Positioning 1 of 5: Don't be afraid of closing doors

Is this the right direction?

You’ve asked yourself this question a number of times. I know that I have. In business and in life.

Most recently, I quit playing the Twitter growth hack game. Go down a different growth route. That was tough, I’d built an audience of 13k in less than 6 months.

I hesitated, and when I did, I realised why most people struggle to make a decision about their positioning.

The MIT door experiment

Three doors on a screen. Behind each door, there’s real cash. You only have 100 clicks to open the doors, and each door had a different payout range.

The MIT Door Experiment meant you had three options to select from, with unknown prizes behind each.

The MIT students immediately figured out the best strategy: Check out the three doors and stick with the one with the highest rewards.

To start with, it's consistent and obvious to the participant which door has the best options, so they keep going back to it.

But then a new visual feature was introduced:

“If you don’t open the other doors, they’ll start shrinking and eventually disappear.”
But now the options change, and the experimenter introduces a time limit on each option.

Even though they should have ignored the warning, they couldn’t bear the pain of seeing the other two doors disappear. So they started wasting clicks to reopen the other doors and their earnings dropped 15 percent.

So the participant goes back to the options that are closing, even though they're delivering inferior rewards.

But why would they do that?

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dan Ariely says.

And that’s exactly how we felt when we decided to quit Twitter and focus on our newsletter.

Even though all the cells in our body were screaming “GO for it”…

We still couldn’t shake the fear of closing a door.

But here’s a sentence we should all tattoo on our foreheads:

Strategy is the art of sacrifice

Great advice, right? But let’s be real…

Our entrepreneurial spirit makes us LOVE opportunities.

We’re great at spotting and seizing them.

And that’s exactly what keeps us stuck. It’s what makes us look like everybody else. We do everything, we serve everyone, and we can resolve all types of problems. Just throw anything at us and we’ll sort it out.

Our gift and our curse.

Then someone less capable, less smart, and less knowledgeable comes along and crushes it.

Why?

Simply because they say “no.”

They find a strategic position and stick with it.

Even when the devil tempts them with a “better opportunity”, they don’t change course. They have the confidence and patience to stay in their lane.

And over time this decision compounds.

Once you work on the same problem over and over again, you start seeing patterns no one else can see.

You have the sales and delivery process down to a science. You know your avatar inside out, and prospects are happy to pay you a premium because now they see you as an expert.

But for that to happen, you have to accept this hard truth:

The art of Positioning is about saying "No" 100 times before saying a single "Yes."

Millions of people read Tim Urban’s articles. But he doesn’t post on a cadence, he posts when he’s ready.

Jack Butcher has one of the most prominent designs online. But he focuses on a minimalistic style and only uses black and white to communicate his ideas.

Justin Welsh could serve all types of businesses, but he focuses on an underrepresented segment: Solopreneurs.

See the pattern?

“A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.” – Al Ries & Laura Ries

We’re sure you do. And still, we have no doubt your subconscious will fight tooth and nail to avoid this approach.

We know ours sure does.

But if you truly want to stand out…

You have to lead an underserved category and ignore everything else

“Customers don’t really care about new brands, they care about new categories. They don’t care much about Dominos; they care about whether or not their pizza will arrive in thirty minutes.” – Al Ries & Laura Ries

Dominos didn’t try to be the cheapest, the one with the freshest ingredients, or with the most options. These categories were all dominated by competitors.

Instead, they decided to lead an underserved category: Pizza delivered in 30 minutes.

Still, when we look at Twitter, LinkedIn, or even newsletters, all we see is:

  • Sales experts
  • Recruiting experts
  • Management experts
  • Audience-building experts
  • Process & Systems experts

All fighting for a piece of these crowded categories. All trying to portray themselves as experts, but acting as commodities in the eyes of their audience.

If this is where you are right now, don’t sweat just yet. We’re here to change that.

Because once you own a category, you can start charging a premium and never struggle for customers again.

Until then, let's close some doors!

More on that in our next article: The core principle of positioning

A note: This article was a joint collaboration between Gianni Cara and myself. Gianni is a clear and masterful thinker when it comes to positioning. I highly recommend his newsletter (which you can subscribe to here).

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