Have you ever come across any text on product positioning or the name April Dunford and wondered what it means and why you should research more about it?
You are not alone and thanks to the Product Marketing Alliance Sub-Saharan Africa Scholar program in 2020. I was lucky enough to learn product positioning from the best in the industry and I will like to share my findings with you.
Product positioning is one of the most discussed topics in product marketing as it could make or mar the performance of any product. Product positioning is an important process for developing strategies that inform how users will think about your products. It is targeted towards occupying a mental space in your customer's or users' thoughts on how valuable your product can be towards solving their problem.
Strategic product positioning seeks to instil the truth about your product through effective messaging and storytelling techniques that clearly explain your value offering to potential users or customers. The strategy should clearly explain the present status of the product and where it would be in the future while moving the product from point A (current) to B (ideal).
This article focuses on developing effective product positioning strategies with detailed explanations of the top 10 product positioning strategies across different industries. But to begin, let me start by explaining the forms of product marketing, elements of product positioning with a production statement example, and lastly, types of product positioning strategy.
There are two major categories of product positioning strategies that can be found across different products and industries. Intentional or Accidental product positioning.
Intentional Product Positioning: The brand is deliberate and strategic about creating a positioning strategy. This is often achieved by starting the product positioning strategy in the early stage of the product by demonstrating the unique offer of the product as it meets the market needs.
Uber, for example, positioned itself to appeal to customers who demanded comfort when they needed to get a cab. Uber dominates the market quickly, outside its primary location of launch, by being able to continually modify product positioning to ensure it addresses the needs of its customers. If done right, intentional product positioning is easier to alter and helps shape the future of your company's growth.
Accidental Product Positioning: As the name implies, this type of product positioning occurs when the business allows the target audience to take charge of the product messaging and categorize the company by themselves. Accidental product positioning often leads to customers asking for expectations that don’t align with the core company's values and brand promise, potentially causing failure or poor performance of the business.
According to April Dunford, “Weak positioning is usually the result of hanging on to a “default” market position that is rooted in the history of the product idea.”
To avoid accidental product positioning as a startup or an existing business and break free from hanging to the default idea, there are seven significant elements that you should consider for building a product positioning strategy.
These fundamental elements help you get intentional with your product positioning and influence how your product positioning will work across different departments to help you achieve your business goals.
Below are the 7 critical elements of product positioning;
Vision can be quickly developed when building your products based on what is achievable as it is the guiding purpose of intention on why you are making the product and what you plan to help customers achieve by using the product. However, being able to clearly describe the future state of the customer's problem and how the product will solve the problem is one step toward building a solid product positioning strategy.
Closely related to product vision, the task is the top-level statement that distinguishes your product purpose and answers questions like how, why, and what difference you plan to make with the product. It explains how you plan to make your product vision a reality.
This is the category you choose to operate with other competing products. The market category is strongly influenced by the product industry, your customer segment, and the type of product you plan to introduce to the market. If done right, creating a new market category could enhance your opportunity to win the market and strengthen your product positioning.
It is advised to conduct a product category analysis to uncover insights into the emerging trends in the market, customer experiences, and how best your product fills the gap for yet undiscovered potentials. This will help get a clearer picture of how the market category can help your product positioning.
Taglines are often an overlooked element that can make or mar your positioning effort. The tagline is a short slogan or catchy phrase that differentiates your company from every existing product while communicating the company's personality.
Developing a great tagline requires creativity. Most importantly, it should grab the customer's attention and help your product or brand stick so they can remember your brand whenever they decide to make a buying decision.
This is to identify the problems your target audience is facing that will make them choose your products above other competitors. List out all your customer's main pain points and endeavor to point out how your product best addresses their problems. Other supporting tools such as empathy maps, customer journeys, and more importantly, persona cards are required at this stage to get a clearer picture of these challenges and how your products are the ultimate solution.
As the name implies, your brand identity is directly tied to the vision, mission, and tagline listed above. Brand identity is a combination of your product's core values and how you want to be known to the world. It requires precise planning and thoughtfulness to develop a strong brand identity that communicates values.
This is achieved by clearly identifying your company's unique attributes or products toward providing a better solution to your customer’s challenges. Do you consider your products to be unique, value-driven attributes? This is what makes up your company and product differentiators.
A clear understanding of the above-listed elements of product positioning will inform your product positioning statement as explained below and more importantly, your product positioning strategy.
A popular template is in circulation to help Product Marketers create a strong Product Positioning statement. Below is an example of the statement in the
For [business], [your offering] is a [market category] which provides [main benefits], unlike [primary competitor] which provides [competitors’ benefits].
Here’s an example using the above product positioning statement for Unbabel, an enterprise multilingual translation tool.
For [target buyers], who [needs to improve efficiency with their customer support], [Unbabel] is a [multilingual translation tool] which provides [an easily AI-powered, human-refined proprietary solution to help businesses understand and be understood], unlike [AI or Human Translator] which provides [fast translations].
However, it is advised to come up with different positioning statements for different target audiences while identifying the pain points that resonate with the audience better.
Product position is the building block for your go-to-market plans, which will drive the content marketing team to create great collateral for the sales team to effectively engage the customers and better understand the product's competitive advantages. The absence of solid product positioning will give the marketing team and sales enablement a tough time in winning opportunities.
The product positioning strategies are often tied to the product’s characteristics and how it is perceived or used by the customers. The under-listed positioning strategies are broken down from comparative, differentiation, and segmentation product positioning strategies.
Pricing as a product positioning strategy uses a quality approach to make customers see the perceived value of a product. It leverages human perception of how quality is tied to product price, potentially leading to more offers in performance and feature. The goal of using pricing as a product positioning strategy is to win the customers over and make them think doing business with you is considered a valuable decision that promises a premium feel and offers the best in the market.
A price-value matrix is a popular tool used to analyze your price compared to your competitors by identifying your pricing objectives and, more importantly, your product proposition. The pricing strategies you can implement are undercut, surround, skim and match. Bear in mind that industry regulations and product-specific requirements could potentially affect pricing as a product positioning strategy.
Let's imagine that you want to buy a hosting service and browse the internet for different companies, and you come across a price range between $100 - $150, then you stumble on a similar hosting size with a $200 price tag. You will likely need to look up the website to uncover the unique offering that makes the service more expensive.
This type of positioning strategy is targeted at specific usage or application of the product. The product is presented to the user or customer as the perfect solution for a particular challenge with a focus on highlighting the product application. It is implemented to expand the product reach and increase market share, and a good example could be a bike hauling company that also offers a fast bike delivery service.
For example, Mixpanel positioned itself as a tool to help product teams uncover insights from how users interact with their products and better make data-driven decisions from the analytics.
Customer benefits are closely tied to using product characteristics to tell product stories. This strategy tries to present the product to the customer by emphasizing the product characteristics related to the customer’s pain point. You would have noticed how ride-hailing companies promote "safety" and "comfort" as the core benefits of using their products.
This strategy allows you to tailor your messaging to specific audiences based on the product attributes that solve their problem. It can sometimes be challenging to position a product using different characteristics, and that is why it is advised always to validate your strategies before you commence execution.
Unbabel positions itself as an enterprise translation tool that combines human translators with artificial intelligence efficiency while also using machine learning to refine the product library. The perceived benefit of using the product is that users believe they are getting the contextual value of native translators at an incredible machine speed.
Product user positioning strategy is slightly related to product class positioning. However, this type of strategy communicates a product's unique offering by identifying the product’s method in solving challenges for a particular group.
It differentiates itself from other products by only communicating the product value to a class of users. The Product Marketing Alliance, for example, positions itself as the go-to destination for anyone interested in product marketing, either as a practicing professional or looking at transitioning into the field of product marketing.
The most popular positioning strategy is competitor-based positioning, which seeks to leverage the presence of an existing competition to understand the market better and shape your messaging. This strategy mainly combines two or more other techniques such as pricing and benefits to compare how your competitors perform less.
This strategy is used to reference how the product offerings are better than the competitors by explicitly comparing the competitors in pricing, quality service delivery, or more attributes. MailerLite, for example, has an entire page dedicated to email marketing software comparisons on its website. On the page, they compared MailerLite’s unique offering to 7 other email marketing software by highlighting MailerLite's special features against its competitors.
Whether you are about to launch a new product or business or you are looking at repurposing your existing products for the right market, product positioning should be your starting point. Accidental product position rarely leads to success, it requires effort, understanding of the competitive landscape you operate in, understanding your customers' challenges, and being able to make data-driven decisions to inform your marketing and overall messaging activities.
While product positioning is the building block towards the success of your products and achieves maximum visibility in the market, it is advised to do an audit of the entire adoption process and how the customer's experience which will significantly influence what they think about your product.