Skip to content

Obviously Awesome


  • Author: [[April Dunford]]


Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about. — location: 144 ^ref-11716

I like to describe positioning as “context setting” for products. When we encounter something new, we will attempt to make sense of it by gathering together all of the little clues we can quickly find to determine how we should think about this new thing. Without that context, products are very difficult to understand, and the whole company suffers—not just the marketing and sales teams. — location: 164 ^ref-35280

Often, you’re too close to your product to realize that the market doesn’t think about it the way you do. — location: 169 ^ref-43246

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” — location: 215 ^ref-26363

Customers need to be able to easily understand what your product is, why it’s special and why it matters to them. — location: 217 ^ref-32579

For people who build and sell things, the frame of reference that a potential customer chooses can make or break the business. Coke is much more than just fizzy water in the same way that a concert violinist is more than just a street performer with a fiddle. — location: 298 ^ref-48072

“If you’re a baker, making bread, you’re a baker. If you make the best bread in the world, you’re not an artist, but if you bake the bread in the gallery, you’re an artist. So the context makes the difference.” MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ — location: 301 ^ref-31144

While we understand that context is important, we generally fail to deliberately choose a context because we believe that the context for our product is obvious. — location: 308 ^ref-43862

Trap 1: You are stuck on the idea of what you intended to build, and you don’t realize that your product has become something else. — location: 317 ^ref-55820

So, if you were the baker, you might not see too much difference between muffins and cake—the product is essentially the same, right? However, choosing to make muffins or cake results in two fundamentally different business models, with different ways of making revenue. — location: 343 ^ref-63893

Trap 2: You carefully designed your product for a market, but that market has changed. — location: 357 ^ref-31045

You’re stunned to discover the hit product at this bakery is just like yours—it’s full of nuts, seeds and dates... the ingredients are almost identical! But this muffin isn’t positioned as a “diet muffin.” In fact, they don’t even call it a muffin. It’s a “gluten-free paleo snack.” — location: 368 ^ref-40093

Great positioning takes into account all of the following: The customer’s point of view on the problem you solve and the alternative ways of solving that problem. The ways you are uniquely different from those alternatives and why that’s meaningful for customers. The characteristics of a potential customer that really values what you can uniquely deliver. The best market context for your product that makes your unique value obvious to those customers who are best suited to your product. Positioning can be a big and somewhat complex concept. But don’t worry, we can make it easier by first breaking it down into its components and then working through each of those in a systematic way. — location: 451 ^ref-40928

These are the Five (Plus One) Components of Effective Positioning: Competitive alternatives. What customers would do if your solution didn’t exist. Unique attributes. The features and capabilities that you have and the alternatives lack. Value (and proof). The benefit that those features enable for customers. Target market characteristics. The characteristics of a group of buyers that lead them to really care a lot about the value you deliver. Market category. The market you describe yourself as being part of, to help customers understand your value. (Bonus) Relevant trends. Trends that your target customers understand and/or are interested in that can help make your product more relevant right now. — location: 526 ^ref-23466

The competitive alternative is what your target customers would “use” or “do” if your product didn’t exist. — location: 542 ^ref-60594

If unique attributes are your secret sauce, then value is the reason why someone might care about your secret sauce. — location: 567 ^ref-51236

The key is to make sure they are different when compared with the capabilities of the real competitive alternatives from a customer’s perspective. — location: 563 ^ref-49517

In business software, the most common competitive alternative is a combination of general-purpose business software (spreadsheets, documents, presentations) and manual processes. — location: 547 ^ref-64466

It’s important to really understand what customers compare your solution with, because that’s the yardstick they use to define “better.” For example, your solution might be much easier to use than the product that other startups are selling, but if the real alternative in the mind of a customer is Excel, you can’t say your product is easier to use unless it is easier to use than a spreadsheet. — location: 549 ^ref-52653

Your unique attributes are your secret sauce, the things you can do that the alternatives can’t. — location: 553 ^ref-40831

For technology companies, these are often technical features, but unique attributes could also be things like your delivery model (such as installed on-premise vs. software as a service), your business model (think Rent the Runway upending retail by leasing instead of selling special-occasion wear) or your specific expertise — location: 555 ^ref-36219

For service businesses—like consultancies, agencies and custom-development shops—the unique attributes are often related to a combination of expertise and experience. — location: 559 ^ref-12226

Your target market is the customers who buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts and tell their friends about your offerings. — location: 577 ^ref-61420

Market categories help customers use what they know to figure out what they don’t. A well-chosen market category will help make your unique value more obvious to your target customers. — location: 616 ^ref-31181

something they need to pay attention to right now. It’s easy to confuse market categories and trends, but they are not the same thing. Market categories are a collection of products with similar characteristics. Trends are more like a characteristic itself, but one that happens to be very new and noteworthy at a given point in time. — location: 621 ^ref-39877

It’s easy to confuse market categories and trends, but they are not the same thing. Market categories are a collection of products with similar characteristics. Trends are more like a characteristic itself, but one that happens to be very new and noteworthy at a given point in time. — location: 622 ^ref-65256

Attributes of your product are only “unique” when compared with competitive alternatives. Those attributes drive the value, which determines who the best target customers are, which in turn highlights which market frame of reference is the best one to highlight your value. — location: 671 ^ref-1993

STEP 1. Understand the Customers Who Love Your Product — location: 685 ^ref-21345

The first step in the positioning exercise is to make a short list of your best customers. — location: 711 ^ref-25720

Your first instinct might be to consider your product and its special features and position around them. Understandable! That’s the part you understand—and possibly enjoy—the most. But that’s a trap. — location: 729 ^ref-32066

Customer-facing positioning must be centered on a customer frame of reference. — location: 735 ^ref-40286

In general, your website, your sales and marketing materials, your pricing and even your immediate product roadmap will be designed to serve customers, and therefore should reflect your customer positioning not your investor positioning. — location: 745 ^ref-14022

Shouldn’t we position our product for customers the same way we position it for investors? Absolutely not! Investors are investing in what your company will be in the future; customers are buying a solution to a problem they have right now. Investors want to hear your vision for what your company will look like five or ten years from now, and how you intend to be a leader in a large, preferably fast-growing market. Customers, for the most part, are making an immediate decision to spend money they have right now to get immediate value and relieve an immediate pain. — location: 736 ^ref-52757

In the early days of a company with a single product, positioning the product and the company as the same thing is the easiest path to establishing a brand in the minds of customers, because there are simply fewer things to remember. It makes sense for single-product companies to have the same name, brand and positioning for the company and the product, simply so customers don’t have to figure out two things versus a single thing. — location: 758 ^ref-57908

STEP 2. Form a Positioning Team — location: 796 ^ref-33078

A positioning exercise that is not a team effort driven by the business leader will fail. — location: 808 ^ref-23767

Who should be there? The person responsible for the business of that particular product must be in the room and be seen as driving the positioning effort. Positioning is a business strategy exercise—the person who owns the business strategy needs to fully support the positioning, or it’s unlikely to be adopted. — location: 804 ^ref-48435

STEP 3. Align Your Positioning Vocabulary and Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage — location: 836 ^ref-39906

At a minimum, the team needs to be on the same page regarding: What positioning means and why it is important Which components make up a position and how we define each of those How market maturity and competitive landscape impact the style of positioning you choose for a product — location: 844 ^ref-3659

The goal of the 10- Step Positioning Process is to find the best position for a product, one that puts the product in the context of a market where it can easily win because the product has obvious benefits over alternatives. If we have always thought of our product in one way—as competing in a particular market, or solving a particular problem—it’s hard to see it in any other way. — location: 850 ^ref-24689

The starting point of this growth was Arm & Hammer’s willingness to let go of their old way of thinking about the product. Freeing your mind from patterns of the past isn’t always easy. Thoughts about the evolution of a product, from its conception to launch, are often baked into the initial positioning. Customers don’t have the same baggage—they know nothing about the history of the product when they first encounter it. — location: 867 ^ref-18079

Market confusion starts with our disconnect between understanding the product as product creators, and understanding the product as customers first perceive it. — location: 870 ^ref-19266

Positioning Story: Clearpath Robotics steering robots toward autonomous vehicles — location: 880 ^ref-9374

they positioned their product as “a robot,” but then proceeded to explain why their robots were nothing like the robots that manufacturers were used to. Positioning themselves in the robot category put them in direct comparison with other robot vendors whose solutions were nothing like Clearpath’s offering. Confused customers were then left to try to figure out how a roving, intelligent, movement-and-delivery solution fit into their current set of assumptions about robots’ capabilities. — location: 890 ^ref-11777

STEP 4. List Your True Competitive Alternatives — location: 904 ^ref-48885

Customers don’t always see competitors the same way we do, and their opinion is the only one that matters for positioning. — location: 905 ^ref-3619

The features of our product and the value they provide are only unique, interesting and valuable when a customer perceives them in relation to alternatives. — location: 910 ^ref-2435

Although every component of positioning is related to other components, the foundation is the problem your customers are trying to solve, and how they perceive your offering in comparison with other ways of solving the problem. — location: 911 ^ref-56234

Customers, although well-versed in their problems, are often terrible at describing them in a way that gives product creators enough nuance to make decisions. — location: 913 ^ref-10986

But when we asked them what they would use if our database didn’t exist, none of them named another database; instead, they suggested business intelligence tools or data warehouses. — location: 918 ^ref-53163

Understanding the customer’s problem wasn’t enough—to really understand how they perceived our strengths and weaknesses, we needed to understand the alternatives to which they compared us. Customers always group solutions in categories, but talking to them about problems doesn’t necessarily reveal those categories. — location: 919 ^ref-23550

You need to create a position that highlights the unique strengths of your product as customers perceive them. To do that, you need to understand who your real competitors are in the minds of customers. Many companies have weak positioning precisely because they don’t clearly understand their true competitive alternatives in the minds of customers. — location: 922 ^ref-34397

The best way to understand competitive alternatives is to answer the question, What would our best customers do if we didn’t exist? — location: 926 ^ref-51932

When I go through this exercise in workshops, teams will often want to create an exhaustive list of every possible alternative. That’s fine, but I encourage the team to (1) remain focused on the best-fit customer list and name only what those customers would see as an alternative, and (2) rank the list from most common to least common. — location: 930 ^ref-14431

STEP 5. Isolate Your Unique Attributes or Features — location: 943 ^ref-11247

Strong positioning is centered on what a product does best. Once you have a list of competitive alternatives, the next step is to isolate what makes you different and better than those alternatives. — location: 945 ^ref-19652

STEP 6. Map the Attributes to Value “Themes” — location: 986 ^ref-60508

Attributes or features are a starting point, but what customers care about is what those features can do for them. — location: 988 ^ref-51008

Features enable benefits, which can be translated into value in unique customer terms. In this step, you’ll capture the value that each of your unique attributes enables for customers. Each feature can have multiple value points, and a combination of features can provide value as well. — location: 994 ^ref-42378

Remember: this positioning exercise is not about highlighting every little feature and attribute that our customers love. In positioning a product, we’re taking the most critical things that make us special and worth considering, and bringing the resulting unique value to the front and center. — location: 1036 ^ref-1497

STEP 7. Determine Who Cares a Lot — location: 1039 ^ref-33461

Once you have a good understanding of the value that your product delivers versus other alternatives, you can look at which customers really care a lot about that value. — location: 1041 ^ref-17146

Great positioning resonates with your best-fit customers right now, and will evolve with them over time. — location: 1081 ^ref-54604

In general, the segment needs to meet at least two criteria to be worthy of focus: (1) it needs to be big enough that it’s possible to meet the goals of your business, and (2) it needs to have important, specific, unmet needs that are common to the segment. If you’re a tennis racquet maker and decide to market a racquet for seniors, you need to figure out first if there are enough tennis-playing seniors who might need a racquet, and second if you could fulfil an unmet need that seniors have in their racquets. — location: 1096 ^ref-17808

STEP 8. Find a Market Frame of Reference That Puts Your Strengths at the Center and Determine How to Position in It — location: 1099 ^ref-20496

You now have a good handle on your ideal prospects, your product’s unique attributes and the value those attributes can deliver. The next step is to pick a market frame of reference that makes your value obvious to the segments who care the most about that value. — location: 1103 ^ref-19426

Positioning Story: Wattpad transforms a story platform into an entertainment company — location: 1140 ^ref-43223

The advantage of positioning in an existing market category is that you don’t have to convince people the category needs to exist. You also benefit from the assumptions that the category brings to mind for prospects. The bonus is you get all of that without having to fight directly with an established leader. — location: 1215 ^ref-60882

Positioning Story: My startup transforms our crummy database into a kickass data warehouse — location: 1247 ^ref-9905

You get the advantage of a well-defined category without the stiff competition. In Head to Head you are attempting to beat Coke in the cola market; in Big Fish, Small Pond, you’re selling Coke for dogs. While your product is a lot like Coke (brown and fizzy), it does something that Coke doesn’t do and that dogs really, really want — location: 1277 ^ref-9804

Positioning Story: A niche CRM startup outpowers a global market leader — location: 1346 ^ref-20993

Ideally your competitive advantage is something that is difficult for the market leader to copy, either because you own the intellectual property, or (more commonly) because trying to match your functionality might cause them damage in the broader market where they are winning. It would be difficult for Coke to make a product aimed at dogs without suffering some damage to the perception of the brand among humans. — location: 1343 ^ref-25403

Often a category emerges when an enabling technology, a shift in customer preferences and a supporting ecosystem manage to come together at once. — location: 1415 ^ref-3329

Customers need to first understand why the category deserves to exist. Why is the problem unique? Why do existing solutions in other categories fall short of solving that problem? While you are convincing the market that this category should exist, you are also teaching folks how to best evaluate solutions in that category. — location: 1423 ^ref-747

Positioning Story: Eloqua creates a market category — location: 1454 ^ref-3506

STEP 9. Layer On a Trend (but Be Careful) — location: 1488 ^ref-65005

Once you have determined your market context, you can start to think about how you can layer a trend on top of your positioning to help potential customers understand why your offering is important to them right now. This step is optional but potentially really powerful—if you go about it carefully. — location: 1490 ^ref-16200

Positioning Story: Redgate Software makes a boring but profitable market cool—and even more profitable — location: 1508 ^ref-27270

STEP 10. Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared — location: 1554 ^ref-43299

Positioning on its own isn’t useful to a company. Once you have worked through your positioning, you need to share it across the organization. Positioning needs to have company buy-in so it can be used to inform branding, marketing campaigns, sales strategy, product decisions and customer-success strategy. — location: 1556 ^ref-44092

This document should break down each individual component of the position, give enough detail for each to be understood and show how they interact with one another. — location: 1561 ^ref-41988

I want to leave you with some key takeaways: Any product can be positioned in multiple markets. Your product is not doomed to languish in a market where nobody understands how awesome it is. Great positioning rarely comes by default. If you want to succeed, you have to determine the best way to position your product. Deliberate, try, fail, test and try again. Understanding what your best customers see as true alternatives to your solution will lead you to your differentiators. Position yourself in a market that makes your strengths obvious to the folks you want to sell to. Use trends to make your product more interesting to customers right now, but be very cautious. Don’t layer on a trend just for the sake of being trendy—it’s better to be successful and boring, rather than fashionable and bewildering. — location: 1684 ^ref-41070