Positioning Tools

PositioningPositioning is a funny thing. Something about that word makes people roll their eyes as if to say “there go the marketing people again…” Those people are wrong – positioning is not fluffy marketing-speak. It is important, and as a product manager you are CEO of your product, so you had better know who you are selling to and what their motivation is to buy.

You can position at multiple levels: Company, Brand, Product, even Feature (if you dare). I’ve seen people in Marketing say “We’ve got positioning! We’re the high technology company that sells to people who love high tech!” (really!). That’s not nearly enough, because it’s not specific, it doesn’t speak to the buyer’s problems, and it’s not backed up by anything real. If you pull random crap out of mid-air about what your company aspires to be and make that your company positioning statement, no one will believe it.

Real positioning is about what you are now, or if in your MRD, what you will become when you bring this product to market. Not what you hope to be. To steal a phrase from one of my favorite mentors, Terry Sadowski, “…hope is not a strategy.”

Wikipedia defines positioning as:

…the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization. It is the ‘relative competitive comparison’ their product occupies in a given market as perceived by the target market.

That’s a nice definition for products that play in a saturated market, like soap. That market is tapped, and there are a number of competitors battling for some share of 100%. In high technology, your image and identity are important, but I don’t believe that definition is sufficient. Pragmatic teaches that you want to understand your market so well that your product sells itself, e.g. as soon as the customer sees your product (or demo, or service), they will immediately leap out of their seat and say “Yes! That is what I want!”

To that end, during my career I’ve collected some tools and shortcuts to help you speed up the process of positioning. These are relevant during the ideation and requirements gathering stages, which is when you should be positioning. Never write requirements before doing this exercise. It is very useful to refer back to these during requirements writing if you need a rudder.

For
Who is the product for?
Who
What is their driving problem?
The
Our product
Is a
What is our product?
That
What does it do to solve the problem?
Unlike
What are competitive products and why do they not solve the problem adequately?
It
How do we do it?

The For row will usually be your user or buyer personas. If you are identifying someone here who you haven’t done a persona for, that means you need to do a new persona to cover that buyer. Who is the most important blank, because it is here that you define the problem that the persona is having. The is easy: fill in your product’s name. Is a can be tricky. Fill out what your product is, my goal is 6 words or less. This forces you (and by extension the person you are positioning for) to categorize your product in their mind (e.g. “cola,” “photo editing program,” “embedded GPS system”). That is where you get to describe what you do to solve the problem you defined above. Unlike is the most fun row, because you get to bash the competition and talk about why they suck. Finally, It lets you delve into the how to provide a few more details.

There are lots of variations on this exercise; this is the one that works best for me.

Let’s fill out the positioning table for Google’s Gmail:

For
Who is the product for?
Internet savvy business professionals like Paul
Who
What is their driving problem?
Are having trouble keeping up with their email because of spam, overflowing folders, or size limitations
The
Our product
Gmail Service
Is a
What is our product?
Web-based email tool
That
What does it do to solve the problem?
Provides nearly unlimited storage, intelligent spam filtering, and tag-based email sorting
Unlike
What are competitive products and why do they not solve the problem adequately?
First generation webmail services, which have low attachment size limits, use clunky folders for organization, and allow an unacceptable amount of spam
It
How do we do it?
Uses community-based identification to improve spam detection and allows much more flexible organization by showing emails in a global view or sorted by tag.

Now’s let’s fill out another one for David Meerman Scott’s new book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

For
Who is the product for?
Marketing professionals and executives
Who
What is their driving problem?
Are finding it increasingly difficult to effectively reach customers online
The
Our product
New Rules of Marketing & PR
Is a
What is our product?
Book
That
What does it do to solve the problem?
Shows how to reach targeted niche buyers online by using non-traditional forms of communications
Unlike
What are competitive products and why do they not solve the problem adequately?
Old-school brute force Marketing texts, which eschew the Internet or act like it doesn’t exist, leaving their readers clueless about how to adapt to changing customer attitudes
It
How do we do it?
Illustrates how to use tools such as blogs, social networks, and other guerrilla marketing tactics to make a huge impact without spending a huge amount of money.

This exercise helps you get to what Trout & Reis call “Functional Positioning,” one of their 3 bases of positioning. To learn the whole theory, read Positioning: The Battle Your Mind to see how marketers are attempting to manipulate you.

Fill this out for your own product, and let me know how it goes. Just remember to do this before you start product requirements, your life will be much easier.

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3 Comments

  • Reply David Meerman Scott May 31, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Awesome.

    What’s so interesting about this is that the words you chose for my book were very close to what I put into the original proposal that I sent to my agent more than a year ago!

    And taking the time to do positioning for the book BEFORE I started to write made it so much better because I created the product based on the positioning.

    Cheers, David

    (PS > I still owe you a call for that interview. I have three speaking gigs this week to launch the book. Let’s connect aftter June 12)

  • Reply Zach Cox June 10, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Great positioning template – I will be using it from now on!

    That and It seem very similar. Could you elaborate a bit on what their differences are?

  • Reply Paul August 28, 2007 at 8:05 am

    @Zach – “That” should strictly say what it is that you do. “It” describes how you do it, e.g. a technological advantage that might be important to the buyer, etc.

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