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Why Positioning Matters for your eCommerce Store

We’ve managed many digital marketing campaigns over the years. While most are successful, unsurprisingly that’s not been the case for all.

Across the majority of disappointing campaigns, where other elements of the project were not problematic, we’ve observed a common thread—positioning. This blog is the first a series on this subject, and to begin with we will take a look at just why it is so important to the world of eCommerce.

A lot of the time great results are only partly to do with execution, or the nuts and bolts of a PPC, SEO or email campaign. After all, this is simply getting your site in front of the right audience. What happens next is all down to how they view your business.

Before we get in to the details of what positioning is and why it matters, do any of these questions sound familiar?

  • “We’re getting traffic but no/not enough sales”
  • “Our ads are getting lots of impressions but no conversions”
  • “We’re struggling to rank against bigger competitors”
  • “It’s hard to stand out from similar businesses”
  • “Our conversion rate is too low”

If so, there is a good chance that it is your positioning that is at fault.

What is positioning?

April Dunford is one of the best known voices on this subject. While her work is largely in the world of B2B, the points she makes apply to pretty much any business selling online.


“Positioning is like context-setting for products,” she says. “It’s a bit like the opening scene of a movie. We’ve just walked into the movie theatre, we take our seats, and we are about to enjoy the show.

The opening scene of the movie is important because it gets us oriented. It answers the big questions—where are we? What year is this? What’s happening? How should I feel? Who are these people?

Until we get those big questions answered, we have a tough time paying attention to all of the minor details that get presented to us. Once we have established some context, we can settle in and pay attention to the story.”


This is incredibly important. A new visitor to your site might, for example, ask themselves any number of the following questions:

  • Will this product solve the problem I have?
  • Can you deliver on time?
  • How do the prices compare here?
  • Are you trustworthy?
  • How will you treat me as a buyer?
  • What makes you different from the competition?

If you can answer these simply, quickly and comprehensively, then there is a good chance that you will make a sale.

Why it works

In Crossing the Chasm, one of the earliest books on the importance of this positioning in the tech sector, Geoffrey A. Moore lays out a template for building an effective positioning statement. This is designed to be read in less than 20 seconds, and in this sense it is an effective elevator pitch. The results may not read particularly smoothly, but are usually pretty effective all the same.

Dunford takes this further, outlining a 10 step method that is establishes “value themes” that form the basis of a positioning strategy. These themes, for example, could be around credibility, or something more abstract such as how you’d like customers to feel about your brand. Getting to this point may not always be a simple process (for some businesses it can take several weeks or even months) but the outcomes will make it worthwhile.

From an execution point of view, campaigns now become much easier. With these messages defined, your ad copy will pretty much write itself. Understanding the pain points of your customers means that content strategy is straightforward—it’s simply a case of addressing these through a combination of landing page and blog copy. For SEO, the keywords that will convert the highest will be easier to discover, and because your audience is well defined and your content relevant, gaining backlinks becomes a much easier process.

Take Nain Trading for example. This is a well-established retailer of oriental carpets, and much of the focus on their site is around demonstrating their reputation, knowledge and how easy the buying process can be.

This is a strong approach. They know that their potential buyers will be concerned about returns—what if the rug isn’t the right size, for example, or doesn’t look as good they hoped? At the same time trust is important, as the buyer will want to be reassured that if they do return the rug the business is reputable so they will get their money back.

Of course, this isn’t anything revolutionary. At this point, it may seem that positioning for eCommerce is basically just conversion rate optimisation. That is, make sure that you have core messaging around important elements such as shipping and returns in the right place, and tweak and refine as you can.

We would take a different view, however. Positioning is the broader idea behind why you would carry out experiments such as this, rather than the simple how. And when done properly, it also allows you to be much more creative.

Below is Bloom & Wild’s homepage. Online flower delivery is a competitive space—enough for Interflora to famously receive a Google penalty a few years back.

Instead of competing with other brands on elements such as speed of delivery or, crucially, price, Bloom & Wild have taken a more emotive path by introducing the concept of “care wildly”. This phrase is repeated through the company’s marketing material, including their recent TV advertising campaign.

The idea is simple but effective. Here Bloom & Wild positions its products as having something more than its competitors—the ability to show that you somehow care more. That this is an abstract idea is beside the point, what matters is that as a message it is both compelling and easy to grasp.

The positioning process

Positioning is a complicated and detailed subject. There are other benefits too, such as dominating a niche versus being lost among generalists, as well as removing competition on price altogether, that we will be exploring in more depth in future posts.

In our next blog, we will start by sharing our step by step positioning process, as well as a template for our positioning canvas. This is a document that can shared throughout your business that will underpin your marketing efforts, from website copy to defining ad audiences. By the end of this series, you will have the tools you need to get your positioning in order and start increasing sales dramatically.

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