Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It


Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about. "This book will show you how to deliberately position your product to maximize the success of your business. I’m going to show you a simple way to break positioning into components so you can hone and perfect each piece. You will learn how to put those pieces together into a market position that is centered on your strengths and focused on your best-fit customers. You might even start to think that positioning is cool.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Great positioning supercharges all of your marketing and sales efforts. Strong positioning feels like we’re cheating. It lets us draft along with the forces of the markets we operate in, making everything we do in marketing and sales easier. No matter what direction we face, the wind is blowing at our back.
  2. The first step to optimizing positioning is to really understand what it is. 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.
  3. “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” MICHAEL PORTER
  4. Customers need to be able to easily understand what your product is, why it’s special and why it matters to them. Context enables people to figure out what’s important. Positioning products is a lot like context setting in the opening of a movie.
  5. When customers encounter a product they have never seen before, they will look for contextual clues to help them figure out what it is, who it’s for and why they should care. Taken together, the messaging, pricing, features, branding, partners and customers create context and set the scene for the product.
  6. When we lack context for a product, the easiest way to create one is by starting with something we already know.
  7. Product creators often fall into the trap of thinking there is only one way to position an offering, and that we have no ability to shift that contextual frame of reference, especially after we have released it to market. We set out to build something (a new dessert or a new way of doing email, for example) and then almost unconsciously position our offering in that market (“dessert” or “email”). But most products can be positioned in multiple different markets.
  8. 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.
    1. Target buyers and where you sell.
    2. Competitive alternatives.
    3. Pricing and margin
    4. Key product features and roadmap.
  9. Trap 2: You carefully designed your product for a market, but that market has changed.
  10. The common failure in both of these traps is not deliberately positioning the product. We stick with a “default” positioning, even when the product changes or the market changes. I believe this happens because we haven’t been taught that every product can be positioned in multiple ways and often the best position for a product is not the default. We have never been taught that positioning is a deliberate business choice that requires time, attention and, importantly, a systematic process.
  11. Great positioning takes into account all of the following:
    1. The customer’s point of view on the problem you solve and the alternative ways of solving that problem.
    2. The ways you are uniquely different from those alternatives and why that’s meaningful for customers.
    3. The characteristics of a potential customer that really values what you can uniquely deliver.
    4. The best market context for your product that makes your unique value obvious to those customers who are best suited to your product. 
  12. These are the Five (Plus One) Components of Effective Positioning:
    1. Competitive alternatives.
      1. What customers would do if your solution didn’t exist.
      2. It’s important to really understand what customers compare your solution with, because that’s the yardstick they use to define “better.”
      3. The key is to make sure they are different when compared with the capabilities of the real competitive alternatives from a customer’s perspective.
      4. 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. Trends must be relevant to your target customers, and can be used in combination with your market category to make your product more relevant to your buyers right now.
    2. Unique attributes.
      1. The features and capabilities that you have and the alternatives lack.
    3. Value (and proof).
      1. The benefit that those features enable for customers.
      2. Value is the benefit you can deliver to customers because of your unique attributes.
      3. Value should be as fact-based as possible. Qualitative value claims, such as “people enjoy well-designed user interfaces,” are too subjective and customers won’t believe them. Your opinion of your value does not count as proof; the opinion of customers, reviewers and experts does. Data or third-party opinions are difficult to refute. Your value needs to be provable in an objective and demonstrable way.
    4. Target market characteristics.
      1. The characteristics of a group of buyers that lead them to really care a lot about the value you deliver.
      2. Your sales and marketing efforts have to be focused on the customers who are most likely to buy from you. Your positioning needs to clearly identify who those folks are. And simply put, they are the customers who care the most about the value your product delivers. You need to identify what sets these folks apart. What is it about these customers that makes them love your product more than others? How can we identify them? Your target market is the customers who buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts and tell their friends about your offerings.
    5. Market category.
      1. The market you describe yourself as being part of, to help customers understand your value.
      2. Declaring that your product exists in a certain market category will set off a powerful set of assumptions in customers’ minds about who your competitors are, what the functionality of the product should be and what the pricing is like.
      3. Your market category can work for you or against you. If you choose your category wisely, all the assumptions are working for you. You don’t have to tell customers who your competitors are. It’s assumed! You don’t have to list every feature, because it’s assumed that all products in the category have basic category functions. However, a poor category choice can turn that power against a product. If the market category we select triggers assumptions that do not apply to our product, then a good portion of our marketing and sales efforts are going to be spent battling those assumptions.
    6. (Bonus) Relevant trends.
      1. Trends that your target customers understand and/or are interested in that can help make your product more relevant right now.
      2. Used carefully, trends can help customers understand why your offering is 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. Market categories help customers understand what your offering is all about and why they should care. Trends help buyers understand why this product is important to them right now.
  13. The flow looks something like this:
    1. STEP 1. Understand the Customers Who Love Your Product
      1. Your best-fit customers hold the key to understanding what your product is. The first step in the positioning exercise is to make a short list of your best customers.
      2. What if I don’t have any super-happy customers yet? This positioning process assumes you have enough happy customers to see a pattern in who loves your product and why. Until you can see that, you will want to hold off on tightening up your positioning.
      3. 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.
    2. STEP 2. Form a Positioning Team
    3. STEP 3. Align Your Positioning Vocabulary and Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage
    4. STEP 4. List Your True Competitive Alternatives
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. Focus on your best customers and what they would identify as alternative solutions.
    5. STEP 5. Isolate Your Unique Attributes or Features
      1. 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.
      2. In this step, list all of the capabilities you have that the alternatives do not.
      3. Ease of use is another “feature” that I believe is really a value. What is it about your product that makes it easier to use and how do you prove it? Do your competitors’ products require training and your product doesn’t? Can you quantify how long it takes to become proficient with your product versus alternative products?
      4. Concentrate on “consideration” rather than “retention” attributes. Consideration attributes are things that customers care about when they are evaluating whether or not to make a purchase. Every product has features that you can connect directly to a goal the customer would like to accomplish right now. Retention attributes are features that aren’t as important when a customer is making an initial purchase decision, but are very important when it comes time to renew. These include how easy it is to do business with a company and the quality of customer support.
    6. STEP 6. Map the Attributes to Value “Themes”
      1. Articulating value takes the benefits one step further: putting benefits into the context of a goal the customer is trying to achieve. Value could be “photos that are sharp even when printed or zoomed in,” “a frame that saves you money on replacements,”
      2. Features enable benefits, which can be translated into value in unique customer terms.
      3. Feature: Something your product does or has Benefit: What the feature enables for customers Value: How this feature maps to a goal the customer is trying to achieve 15-megapixel camera Sharp photo images Images can be zoomed in or printed in large format and still look sharp. All-metal construction A stronger frame that resists damage The frame lasts five times longer, allowing savings of $50,000 per year on frame replacements. One-click reports Fast, easy report generation Every part of the organization can make better decisions based
      4. 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.
    7. STEP 7. Determine Who Cares a Lot
      1. Target as narrowly as you can to meet your near-term sales objectives. You can broaden the targets later.
      2. I’ve found that this step tends to be either the easiest or the most difficult to work through. You are mapping the value that your product’s features deliver to a group of customers who have the highest affinity for your product. You need to focus on the value points that you listed in the previous step and repeat the question, Who cares and why?
    8. STEP 8. Find a Market Frame of Reference That Puts Your Strengths at the Center and Determine How to Position in It
      1. In the context of this exercise, a “market” needs to be something that already exists in the minds of customers (except in the very rare case where you make a conscious decision to create a new market—which we’ll discuss later in this step). We position our offering in a market to trigger a set of assumptions—about competitors, features and pricing—that work to our advantage. By choosing to position within a specific market, you’re giving your prospects clues about what products they should compare you with, your key features, your price and your benefits. Those comparisons help customers quickly figure out what your product is all about and whether or not they should consider purchasing it.
      2. Use abductive reasoning. The adage “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” also applies to new products. With abductive reasoning, you choose a market category by isolating your key features and their value, and asking yourself, What types of products typically have those features? What category of products typically deliver that value?
      3. Pay particular attention to adjacent markets that are growing quickly. Positioning yourself in a growing market has obvious benefits: a rising tide of customer interest, media focus and buzz, and the appearance of being new and cool—who doesn’t want that? But be careful—simply wanting to belong in a market doesn’t make it the right one for you. Only choose a market if it makes your strengths obvious.
      4. The goal of the Big Fish, Small Pond style of positioning is to carve off a piece of the market where the rules are a little bit different—just enough to give your product an edge over the category leader. Like the Head to Head style of positioning, here you are leveraging what buyers already know about the broader market category, but you are calling attention to the fact that some of the requirements for your chosen subsegments are different and not being met by the overall category leader.
      5. When to use the Create a New Game style Because this style of positioning is so difficult, it should only be used when you have evaluated every possible existing market category and concluded that you cannot position your offering there, because doing so would fail to put the focus on your true differentiators and value.
    9. STEP 9. Layer On a Trend (but Be Careful)
      1. Think of your product’s strengths, your market context and a trend that is relevant to your customer base as three overlapping circles. You are aiming for the center, where all three intersect.
      2. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” WAYNE DYER Describing a trend without declaring a market can make your product cool but baffling.
    10. STEP 10. Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared

What I got out of it

  1. A great roadmap to help think about and develop product positioning. If you nail positioning, everything after that becomes easier

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