Before you start a campaign, run advertisements, or build content, you must know your positioning. Most of us know that.
But actually doing positioning? That’s more difficult to explain.
Before starting her own consultancy, April worked at 7 different startups in a variety of roles, usually running marketing. Through her experiences transforming marketing at B2B tech companies, she became intensely interested in the idea that positioning is the underlying issue for all of marketing.
April went on to found Ambient Strategy, where she consults for B2B tech firms, helping them communicate their messaging and sell their products.
The only competitors that really matter, are the competitors that your best customers think about.
Problem: Positioning is foundational. But how do you actually do positioning?
Before making the dive into marketing, April originally had a background in engineering. So, when she made the leap into marketing, she wanted to learn everything she could. She read Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, and she quickly bought into the idea that positioning is the foundation for everything.
Most marketers would agree.
But April also realized that while marketers believe in the underlying importance of positioning, there really wasn’t a methodology for doing positioning. So, as April moved through her career in marketing, she developed her own methodology for positioning.
Break positioning down into component pieces:
April thought she would break positioning down into the 5 common characteristics of positioning and then attack each one:
- Market category
- Competitive alternatives
- Unique features
- Value you deliver to customers
- Which customers you’re trying to sell to
April thought that after breaking positioning down into these 5 components, the rest would follow. But April quickly realized that each of these components is related to the other (for instance, the value you can deliver to customers depends on the unique features of your products, which is dependent on the competitive alternatives).
So, she realized she needed a different approach.
The 5 steps of positioning
April recently released a book called Obviously Awesome, which outlines her unique positioning process, which she condensed and laid out for us on the podcast:
Step 1: Make the right comparison
Start by making the right comparison. Turn to your best customers — those who love you the most, who don’t churn, who refer you to other customers, and who use the products as it is intended. Ask those customers what alternative(s) they would be using if you or your product didn’t exist.
They may say they’d use a competitor’s product, or they may even say, “We’d be using an intern or Excel.” Once you know what alternatives the customer would use without you and your product, ask:
Compared to those alternatives, what features do we have?
List those unique features out.
We need to start by making the right comparison, which is another way of saying we need to understand the competitive alternatives.
Step 2: Ask, ‘How do those features add value for my customers?’
As you list out the unique features of your product, you’ll usually see 2 to 3 value “themes” or buckets emerge — and those essentially form the basis of your value proposition.
Step 3: Understand why your best customers care so much about those features
Now, you want to understand why those features and this problem are consistently important to your best customers: It could be because they are all a certain size. Maybe they all use other complementary technology. Or, perhaps they all have a similar business model.
Understanding the underlying reasons why forms the basis of your customer segmentation.
Step 4: Find your market, & position your product within that context
Now that you know why customers are buying your product, and you know your market segmentation, you want to find the best market to position your value. Essentially, you need to determine:
What context can I put around this value to ensure this value is appreciated?
Step 5: Test your positioning
Hopefully, you didn’t think you’d get out of this without testing this new positioning.
Here’s a simple way to test whether or not your positioning is on the right track, assuming you’ve been in business for a while.
Build a new sales deck that captures the new positioning. Take your best salesperson, teach them the new sales pitch, and have them pitch that position to brand new prospects. (Note: it’s important not to use older prospects who’ve heard your prior positioning.)
Then, ask your salesperson if the new positioning was better or worse than the old poisoning.
Here’s an example of these 5 steps in action:
In one of her earliest marketing roles, April was working with a company that created a product that made a personal use database that could run SQL … or that’s the product April’s employer thought they had created.
Here’s what happened when they released the product: Nobody cared.
They already had another product that was doing well, so their gut instinct after a few months was to toss this new product because it was performing so poorly.
Just so they knew which customers would be negatively impacted when they stopped supporting this new release, April called the 100 customers who did buy this new product. Only 6 actually cared that the product would cease to exist, and they weren’t using it for its intended purpose at all.
But those 6 were loving the product. It turns out, they were all using it so their sales teams could take orders in the field, without having to go back into the office. This got April thinking. “Maybe we should reposition this product?”
She decided to reposition the product as a sales tool.
That changed the game.
The product, with its new positioning, sold incredibly well. They ended up getting acquired, and that product eventually became a billion-dollar business unit on its own.
April doesn’t have a mission statement (but she does have a mantra):
I want to do good work, with good people.
A few books on positioning April suggests:
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind — by Al Ries & Jack Trout
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany — by Steve Blank
- The Jobs-to-be-Done Handbook: Practical techniques for improving your application of Jobs-to-be-Done — by Chris Spiek & Bob Moesta
- Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It — by April Dunford