, But Next Practices 25

Chapter 4 Expanding Your Business By Narrowing Your Focus 29

There’s No Such Thing as a General Market 30

Vertical Success versus Horizontal Success 32

The Strategic Value of Going Deep 34

Chapter 5 Positioning as the Centerpiece of Business Strategy 37

What Are You Really Selling? 39

Becoming Hard to Imitate 39

Two Critical Dimensions of an Effective Value Proposition 41

A Category of One 43

A Brand Is the Customer’s Idea of the Product 44

Natural Outcomes of a Powerful Value Proposition 46

Chapter 6 Building Brand Boundaries 47

Brand Boundary 1: Calling 49

Brand Boundary 2: Customers 55

Brand Boundary 3: Competencies 60

Brand Boundary 4: Culture 66

The Confluence of Calling, Customers, Competencies, and Culture 72

Chapter 7 Validating Your Value Proposition 75

Be Rooted in the Future, Not the Past 76

The Value Proposition Team 77

Asking the Right Questions 80

Chapter 8 Without Execution, There Is No Strategy 83

Services 85

Staffing 92

Self-Promotion 100

Systems 107

Staging 112

Executing a Positioning Strategy with Alignment Teams 116

Rebuilding Your Ship While at Sea 119

Chapter 9 Getting Paid for Creating Value 121

The Perils of Cost-Based Compensation 122

Changing the Language 124

Pricing as a Core Competency 125

Why a Value-Based Approach Is in the Client’s Best Interest 126

The Alignment of Incentives 128

Creating a Virtuous Circle 131

Chapter 10 A New and Better Way to Price Professional Services 133

Forms of Value-Based Pricing 133

The Right Clients for Outcome-Based Agreements 136

The True Meaning of Partnership 138

Uncovering Missed Opportunities to Make Pricing a Core Competency 139

Key Questions in Setting a Value-Based Price 140

If Complex Global Companies Can Do It, So Can You 142

Better Time Tracking Is Not the Answer 144

Thinking of Compensation Plans as a Stock Portfolio 147

Setting the Stage for a Value-Based Approach to Compensation 150

A Declaration of Value 154

Appendix A: The Before-and-After Survey 157

Appendix B: More Ways to Differentiate Your Brand 161

Appendix C: Indicators of the Firm’s Success 165

Notes 173

About the Author 179

Index 181