Develop a product positioning process
1. Unlearn the product positioning statement.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and filling out a worksheet doesn’t guarantee effective positioning. While a positioning statement can help you think about your product positioning, it doesn’t always provide actionable insight. Your products also change over time, and you’ll need to regularly tweak your strategy to stay current with the market.
2. Identify if your positioning is off and where it can improve.
Identifying your position varies from market to market but, in general, your positioning could be improved if: You aren’t considered the preferred brand. Is it obvious to your target market that you’re the best choice? If they choose a competitor, is it clear what they are missing? Your team struggles to express your values. Are you confident in your team’s ability to express your value clearly? Do you have a consistent tone of voice? Can you clearly identify and communicate your primary benefit? Is your product messaging consistent with how you internally view your offerings? You try to appeal to everyone. Are you targeting a specific audience or are you targeting everyone? Without targeting a specific audience, you risk blending in with your competition. You think you’re the sole source of company info. How are you engaging your current customers and prospects? How often do you interact with them? What other sources are they using to learn and form opinions about your company and products? You aren’t actively refining your positioning. When the competitive landscape or your target market changes, how long does it take you to adjust messaging? If you can make minor changes in days rather than waiting until your next quarterly strategy meeting, your positioning can and should change.
3. Create a compelling story that communicates the end result your product provides.
A good story has a villain and a clear strategy to save the day. For example, John Legere, former CEO of T-Mobile, used the villain narrative successfully to compete with their biggest rival, AT&T, by loudly pointing out the contrast with them. Get specific when crafting your story and hone in on the exact outcome you want your customers to have and how only you can offer it. Use negative attributes to create a fuller narrative. For instance, with paid media buying being a race to the bottom on agency fees, Common Thread Collective leans hard across their messaging into who they aren’t and what they don’t do.
4. Identify, reach out, and learn from your best customers to find out why they chose you.
Instead of spending hours nose deep in spreadsheets or trying to survey everyone, ask yourself the following questions to identify your best customers: Which customers were quick to adopt your products and services? Which consistently refer your business? Interviews with the customers you’ve identified can provide insight into how they see your competition, which may be drastically different than how you perceive them internally. Remember, the point of customer interviews isn’t to sell anything, but to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few questions you can ask in your customer interviews: Why did you choose us? Have you referred others to us? Why? What alternatives, if any, did you try before us? If you switched from a competitor, why? Did any particular marketing campaign nudge you to buy? What is your favorite part of our product/service?
5. Use the headline/paragraph/bullets visual formula to establish a clear value proposition and communicate it through your branding and messaging.
Headline: What is the end-benefit you’re offering in one short sentence? Mention the product and customer, and make it an attention-grabbing headline. Sub-headline or a 2-3 sentence paragraph: A specific explanation of what you do or offer, for whom, and why it’s useful. 3 bullet points: List the key features or benefits of what you offer. Visual: Show the perfect image, the hero shot, or an image reinforcing your main message. For example, the online bank Simple, which positions itself as a trailblazer in the new way of banking, leveraged the common frustrations of traditional banking and communicated how they were different through a story on their about page.
6. Make and communicate a clear and simple promise with your customers.
What can you promise customers if they invest in you? How can you communicate that in the simplest terms? Avoid vague promises. For example, Take Time Warner’s “enjoy better” and “better starts here” messaging. What was better? Pricing? Service? Selection of channels? The campaign was ambiguous and fueled consumer skepticism. For example, ConvertKit, a popular email service provider, does this extremely well. They don’t claim that they offer the most advanced email automation or that they’re great for enterprises, their simple promise is “Audience building for creators. Share what you love to connect with your followers and grow your business.”
7. Include all teams in the positioning process to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Your positioning affects multiple departments and including all teams in the positioning process, can also help unlock insights that may not always reach across departments. For example, your customer service team might notice that a significant number of cancellations or refunds stem from frustrations with features that aren’t properly explained during the same process, or maybe your product team can improve your onboarding, thus improving trial activations.
8. Change the conversation entirely and don’t dwell on comparing yourself to the competition.
Remember to position yourself positively for consumers, too. Strong positioning can often make your customers feel like you’re the way of the future, and that choosing anyone else would be a mistake. Storytelling can help. For example, Supply’s flagship razor blade sells for ~5x–7x the usual cost of a razor. This means it has to position itself negatively against competitors, as well as positively for consumers. As a result, Supply’s product pages are masterclasses in copywriting, educating, and positioning. Trial-and-error and constant adjustments based on customer feedback can help you develop a unique message over time.