Product Positioning – Do You Have it Backwards?

First of all, let me explode one common misconception.  Product positioning is not something you do once the product is built.

Product Positioning

Product positioning isn’t meant to be kept a secret, nicely isolated from product development, sales and the rest of the company.  It’s not static either.

Product Positioning is not a Post-Processing Step

That’s the secret that Apple understands so well, and one of the reason’s why they were (albeit briefly) the world’s most valuable company.

Marketing does not begin once the product is finished and released.  Marketing is not just telling the world about your product – i.e. some product that already exists.  Marketing is an integral part of the development cycle.  It begins at product conception.  And it ends at product retirement.

Marketing is about:

  • choosing what segments to sell to
  • finding out what is important to those potential customers
  • understanding the competitive landscape
  • knowing what your competitive advantage is
  • determing the price points that the market will support
  • deciding what product to build

Product positioning, done well, encapsulates ALL of these points and more.  It helps drive development requirements, sales strategies, company strategy, support policies.  That’s why it’s so critical.

It’s also a lot of work.  But go ahead…ask Apple if it’s worth it.

Note: I just read an excellent post by Tony Zingale on on a very similar topic.

14 thoughts on “Product Positioning – Do You Have it Backwards?

  1. Great (and what should be obvious) points. Having provided management and technical leadership to development organizations over the years, I’ve begged for a clear understanding of things like our perceived competitive advantage, our competitors strengths and weaknesses and customer’s priorities.

    This is often critical to making architectural decisions and design tradeoffs.

    Sadly, this information, if understood at all by the organization, is rarely properly communicated to developers.

    • Points well made! Especially on the last point: marketing is about ‘deciding what product to build.’ Marketing should be embedded into our own product, the product itself should be well-made and have a viral aspect to it. We should understand the competitive landscape which makes you decide on how to brand the product, and differentiate from other ones. That’s when the product itself creates word-of-mouth.

  2. Good article. There is a lot in the second bullet (finding out what is important to customers). This is where so much issue is, I believe. Too many groups fall into incrementalism and just build what is known or asked for, and miss the unspoken needs or issues. This can’t be adequately identified without deeply understanding customers (all customers, not just direct end users of an application), including empathic research. I see few groups really trying to deeply understand customers and too much innovation focus being directed towards Google’s 20% time or other concepts that rely on the “bright guy”.

    • Greg,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Along the lines of your “bright guy” comment – waaaay too much reliance on the “internal subject matter expert” – typically someone who either:

      1) once-upon-a-time used to have a job in some particular field
      2) works a lot with other people in a particular field
      3) has been doing marketing work relevant to the particular field

      Using these “Subject Matter Experts” as a proxy for REAL customer knowledge is a path to failure. It’s a shortcut for lazy marketers. Typically the knowledge that these people have is out of date, incomplete or highly slanted. It’s a great place to START – but a terrible place to “end”.

      Thanks for the read, Greg. I appreciate it.

      • I also hate the notion that innovation can’t come from a directed effort, which leads to the bright guy syndrome or the “give us 20% of time”. I have seen great innovations come from targeted, directed efforts – knowing the space, knowing the major problems (or problem areas) and then deeply understanding the customer and identifying what the customer doesn’t know to ask for. Way higher hit rate… innovation can be a process, it should be a process.

      • Hollis and Greg –
        Yes, yes, yes! We need both bright “guys” and the real in-depth understanding of the customer and their needs, interests, pains, etc. AND we need to understand the landscape of possible alternative “solutions” that the customer has. My shorthand definition of positioning is that it answers the simple question of “What makes this product more, better, different than competing solutions in the view of the customer?” That means you need to understand not only the product but the competing solutions (whether they are products or just other ways to doing things) and you need to understand this from the customer POV. A related issue and pet peeve of mine is companies who say “we have no competition.” It might be pitiful competition, it might be a manual vs. automatic way of doing things, it might be a cumbersome approach…but usually there is some competition.

  3. This point is right on target. I’m reading a book right now where one section talks about marketing. In this book, they say, once you have your product ready, now you want to figure out how to position it in the market. Wow!! How backward is that. You should have figured out the positioning first and built the product to support it. In the product management training I conduct, I also emphasize that point – you have to get the target market segments and positioning defined first and then build the solution and make sure to defend that positioning going forward.

  4. The reality is this is NOT an either or situation. MANY, especially technology products, fail because engineers simply can’t get out of the weeds and talk about true value. Understanding, communicating and delivering value is as important as building the enabler of that delivery.

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