What is product positioning?
Product positioning is developing a strategy to market a product or service to its target audience. Effective positioning highlights product benefits and attributes with messaging that clearly states your product’s value over your competitors.
The strategy and process of positioning a product involves with identifying the problem(s) you’re solving through your product features, conducting market research and identifying and creating buyer personas, and then investing time and resources to get a deeper understanding of your customers and your competitors. The end result is succinct messaging about what your product offers to the right audience!
Why position your product?
Clarifying your product positioning is crucial before investing in a marketing strategy. There may be a gap between what you initially wanted to build and what your product has become over time. Perhaps there is a competitive advantage to positioning your brand’s product in a neighboring market, one where you would stand out as a market leader, rather than the default market you assumed you were in. Effective positioning reaches the people who will benefit most from your product, in a language that will resonate with them.
There’s lots of books and resources you can use to discover and refine your product position. One of our favorite new books is Obviously Awesome by April Dunford, who specializes in positioning products and marketing B2B tech. Dunford provides Arm & Hammer baking soda as a superb example of taking a product (a baking ingredient) and expanding to a different audience by tapping into the odor control market and changing their box design, a move which proved highly successful.
How to position your product
Some questions to ask when positioning your product:
- How do your potential customers think about the problem you’re trying to solve? Do they use the same terminology?
- Does your product exist in a highly competitive market? Could you benefit from shifting to a less competitive space to come out as a market leader?
- Is there a gap between what your customers thought they were buying during the sales process and what they think now that they’re using the product? How does your product messaging differentiate from your customer expectations and your product attributes.
Dunford lays out 10 steps in her book for positioning a product:
- Understand the Customers Who Love Your Product
- Form a Positioning Team
- Align Your Positioning Vocabulary & Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage
- List Your True Competitive Alternatives
- Isolate Your Unique Attribute or Features
- Map the Alternatives to Value ”Themes”
- Determine Who Cares a Lot
- Find a Market Frame of Reference That Puts Your Strengths at the Center and Determine How to Position in It
- Layer on a Trend (Carefully)
- Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared
Here are our key takeaways from Obviously Awesome:
- When looking to revamp positioning, bring in outside help to keep it “productive and balanced” and to “gently challenge long-held assumptions.”
- Your original market category may no longer be the best market to highlight your unique selling proposition.
- Let go of the positioning baggage you might be holding onto. (Founders and early-stage employees are especially susceptible to this!)
- Recognize that who you may consider a competitor may not be on the radar of your customers. Often alternative in our customers’ eyes are the more manual solution, like building complicated spreadsheets or hiring an intern.
- Study how your best customers use your product; it’s a great way to uncover your differentiators.
- Use market segmentation to speak to the needs of your best-fit prospects.
- Positioning should have company buy-in, so that it’s used consistently across the entire organization.
- Positioning language starts as soon as your customer’s very first sales call. Take time to craft the story your sales team tells and build a messaging document for Marketing to refer to.
Think of your product positioning as a moving target: it’s an ever-evolving message that responds to changing markets and customers. There’s no “final” version, and there are endless opportunities for the curious marketer to explore!