A product marketer acquaintance of mine – Mukul – recently asked for some advice on his product positioning. The very first thing I did was ask him about his process – what work had gone into his positioning decisions.
Mukul explained how he’d consumed all the information he humanly could about the space – from blog posts and whitepapers to research reports and videos. “I also spent a lot of time on competitor’s websites. Once I had digested all that information, I came up with positioning for my product,” he said.
It was immediately clear to me that Mukul had missed the most crucial ingredient in product positioning, which we’ll see in a moment.
The following week, while I was being interviewed for a product marketing webinar, the interviewer referred to positioning as a dark art. I quickly realized that positioning needs quite a bit of unboxing. April Dunford has led the charge in helping product managers and marketers better understand why positioning is so important, and I’m going to give you a fast primer on all the mistakes you can easily avoid while doing product positioning. But it’s not all about the flaws, I also point you to some great resources you can use to make your positioning golden! So let’s dive in.
Mistake #1 – Failing to Do Primary Research
So what was Mukul’s missing ingredient? Primary research. Without it you will not uncover any true product insights. I had this concept ground into me when I did my training at Pragmatic Marketing.
Your customers are your true friends when doing positioning. Talk to as many customers as you
possibly can. Trust me, you will uncover many new perspectives.
If you don’t believe me? Let’s do a simple exercise. Write down your competitive differentiators. Next time you are on a customer call, ask them what your competitive differentiators are. Compare the two responses and they will be starkly different. I hope I’ve have impressed upon you the importance for primary research and, just to give you a head-start, here are some questions to ask your customers:
- What were the pain points that made you evaluate products in this space?
- Did you evaluate multiple products? If yes, why did you buy my product?
- What value have you realized from this purchase?
Really study your customer’s problems that you help solve. The more time you spend understanding customer problems, the better. This intelligence will come in handy in everything you do – from positioning to sales enablement to speaking sessions. In addition from customers, also be sure to interview your:
- Product experts
- Market experts aka sales and sales engineering
- Analysts and Influencers
- Customers that didn’t buy from you
Mistake #2 – Become a Victim of TL;DR
I’ve been guilty of this in the past wherein my positioning document ran into dozens of pages. So what happened? Everyone ignored it.
In this age of reading fatigue, don’t let your positioning document become a victim of TL;DR. Don’t make your document so long that people are confused about what to do with it or worse ignore it.
Like the good folks at Pragmatic Marketing recommend, keep your positioning down to a single page. Short and sweet is the recipe here.
Mistake #3 – Create Positioning… and Then Abandon it
Often product marketers will create a positioning document and it will just sit there on your sales enablement portal, unused and ignored.
Here are five actionable tips you can execute to get the word out:
- Apply the new positioning to all your sales collateral, website copy, blog posts…
- Present it to everyone in the company from marketing to sales, product, and customer support.
- Ask your colleagues to use the positioning when they talk to prospects, because positioning is a lot more than just website copy.
- Run a quiz on it.
- Make posters using the positioning statement for your office walls.
Mistake #4 – Use Your Company’s Language
While it’s tempting and super easy to do, don’t use your product experts’ or your CEO’s language to describe your product and its value. This is particularly hard in startups where CEOs tend to obsess over their products like mothers over newborns.
In your customer interviews, pay attention to the language your customers use. Find out how they describe their problems, your solution, and the value derived from it. Don’t forget that your positioning should be less about you and more about your customers.
If you have multiple decision makers, pay attention to how the language and benefits change when the buyer persona changes from the Head of Sales to the CFO.
Mistake #5. Trust Your Gut
You may think that positioning is a subjective matter and therefore there is nothing wrong or right about it, and so you just trust your gut in the end .
But if you did primary research to figure out your positioning (and you definitely did that… right?!), why not just do a small amount of extra research to figure out if your positioning is resonating with your prospects. Watch and listen to your customers when you present the positioning. If they are excited and want to hear more, you are definitely on the right track. If not, then your “gut” might be wrong, and it’s time to revisit your assumptions and research.
Positioning Frameworks and Examples
Now that I have told you things to avoid while creating positioning, let me do something constructive and point you to some useful resources that can help you develop your positioning.
- Startup marketing executive, April Dunford has a book titled Obviously Awesome that will give you a 10-step process to do positioning. If you are not quite ready to buy her book, you can check out her article in Medium that outlines her framework.
- If you are ready to take a course, Pragmatic Marketing and the Product Marketing Alliance have detailed frameworks.
- Zendesk gives some great examples such as Slack and MailChimp and provides a simple template.
In today’s highly cluttered and commoditized markets, positioning is crucial to stand out in the marketplace. To get your positioning right, do your primary research. Interview your customers and study your customer problems. Keep your positioning down to a single page and wrap it around why customers buy and why they buy you. Once you have it down on paper don’t forget to get the word out with presentations and posters. Apply it every piece of collateral you have. To see if it’s working or not, don’t just trust your gut. Ask your customers for feedback. I hope you found this post valuable. Do write back if you have questions.