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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Brabrand

M&A Mistake #3: Poor Positioning

Image Credit: Hans-Peter Gauster

Positioning is one of the most powerful and yet most underutilized tools that business owners have at their disposal when selling their company. Positioning is your opportunity to set the stage for buyers, to paint the picture of why your business is special and what compelling growth opportunities exist for it going forward. Resist the urge to define your business and industry too narrowly, thus missing the opportunity to create incremental value. How you describe what your company does, as well as the size and definition of the market in which it operates, may seem like straightforward questions with easy answers. Yet as we see from this excerpt from Chapter 7, it can be anything but.

Savvy companies have been using creative and expansive positioning for decades when communicating with their shareholders to drive a higher stock price, and with their employees to attract and retain the best talent. Take, for example, Capital One, the fifth largest credit card issuer by purchase volume in the U.S. and the country’s tenth-largest bank by assets. In their early years, before the company had gotten into the banking business and when 100 percent of their revenue came from issuing credit cards, Capital One’s 1996 Annual Report made the following positioning statement. “Despite being one of the nation’s ten largest credit card issuers, we have always seen ourselves as information-based marketers rather than as a credit card company.Wait, what? “Information-based marketing” definitely sounds sexier than “credit card company,” but where did they come up with that? To help their readers bridge the gap between what everyone outside of Capital One thought they did and what the company wanted them to think they did, the report added “[Our] information-based strategy gives us the ability to customize our offerings in order to get the right product to the right customer at the right time and at the right price.” The executives at Capital One were making the point that their company was bigger than just credit cards. That at its heart, the company was focused on tracking and analyzing data from consumer responses to a variety of solicitation efforts that then was used to refine future marketing campaigns. This data-driven learning approach to marketing could support many types of businesses; credit cards happened to be what Capital One focused on at the time. This positioning strategy worked, as Capital One has grown to over 48,000 employees, generated $28 billion of revenue in 2018, and has branched out into many financial services, including retail and commercial banking and consumer auto lending. Beyond shareholder and employee communications, though, positioning can be just as powerful in the M&A world.

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In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, The $100 Million Exit. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you did and want to connect, you can reach me via email at or connect with me at Also, you can find my book on Amazon here:

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