The Johnsson Group Sharpens Its Focus: Market Positioning


It’s a familiar story in the professional services industry:  An entrepreneur with a vision launches a firm focused on a specific business niche.  Clients flock to the firm because of its expertise and easy-to-work-with culture.  The firm grows quickly, enjoying double-digit growth each year. Over time, it expands its offerings to help clients fulfill other needs.  Years later, it becomes apparent that most clients (as well as employees) have trouble identifying exactly who the firm is and describing what it does for clients.  Lacking differentiation, the firm experiences slowing growth and a pressing need to refocus its efforts on the things it does better than its competitors.

Such was the case with The Johnsson Group, a finance consulting firm based in Chicago.  Founded nearly 15 years ago by Marge Johnsson, the firm quickly established itself as a practical alternative to the consulting arms of traditional large accounting firms.  Yet as it grew and established deep relationships with some of the largest Chicago-area companies, the firm began to lose focus.  In its zeal to please clients, it began taking on projects for which it was qualified technically to do, but which fell outside the firm’s “sweet spot.”  The result was an incredibly loyal and satisfied client base—the firm has an enviable record of repeat business—but a broad service portfolio and diffused market message that made it difficult to win new business.

This realization led Nancy Reiser, The Johnsson Group’s director of marketing, and Gaye van den Hombergh, the president and managing director, to ask The Bloom Group for help in restoring some focus to The Johnsson Group.  Teaming with Harry Barrett, a partner with the creativity consulting firm Synectics, The Bloom Group worked with Nancy, Gaye, and a team at The Johnsson Group to explore various market strategy and positioning alternatives.  Each alternative would be evaluated, and the chosen one would then be captured in a concise, clear, and compelling positioning statement.

Critical to the success of the project were the insights of The Johnsson Group’s highly educated staff, clients, and prospects—insights that were generated and collected through several small-group workshops and a survey.  Harry brought Synectics’ world-class group facilitation skills in leading the workshops, which generated deep insights into clients’ needs for finance consulting expertise and their perceptions of The Johnsson Group.  Analyzing this and other data, The Bloom Group developed four positioning options, each of which leveraged a specific strength of The Johnsson Group, such as industry or business process expertise.

The two-month project ended with The Johnsson Group selecting one of the four alternatives.  The firm now is in the process of developing an implementation plan and making the organization changes necessary to implement the new market position.

“This project has come at an important juncture in The Johnsson Group’s development, particularly given the current state of the economy and ever-tougher competition,” said Nancy Reiser.  “As we move into our second decade of serving the finance departments of $1 billion plus corporations, our new market position will enable us to more effectively focus our recruiting, service development, and marketing resources for maximum impact.  When it’s fully implemented, there will be little doubt as to what The Johnsson Group does, for whom we do it, and the value our clients get from working with us.”