While most technology companies don’t have the large marketing departments associated with consumer brands (for whom positioning is a fundamental element of product branding and promotion), positioning is as vital to effective B2B communications with engineers, scientists, and technical customers as it is for the household names targeting end customers.
Much has been written about formal positioning statements, what they are for, what they should contain, and how to write them. Yet despite this, I am consistently amazed at the number of products that are launched and marketed without a positioning statement ever being thought of.
Now in many respects, the wording of the statement itself is of little consequence – it is merely a tool used to help with branding and guide marketing communications efforts and should never be released to the general public. However, such statements are an invaluable tool to align the sales, marketing, support, and product development teams and can save hours of discussion during messaging and content review processes.
A good positioning statement makes it clear who the customer is and what the problem is they need to solve.
A great positioning statement also captures information about the product or service offering, the key benefit(s), competitive forces and products, and the key differentiator(s) in a clear, concise and useable manner.
Positioning statements should be purely factual and devoid of emotion, superlatives, and aspiration. And they should never be grandiose.
“No amount of optimistic positioning and grandstanding can overcome the deficits of a poor product.”
While capturing all this information is great to help inform those creating content about the product/service, perhaps the most powerful aspect of creating a positioning statement is bringing together a cross-functional team to develop the statement.
The most successful discussions I have been involved with pulled all those together that would be in charge of creating/reviewing content – with representatives from product management, product development, sales and marketing all present and contributing.
To create truly insightful marketing programs, all basic assumptions about the customer and their needs should be challenged during this process.
Learn from the masters to create a great positioning statement
In the book “Crossing the Chasm”, Geoffrey Moore recommends using the following format:
- For (customer), who needs (need, should be independent of the product), the (product name and description), provides (benefit)
- Unlike (competitive products and solutions), the ‘product’ (describe key differentiator)
This format highlights the six key variables that need to be identified:
1. The Customer
All customer segments should be listed with as much specific detail as possible. Customers are not markets, although they may work within specific markets. For example, engineers within the aerospace industry may use a product, but the aerospace industry is not ‘the customer’.
Once the customer segments have been described, customer personae can be developed and any differences highlighted.
Clear definition of who your customers are is critical, as it will enable you to determine who your customers are not, and therefore highlight exactly which needs are important to serve.
2. The Need
Customer needs are by definition inherent to the customer, not the product. A need cannot be fabricated to justify a product. Even luxury items satisfy a need, even if that need is ‘merely’ to enhance one’s appearance or self-confidence.
In mature markets, the needs are often unexpressed and can be identified using market research techniques such as Hidden Needs Analysis.
3. Product Name and Description
The challenge here is to write a factual and honest description of the product without using hyperbole. It should be devoid of superlatives, emotions, and aspirations.
While this may seem simple, novel offerings provide the opportunity to define new product categories and assume leadership in a ‘blue ocean’. This can demand as much creativity as designing the product in the first place.
The benefit is the product’s answer to the need and should be written through the eyes of the customer. This does not mean technical specifications or product attributes, although benefits may contain a technical component.
Benefits that resonate with audiences eclipse product specifications and focus on how a customer’s work/life will be improved.
You may believe there are many potential benefits to using a product, but it is advised you either stick to a single benefit or else combine the multiple benefits into a single meaningful benefits statement.
5. Competitive Products and Solutions
While it may be tempting to simply list direct competitors within a category, a wider view of competition is needed here. A detailed examination of all the ways that your customers fulfill the needs expressed in Part 2 is required for this part of the positioning statement if it is to provide true value (even if some of those solutions only partially fulfill those needs).
From that list, the true competitors will be easily identifiable based upon the customer personae developed in Part 1.
Every product needs to exhibit some element of ‘uniqueness’ to justify its existence. If product teams want to avoid using price as a differentiator then either the product needs to be different, or it needs to be delivered differently. Such differences may range from product packaging and delivery mechanisms to service and support – or even the fundamental business model.
Most technical needs arise from human motivations and tapping into these motivations is critical if a customer is to be motivated enough to delve into the technical complexities of any offer.
In order to create messaging that provides customers with this motivation, positioning statements should avoid product features and specifications.
As marketers, we must be mindful of the fact that our customers are people, and that they will only buy our products if our message resonates with them. Those messages must avoid the grandiose and, ultimately, must represent the truth. For, just as poor positioning statements can negatively impact effective promotion, branding, and ultimately sales, no amount of optimistic positioning and grandstanding can overcome the deficits of a poor product.
- Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Consumers (New York, HarperBusiness, 2014)
- Keith Goffin, Fred Lemke, Ursula Koners, Identifying Hidden Needs: Creating Breakthrough Products (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
- W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business Review Press, 2004)
Please note, this post originally appeared at: https://strivenn.com/the-power-of-product-positioning/
4 thoughts on “The Power Of Product Positioning”
Today, it is not easy to cram a brand into the mind of the customer, so positioning the brand as well as the correct product positioning will help the business process more smoothly. Good article!
Thank you, am so glad you found this helpful
Thanks for the article. It’s always good to be reminded of having a good positioning statement. However (you knew this was coming), despite initial enthusiasm within companies in the idea of adopting a positioning statement, I’ve always found that the concept fizzles out. For example, the question already arises in 1. The Customer – do I need a positioning statement for each customer persona I identify (assuming different needs exist for each)? If so, most bail out at this point.
Then there’s the issue of so so many products in life science being second-to-market products that basically do the same thing as the first-to-market. A race to the bottom on price is hard to avoid.
Finally, when it comes to new technology, most marketing departments are faced with marketing a product where there has been little market research. There are whole companies starting up on this concept – products without a defined market (so let’s create one).
Am I correct in thinking that a good positioning statement can only be created for a new product if the market research has been done before hand and the product is designed to fit with actual customer needs?
Hi Peter, there’s a lot to unpack here so let me try to give you a concise answer that i’d be happy to discuss in great detail at some point.
The customer – here you can just list out the key persona that you are selling to, the need the product meets is going to be the same at a fundamental level.
For sure there are many “me too” products, such as microwell plates where differentiation may be a bad thing. I’d suggest that in that case the portfolio is what you position rather than the individual line items.
Innovative new products do need to meet a customer need, whether known or unknown (hidden) and that can be better articulated if there is market research to support the position. However, often beta testing followed by customer interviews can help organisations get close enough to the needs, benefits and differentiators that they can be expressed clearly enough to inform a position.
You usually find initial “technology launches” end up in the hands of the early adopters that experiment with the technology and help to define initial applications, as use cases become apparent, its up to the savvy marketer to define the whole product offer to meet the needs of those application users that make up the wider group of customers.
Happy to jump on a call sometime to discuss further – you can reach me through the contact details on my site http://www.strivenn.com