“A Pile” Positioning (Plus 8 Ways to Stand Out)

If you read this article to the end, you’ll get at least 8 ways to immediately improve your marketing so you win more bids, get quality clients, and ultimately love your job a bit more than you do now. Sound good? Read on!

Have you ever heard of the “A Pile, B Pile” Theory? 

The A Pile/B Pile Theory was coined by Gary Halbert, a groundbreaking copywriter who used it to describe how the average buyer consumes direct mail. (This was back in the days of excessive junk mail.)

He says,

“Everybody in the world divides his mail into two piles which I call the A-Pile and the B-Pile. The A-Pile contains letters that are, (or appear to be), personal. The B-Pile contains everything else: Bills, catalogs, brochures, printed announcements, envelopes that obviously contain a sales message, and so on.

Now listen up: The most important thing you can ever do when creating a direct mail promotion is to make sure your letter gets in the A-Pile!

Here’s why. Everybody always opens all of their A-Pile mail and only some of their B-Pile mail.

     It’s as simple as that. And when you are spending thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars to mail a sales message, you want to make damn sure everybody who receives your letter will at least open the envelope. You know, this simple truth seems to me to be so self-evident that I am always amazed when someone wants to argue with me about it. And, usually, as you might expect, the most vigorous arguments come from the most “experienced” advertising people. These people just love to tell me how they always found that B-Pile direct mail is more cost effective.

– http://www.thegaryhalbertletter.com/nerd/

Now here’s the deal. This applies to direct mail, ads, brochures, and emails. No one has time to examine every junk email message that comes through your inbox. Instead, you sort quickly. “Who’s it from? What’s the headline? Delete.”

I believe it also applies to your marketing.

Let me explain.

When you create marketing, what do you say to your buyers? If you’re the average consultant, you might say things like, “I’m a full stack software developer” or “We’re a technology firm who solves tech problems so you can solve business problems”.

Or something equally action-based. That is, “I am a doer of X.”

When someone hears this, do you know what happens to everything else you have to say?

It goes in the trash can of their brain.


It’s simple. Humans are rationalizing animals. We make quick decisions in our lizard brain before our mammalian, rational side has a chance to catch up and come up with a logical answer. And our brains want to sort out “friend” or “foe” very quickly. Add to that an element of laziness and you have A-Pile, B-Pile thinking. We don’t want to have to analyze all the data, every time. It’s debilitating and humans simply don’t do it.

Which means when you use “me too” marketing and positioning, you are essentially sorting yourself into the B Pile.

Think about if. If someone came across as selling something (e.g., “Consultant”)… don’t you immediately sort them into the category of “trying to sell me something” ? If you’re like most people, that’s what happens…. and it happens waaaaaay before you ever find out who they are and what they’re selling. You’ve seen it, don’t need it, and don’t want to hear more.

Which is why your listing of features… and your discounts… and your “we’re quality!” falls on deaf ears. You’ve already been relegated to the B-Pile and as someone to be kept at arm’s length. As foe.

It follows then what what you need to do is get into the A Pile of your buyer’s brains. 

To do this, you have to AVOID coming across as anything like what they’ve seen before. If you come across as something they’ve seen before, your buyers will associate you in the same bucket as them. Which you don’t want.

People connect the dots when they can…. because it’s easier to immediately label something than it is to examine it for its merits.

Remember, no one is unique in this regard.

I don’t care how “sophisticated” your buyers are. Humans are humans and humans will immediately judge you based on their first glance.

What to do instead: Come across as so unique and curiosity-inducing that they have to take time to examine the idea of you more closely. 

You do this by….

Creating a Unique Selling Position / positioning that is not like anyone else. Dan Kennedy used to call himself a “Marketing Strategist” before the idea was cool. Some consultants go by a title or create a “unique” method for what they do. (In the SQL Server world the former is common, where everyone has a cool Twitter handle like “SQL Rockstar” or something neat like that.)

Creating a unique selling story (based on real facts, of course) which creates intrique, induces curiosity, and helps you build rapport with your buyer.

Remember: Sameness = pre-sorting = commoditization.

Commoditization occurs when you are seen as one member of a group of members. You are “just a writer” or “just a developer” or “just a marketing agency”. There is no real differentiation of value, so buyers look for differentiation…. usually in the form of price and social proof. That is, who provides the most value?

They’ll look for the provider who offers the highest quality service for the lowest price.

Symptoms of commoditization:

  • Price pushback
  • Bargain seeking or buyers asking for “discounts”
  • Clients who don’t value you or your service
  • Constant complaints
  • Losing bids to price cutting firms of lower quality

The solution is to position so you aren’t a commodity. Here are eight ways to do it… none of which requires you to invest in any new software, pay a consultant, or write a book. (Unless you want to, of course.)

8 Ways to Get “A Pile” Positioning

  1. Raise your prices so you are associated with value. Humans make snap judgments about value based on price.
  2. Raise your prices so you weed out discount seekers. There is usually a line where the budget seekers will drop off. Your pricing should exclude the budget seekers.
  3. Create a “Unique Selling Title” which captures your essence. I like to call myself the “Sherlock Holmes of Marketing”, because it describes my problem-solving and eccentric nature.
  4. Create curiosity in your offer. Use unique titles for what you do. For example, John McIntyre uses “The McMethod” to describe how he writes emails.
  5. Use scarcity marketing where appropriate. Aim for fewer clients. Blair Enns of “Win Without Pitching” says to aim for 8 max. I tend to agree with him. Fewer but higher quality. If this means having a waiting list, do it. Constant availability signals that you have nothing better to do with your time.
  6. Increase trust indicators. Humans buy based on trust. Trust can trump almost everything else in the sales process, which is why referrals often turn into leads. Examples include testimonials, client logos, certifications, story-based marketing, showing humanity, increased authority, and increasing referrals from existing clients.
  7. Do the unconventional. Is everyone else zigging? Then start zagging. Remember, you want to avoid being seen as “another one of those”…whatever or whoever that is. In order to maintain A-Pile Positioning, you have to stick out from the pack.
  8. Entertain.  Entertainment bypasses the usual triggers which say “Yuck! Sales!” You want to avoid the “oh yuck” side of their brain. So use stories when you can. James Altucher is an example of a great blogger who uses stories in every piece of content he writes… to brilliant effect.


It should go without saying that I would happy to help you figure this out for your business. We could probably do it in a simple one-hour call. Contact me to schedule it today.


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