You’ve built a great product, so the cash should come raining in, right? Not if you haven’t asked the right product positioning questions.
Just because you have a great product doesn’t mean people will want it, or even understand what it does. It’s up to you to create that desire and to differentiate your brand from the rest of the pack.
The right product positioning will communicate the value of your product to your target audience. Without it, you could attract the wrong kind of leads, resulting in confusion, poor reviews, and a frantic customer support team.
Companies too often gloss over this critical aspect of product marketing in favor of other strategies that have a more measurable impact on ROI. However, product positioning is foundational to every marketing and sales function. In this article, I’ll give a quick introduction to product positioning, followed by a few questions to ask yourself to help nail your positioning and leverage it for success.
What is product positioning?
Product positioning comprises the steps you take to create a certain perception about your product. It’s the process of building a brand identity that you can promote and nurture in the long term to increase demand for your products.
Take Louboutin as an example: Its red-bottom shoes are associated with wealth and status; owning a pair is a mark of privilege. In the SaaS world, HubSpot has built its name around inbound marketing. Some even credit the company as the founding fathers of inbound with the easiest-to-use sales and marketing workspaces.
To reach this level of recognition, both companies invested in branding, advertising, and content marketing that reinforced a consistent message about their brands.
Product positioning questions to ask
Defining your brand position isn’t an easy feat. In fact, even the largest names tend to rebrand every seven to 10 years, while smaller ones may do so more frequently. To limit the number of times you have to rebrand, follow these steps to formulate your position.
1) What does your company stand for?
Start by thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish with your product. This shouldn’t be a five-minute exercise. Rather, you should take time to consider how the industry will evolve and your company’s role in it, both now and in the future.
Map out three things:
- Vision – An aspirational statement that describes the driving goal and future of your company. What is your perfect world?
- Mission – A more tangible statement that describes what your organization does, who it serves, and how it achieves its goals today.
- Values – Think beyond your product and identify the core values of your team. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you building what you’re building?
Your vision and mission are intended to help everyone, from your salespeople to your developers, know what they’re working towards. Your values help you connect with customers at the human level, and build a healthy culture that allows you to deliver on your promises.
2) What makes you valuable?
Think about what your current customers love about your product. Take some time to chat with your best customers — the ones who have the longest retention rate, highest customer lifetime value, and brought in the most revenue. These individuals fully understand how to derive value from your product.
As you listen, take note of the role you fill in their lives. What problems do you solve, what do they love about you, and how do they use your product? Do you solve a challenge for them, or help avoid a problem? Do they use you to achieve speed and flexibility in a process that was previously bulky and rigid?
Put similar sentiments into buckets and pick the top three based on which were most commonly stated, what your customers appreciated the most, and what your product does especially well. These are some of the main features that make your product valuable.
Pay attention to your customers’ jobs to be done (JTBD). Instead of looking stopping at features and functions, go deeper into achievements and ideal states. Your customers may use your products in ways you didn’t expect, and you should be ready to embrace those to boost value.
For example, baking soda is aptly named to give baked goods a light and fluffy texture. However, that is not the only JTBD baking soda has. It is also a powerful deodorizer and cleaning agent. It can whiten teeth, laundry, and remove smells from the back of your fridge. Knowing that, a company that sells baking soda would explore different ways to package it (quantities, packaging type and material, etc) to serve those different JTBD and boost sales.
3) Who are your contenders?
You need to position your product against your competitors to explain why you’re the better choice and to justify your price. First, however, you have to identify your competitors.
Figure out what your customers tried before you, and what they would do if you suddenly disappeared. Sometimes, your alternatives aren’t who you expect.
For example, rather than turn to a different analytics tool, customers may simply not monitor analytics at all. The alternative to an automated outreach tool might not be a CRM, but instead outsourcing the manual tasks to a VA.
4) What makes you different?
Once you know who your alternatives are, use your value buckets to pinpoint how you’re better than them. Is it a special feature, your delivery method (e.g., you integrate with a popular existing solution), or something else? Tie these into value. For example, your standing desk differentiator might be a fully metal construction, which generates value through its durability.
Tip: Take a look at your competitors on review sites and check out what people are complaining about.
5) Who needs your product?
Think about who your best customers are, how they use your product, and why they need your product. Look at who your best users are and highlight how your product can solve their problems and get them closer to their goals.
You don’t necessarily need to go after the decision maker here. The benefit of targeting your actual users, even if they have to get approval or put in budget requests, is that they should intuitively understand the need for and value of your product. If you go after decision makers who don’t use your product, you spend some extra time educating them about the problem, which can create longer sales cycles.
6) What is your market category?
Your market category provides a backdrop against which your potential customers will judge you. It also gives them a frame of reference to understand what you do. It’s your shortcut to explaining your value and solutions to a potential customer.
If you tell someone you are a 3PL, they will form an expectation of what services you offer (fulfillment, storage), and what would make you better than the alternatives (speed, affordable prices).
When you position yourself in the correct market category, your team also understands the presumed features, competitors, and customer expectations.
Sometimes, no existing market category will do your product justice. In this case, you’ll need to carve out your own market category and invest time in customer education — from explaining the problem (and convincing people they do in fact have that issue, and why it’s a problem) to selling your product as the ideal solution.
For example, decoupling front-end and backend systems, then adding API connections between them can speed up load times and add flexibility. This has been a common website developer practice for years. However, “headless commerce” and “front-end as a service” (think of a tool like Shogun Frontend that also handles the API layer) is an emerging trend in eCommerce.
7) What are the consequences of not having your product?
While you shouldn’t use fear to strongarm buyers into paying attention to your brand, you should articulate what will happen if buyers ignore your SaaS. In essence, you’ll want to show that there will be winners and losers.
But the potential loss shouldn’t focus solely on money. Instead, think about how the competitive landscape will change and what characteristics will define a successful company versus an unsuccessful one in the future.
Consider a customer’s personal values as well, like time, family, and self-fulfillment. What solutions do your customers need in their professional lives to positively impact their personal lives?
8) How can you summarize your product’s value to your ideal users in three sentences or less?
Wrapping up, you should be able to summarize your product’s values and differentiators clearly to your target audience in the context of your market category. Create a three-sentence explanation of your brand position and a longer version that digs deeper into your core values and differentiators.
Note: This is meant to be used internally. Don’t get caught up on trying to put together the perfect sentence(s); rather, focus on communicating your message in a way your team will understand (and remember). This position statement will serve as a reference for your team members as they prioritize projects and build their roadmaps.
Brand positioning questions bank
The questions above should give you a good idea of your product positioning and where your brand stands in the market. If you followed each step, you know:
- Your company and ideals
- Your primary JTBD and value
- Competitors and alternatives
- Your audience and market category
However, if you have more time, here are a list of further product and brand positioning questions you can utilize.
- What problems do your customers use you to solve? Use the JTBD framework to discover how your product fits into your customers’ lives. This fits in with question 2 above, but dives deeper into specific pain points.
- How did customers first discover your brand? This reveals your top acquisition channels. Segment them by top customers so you can focus on the channels that deliver the best leads.
- What impression does your website leave on visitors? What are the most common words that visitors use to describe your brand experience?
- How often do customers use or interact with your product? Are you an everyday brand, or are you only relevant in specific situations?
- Which departments and roles use your product? One department may use your product differently than another. They also have different goals and JTBD.
- What metrics do your product or brand contribute to? For example, an SEO tool affects organic search traffic volume, and an A/B testing tool affects website conversion rate.
- Are there any needs your market has that your brand isn’t addressing? Consider this an opportunity and challenge for your product and engineering team.
- What hesitations prevent closed deals? Addressing concerns helps to boost your conversions and create a smoother buyer experience.
- How effective is your current messaging? What is resonating, and what is falling flat? Consider using conversion optimization tools to check.
- Which features are “must haves” for your market? What are their non-negotiables, and how do (or can) you deliver on them?
- Which features aren’t used, or understood by your market? Is the solution to sunset them (and save your team’s bandwidth), or educate customers to boost adoption and value realization?
To learn more about your place in the market, I also encourage you to conduct consumer research and implement customer exit surveys to gather additional insights.
Wrapping up — Invest in your product positioning to build a strong foundation for success
All notable brands have a unique story and market position. Once you’ve defined yours, reinforce your position throughout all aspects of your business, from sales and marketing to product and customer success. Only then will you start to see huge returns on your efforts.
Published: November 8, 2021
Updated: March 28, 2022