Play to Your Strengths – Strategies For Product Positioning

The past few months have had me thinking a lot about product positioning. Several projects that I’ve had, and more than a few business plans I’ve reviewed recently, struggle with the concept of their product’s strengths. This can apply to companies as well as a positioning message of what they offer over competitors. Product positioning is all around us, whether you notice or it or not.

The goal of product (or service or company) positioning is to keep you in the customer’s mind at the time they are looking to purchase. A positioning strategy feeds into the marketing message in terms of how you talk about the product. The strongest brands and products you know about have succinct positioning statement.

But how do you get there? Define, then refine.
Much, if not all, of the data we’re going to look at below can be used for other product areas – price forecasting, operational improvements and marketing messaging around the product; but for today, we’re looking at positioning.

Define as much as possible about the product:
Product attributes and market segmentation: is it a luxury item, a mid-tier market, or economy based? Obvious examples of this are hotels: the Ritz Carlton (luxury), the Hilton (mid) and Comfort Inn (economy); each are positioned within a market segment.

  • Benefits to the customer: what will the customer gain from your product or service? The affluent traveler looking for an experience (Ritz Carlton). Ideal for ease of business travel – cookie cutter accommodations/amenities (Hilton). Inexpensive, and won’t break the bank for quick trips or family vacations (Comfort Inn).
  • Characteristics of the customer: define a couple of scenarios of ideal customers, including demographic information. What target features are they looking for? Where would your product ideally reach them? What would drive them to purchase from you?
  • Characteristics and strengths of competitors: conduct analysis using publicly available data; company annual reports, industry news and blog posts. Create an evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses to determine your competitive advantage. Opportunities for competitive pricing, improved distribution and product refresh cycles can be derived from analyzing your competitors.
  • Analyze gaps between your product and your competitors. Understanding these gaps will help you determine where your product positioning strengths stand out. These are areas which your product (or service offering) can easily target (to become)? market leaders.

Note, in some market segments the product gap could be very small, in which case your product might be competing with an established brand if it’s new to the market. Incumbents to a marketplace could be entering a profit-limiting segment.

To arrive at a product positioning statement, refine the ideas from the analysis narrow it down. Identify the top 10 items/concepts from the exercise. Then hone to the top 5, then finally the most important 3. Those 3 should be distillable into 3 words. You’ve arrived at the product positioning and the basis for your product/service/company’s marketing message.

Put it out there on all the channels used to connect to customers.
Do the concepts resonate with customers? Are you getting more sales or inquiries?

Market positioning for products change over time. Changes,whether economic or innovative, are constant in marketplaces and customers’ needs. Assessing your product positioning at regular intervals allows for retaining the competitive edge of customer needs in your market area.

Is your product playing to its strengths?

Getting Illustrative – Determining Your Company’s Value Proposition

I’ve been talking (and asking) about creating a value propositions for small businesses. What is a value proposition you might ask? A brief statement of benefit that summarizes why a customer should purchase a product or service. Basically, it explains the customer what will they will get exchange for their dollar(s) and your company’s unique identifiers from the competition.

I thought it would be interesting to represent questions that should be considered when creating your company’s value proposition in a handy graphic this week.

value proposition

What’s in the box? Your company’s value proposition should answer as many of these as possible.

It can be a bit of a challenge (almost like a mad-lib) to distill the answers down into a couple of sentences. White board, Trello board, or even traditional post-its can be useful in defining the concepts and arranging their order.

Once you’ve put the sentences together, which may take some time and revision to polish up, test them out. Try your value proposition out on various social media channels, email it around to you advisory groups and create some discussion around if you’re headed in a good direction with your proposition. Tor has some helpful (and humorous) advice for testing.

As your company moves forward and the product evolves in the marketplace, it makes sense to revisit your value proposition in scheduled intervals as it should reflect your product’s strengths.

I’m searching for great examples of value propositions that are out there today. Can be in any vertical. Seen any recently that have caught your eye? Post them below!

Should you build a product without a channel? If you build it, will they come?

It’s a rare few these days who would take the risk based on the Field of Dreams riff “if you build it, they will come”. Most of us spend at least some time looking at market opportunities, niches or areas where products/services could be made better/faster/cheaper. 

What would incite you to take the risk? I asked this around my network and received a few ideas back:

  • Belief that the market or technology would evolve
  • Large marketing budget  
  • A strategy for intersecting of two industries creating a new customer pool

Certainly all worthy considerations. I also think it depends on how much risk vs overhead is involved in producing the idea to get out the door. 

However, as Allison Bradley notes, you could also run the risk of devaluing your current brand in the process.

Since I don’t assume to have all the answers, I’ll leave you with a recent real world tale:

A friend of mine works for a company manufacturing high end consumer home products. Hard goods. You would spend close to 5 figures on one of their products. They’re a small company, and they’ve been spending resources to understand where their market opportunities lie at that price point, creating relationships with resellers and retailers, all things to ready for a larger distribution jump.

A few months ago the CEO walks into my friend’s office and says “I’ve commissioned 5,000 lower cost units to begin assembly next week for to sell at 1/4 of what we’d retail our main product line. We (you) need to figure out how to get them into the marketplace and sold”. 

Whoa, right? The effort and market positioning to date has been focused on a much higher end.Cross selling can be tough, Ian Smith offers some practical actions. 

I’ll post updates as events transpire.

What steps would you take to get this product out of the warehouse? 

The attitude builds altitude, the importance of being the face to your small business brand

In my last post I referenced a person who wasn’t interested creating more of a presence and audience for themselves based on their open source project contributions. While some of you thought this was refreshing (maybe doing this for the “greater good”) I disagree, and here’s why.

If you’re building, growing or just founding a business, you are the brand. The basis for your ability to produce growth in whatever sector you’re is based on your personal reputation and beliefs. Clients buy services, hard goods, widgets from companies they connect with. How can they connect with your business if you’re not showing them who’s behind the brand and what you’re capable of?

We’re the best/most experienced. Hire us. We’ll do some work for you.

Are you engaged? Probably not. 

When I was running my (small) manufacturing company, most times, even with a full set of staff on the floor, I would answer the phone. Yes, my clients at the time still liked interacting that way. They had no compunction about calling us up and asking even the most mundane (and occasionally ridiculous) questions. 

Disruptive? Sometimes. However, these people were championing my product to the public and recommending me to other potent sales sources, so it was important they were able to understand and convey my/company beliefs. Many times their questions lead to an idea for a company blog post, a further opportunity to engage with our audience. 

If you’re not showing off a little “attitude” you’re missing out on an opportunity to widen the conversation about who you are, what you’re about and eventually why customers should buy from you. 

Being able to convey that attitude out to an audience is your altitude. 

We recognize with our ever-busy schedules meals can happen on the road or in transit. Our company creates delicious grab and go foods which can be enjoyed anywhere. Will you have lunch with us?

Is a Major Contributor to an OSS Project a Brand?

The short answer is, I should hope so. The longer one is most definitely complicated and inexplicably ego defined. 

Most developers (or anyone really), starting dipping their toes into open source projects because they thought it was cool and saw an almost immediate return on an issue they (helped) solve or an idea which got implemented and quite possibly built themselves into a SME (subject matter expert) in that area.

This is true for almost any sort of project, I’m just using open source a handy example.

SME almost inherently sets you up to be a brand; you’re known and sought out in as part of the project (and possibly outside of) from those seeking help from you or an opportunity to work within your area. The opportunities that this could be parlayed into – whether a new job or a line of business (and quite hopefully mentoring opportunities for new community members) are a reasonable side benefit to project participation.

I had a conversation with a major contributor of a OSS project. This contributor has been involved in their community for many years and is a SME in a few areas of the project. So I posed the question of why weren’t they creating more of a public presence for themselves in blog posts, other social media, etc. – in effect promoting themselves as a brand?

Answer “Why should I run around promoting myself and my business as the (guy) person who’s developed those things?” 

Granted, everyone’s vision of what outcome their involvement in project is different, but if you’re looking to create opportunities for yourself and business by project participation, why would you ignore the opportunity to build an audience?

What do you think? Are you a brand?

After writing this and setting it down for a bit, I have some additional follow-up thoughts about this.