XY Positioning Statement

When it comes to your pricing, wouldn’t you rather race to the top than race to the bottom? Of course. But how?

Strongly defining a positioning statement for your business and/or your services is a great way to escape the race to zero. It sets you apart from the crowd. It insulates you against clients asking, “Why are you the most expensive?”

Entire books have been written on the subject of positioning. It’s a big topic. But you don’t need to be an expert to begin to enjoy the benefits of positioning.

A good first step is to get real clear about articulating who you help with what. Ideally, you would define a full Laser-Focused Positioning Statement (LFPS) for yourself, and use that as an internal mantra to drive the rest of your marketing messaging.

An LFPS takes the form of:


Unfortunately, I have found over the years that people have a hard time completing an entire LFPS when they’re first getting started. That’s where the XY Positioning Statement (XYPS) comes in.

What is an XY Positioning Statement?

An XYPS is sort of like a minimum viable positioning statement. It leaves out the DISCIPLINE and UNIQUE DIFFERENCE aspects of an LFPS and focuses directly on the core value proposition.

If you’re visual, you can think of XYPS as the primary colors of marketing. Or if you’re musical, it’s like a I-IV-V chord progression. A chef? It’s meat and potatoes. i.e., Nothing fancy, but wow, you can do a LOT with it!

Who do I most want to help? And what do I want to help them with? 

Answering these questions will give you a very effective reply when someone asks:

“What do you?”

Your answer:

“I help X with Y.”

In an XY Positioning Statement, the X is your ideal buyer (i.e., your WHO) and the Y is your ideal buyer’s desired outcome (i.e., WHAT you help them with).

Solving for X

The X in “I help X with Y” is your ideal buyer. It’s the person who you seek to serve. The person who will most benefit from your expertise.

There are lots of ways to define your ideal buyer. You could use a vertical focus (e.g., dentists), a horizontal focus (e.g., people who need a MySQL expert), a platform focus (e.g., people who need a Shopify expert), a demographic focus (e.g., 45-55yo females who live in NYC), or a psychographic focus (e.g., environmental advocates).

I used to think that having an ideal buyer was so important that picking one at random was better than not picking one at all. Unfortunately, years of experience coaching people through this process has taught me a hard lesson:

Picking an ideal buyer at random doesn’t work.

Not because having a laser focused ideal buyer is bad - quite the opposite, in fact - but because picking at random results in marketing to people who you don’t care deeply about helping. This makes everything awkward and unnatural and laborious - so you quickly give up.

So it turns out, you need to give a crap. Who knew! :-)

We’re in the service industry. The service industry is emotionally demanding. If you don’t genuinely care about your clients, things don’t click. Conversations are stilted. Engagement is non-existent. Everything feels like pulling teeth. You want to charge for every phone call because they are so tedious.

In short, if you pick a buyer who you don’t care about, you’ll give up on your marketing efforts. It doesn’t matter how rich they are if you can’t stand them.

On the other hand, picking a buyer who you DO genuinely care about - an IDEAL buyer - makes everything way easier. Things click. Conversations flow. Engagement is high. Opportunities present themselves serendipitously. You feel bad charging for things because you are enjoying yourself so much you would have done them for free.

So if you can, pick a buyer who you deeply care about helping, and then figure out what they need help with. And don’t worry if they are broke. There are simple ways around that.

Solving for Y

Once you have an idea WHO you want to help (i.e., your ideal buyer), we can talk about solving for Y - i.e., clearly defining your ideal buyer’s desired outcome.

In a business-to-business (B2B) relationship, the desired outcome will be a business outcome. Things like, increased revenue, decreased risk, improved employee moral, stronger customer loyalty, etc.

Please note that “what you help them with” is not things like “frontend development” or “portrait photography” or “content marketing”. These things are your DISCIPLINE. And your discipline is relatively unimportant to your ideal buyers compared to the business outcomes that you can help them achieve.

For example, here is an XY positioning statement as might be written by a copywriter who wants to help independent software developers. The X is pretty solid, but the Y is discipline-focused and therefore kind of weak:

I help independent software developers with their copywriting.

Here it is again, but this time with a stronger Y that is outcome-focused:

I help independent software developers convert existing traffic into more leads.

Which do you think would be more interesting to an independent software developer who has a very popular blog but almost never gets any leads from it?

The takeaway here is that your Y isn’t the activities that you engage in, it’s the business outcome you deliver to the client.


  1. If you’re stuck on your WHO, try defining your WHAT first and then search for people who would benefit the most from that sort of help.
  2. If you can solve lots of things for lots of types of people, brainstorm a huge list of possible XYPSs, and then ask people you trust for feedback.
  3. If you’re having a hard time drafting a huge list, go back through your list of past projects, make an XYPS for each project, and then ask people you trust for feedback.
  4. If you can’t settle on anything at all for your overall business, pick a product or service that you offer and write an XYPS for that.

What have we learned?

  1. Clearly defining your positioning is a great way to justify premium fees. (ASIDE: There are other benefits as well, like attracting more and better clients, increasing your positive impact on the world, decreasing your labor intensity, understanding the difference between an opportunity and a distraction, and more.)
  2. A good way to get started with positioning is to define your XY Positioning Statement (XYPS). An XYPS is the core value proposition that lives at the center of your Laser-Focused Positioning Statement (LFPS).
  3. Your XYPS takes the form of “I help X with Y”, where X is WHO you help (i.e., your target market) and Y is WHAT you help them with (i.e., their expensive problem). NOTE: “I help X with Y” is not the same thing as “I do X for Y” (e.g., I do websites for architects) nor “I’m like X but for Y” (e.g., I’m like Uber for professional photography).
  4. Your XYPS typically makes a great Cocktail Party Answer (i.e., what you say when someone at a party ask “So... what do you do?”).
  5. If you can’t define an XYPS for your overall business, try writing one for a specific product or service that you offer.

Questions? I’m here to help :-) Shoot me an email at jstark@jonathanstark.com with “XYPS” in the subject line and ask whatever you like.



« Back to home