“I put my name on this, because I personally stand behind the new SAS/SSD/NVMe drive bays, the 24-core processors. I stand behind the ECC DDR4 SD-RAM LR-DIMMs and their exceptional reliability. Will you stand with me?” --Gavin Belson, Hooli CEO
It’s no wonder why product positioning is so poorly done. It’s because positioning and messaging are considered the same thing to many people. They are significantly different things. I will help clear up the product positioning confusion in this article.
You’re not alone if you are confused about positioning. The different companies I worked for in my career had different definitions of “positioning” and over time I realized they were mostly confusing it with messaging.
Over time I developed a set of rules for positioning a product that I’ll share with you. Keep in mind the sequence is important and some of the decisions you need to make are critical.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that the word “positioning” is a verb, it’s not a noun. It’s a process, not a deliverable.
Positioning Begins With Customer
The process of positioning begins with understanding your target customer. The output of positioning is to create a position in the minds of your target customers that clearly differentiates your product from your competition.
This is the reason why in the BrainKraft Product Launch Framework the Customer, Segment, and Competition ‘donuts’ come before the Positioning donut.
Develop customer profiles now if you haven't already. Without a clear definition of your ideal customer you’re guessing at best.
The Root Word of Positioning is Position
The goal of positioning is to arrive at a differentiated position. The act of choosing a position was described to me once using an aisle in a grocery store as a visual anchor.
Grocery stores are organized into aisles. Each aisle has categories of products. Every aisle is organized further by individual products. You get the idea.
I was launching a new product into a new market segment and my boss posed a question to me. “Are you creating a new aisle in the grocery store or will your product go in an existing aisle?”
The answer to that question is an extremely important strategic decision. Forcing potential customers into a new aisle is strange and unfamiliar to them. Your product might as well be invisible.
But if you position your product in an aisle they frequent, you have a greater chance of success.
In the early days of automobiles, manufacturers wisely referred to their product as a “horseless carriage”. Now that’s a smart position. Really smart.
One more thought on your position. If you don’t define your position your potential customers and your competitors will do it for you. And it may not be the position you want to own.
The Positioning Venn Diagram
I’m not sure where this diagram originated but it’s an essential tool to establish a position.
The three intersecting circles are What Customers Want, What You Do Best, and What Your Competitors Do Best.
There are four intersecting zones:
The Winning Zone is where you want to position your product. It’s what makes your product unique. It’s where your product shines.
The Dummy Zone is where your product is equal to your competitors' in ways your potential customers don’t want.
The Risky Zone is when your product and your competitors’ products are equal at something your potential customer wants (a “me too” product).
The Losing Zone you want to avoid for obvious reasons. It’s a zone where your customer wants something your competitor has and you don’t have it.
Take a moment to reflect on the product you’re planning to launch. Which zone is it in today?
Just a quick note about “what you do best”. Go beyond product features. A common mistake in positioning a product is to view a product only through the lens of its features. Features are just one of the things your potential customers consider when making a purchase. You should consider other attributes of your corporate brand that potential customers value.
I was conducting a positioning workshop with a major software company. They specialize in very large scale backup/restore/recovery of data. The team was struggling with how competitor A is better at this. Competitor B is better at that. So I asked, “If competitor A and competitor B have such great features that you believe are better than yours, why do your customers continue to buy from you?”.
The answer was fast and decisive. “They buy from us because our customers know when we launch a new version of one of our products it’s reliable, and it works at scale.” This is a great example of what customers value that isn’t a product feature.
Your Market Segments May Change
Picking your Winning Zone may result in changing the way you view your potential customers and narrow your focus. There may be a smaller market segment of potential customers who want what you have. You need to determine if there are enough of them to achieve your launch objectives.
Your Unique Value Proposition
A Value Proposition is a promise of value to be delivered. The thing about a Value Proposition is that you can deliver the same promise as a competitor. When you do that you place your product in the Risky Zone.
The dictionary defines value as relative worth, merit, or importance.
In order to propose value, you need to understand value from a potential customer’s point of view. Meaning it’s only valuable if your potential customers believe it’s valuable. It’s not valuable because you say so.
It’s OK to offer similar value propositions as a competitor. It might be necessary in order to get considered. But you must focus on value propositions that are in the Winning Zone. Things that your organization and product can do that your competitors can't. AND your potential customers will value.
The important deliverable from a product positioning process is a product positioning document. I believe this deliverable is what causes most of the positioning confusion. Over time we’ve shortened ‘product positioning document’ to just ‘positioning’.
An element of a product positioning document is the positioning statement. It’s the short, pithy consolidation of what your product does, how it’s better, and who it’s for.
There are many forms of a product positioning statement. They all have a place and you may have one that’s a favorite. I won’t propose yet another format as there are many to choose from.
I will share the elements that should be in your positioning statement.
The target customer. Be as detailed as you can because you want everyone in your organization to know who values what you offer. This should reference a customer profile and market segment.
Why the target customer needs your product. Briefly describe the need or problem to be solved.
Your product category. This part often starts with “Our product is a…” or “[product name] is a…”. Think of this as the aisle in the grocery store.
The promise of why you’re better than the competition. This is where your Unique Value Proposition comes into play.
Proof points of what makes you better. This can come from quantitative studies (like performance analysis), industry leaders, and customer testimonials as examples.
The classic positioning statement example from Regis McKenna has these elements…
For [target customer]
Who [statement of need or opportunity]
The [product name] is a [category of product]
That [statement of key benefit, compelling reason to buy]
Unlike [primary competitive alternative]
Our product [statement of primary differentiation]
A Primary Message contains the words that connect with potential customers by communicating your value proposition.
A Primary Message is brief and simple. I never consider the Primary Message as a tagline or a headline for an advertisement. It can be if it's short and powerful enough. It’s the core message that’s propagated consistently to the market.
At BrainKraft our primary message is “Product Launches Your CEO Loves and Your Competitors Fear”. It turns out this works as a tagline too. It’s simple and it communicates a unique value proposition.
Remember that when we're bombarded with thousands of messages per day, simple is always better.
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