You’re a founder. You’ve come up with this unique idea to solve a problem in the market, and you’ve made a digital product to alleviate that pain. It is time to take it to market, but now what? Do you know how to speak about your product? What is your positioning strategy?
According to April Dunford, the most common mistake in positioning is not doing it at all. When a product goes to market, the founder usually has a positioning theory. They think they know who will like the product and why they will choose their product over alternatives in the market. but the truth is, you really don’t know until you know. After taking a product to market, you’re bound to be surprised.
This is why positioning is so vital. It is time to either validate or correct your theory, and actually describe your product in a way that makes sense to your consumers. April has narrowed the positioning process down to five key steps.
These individual steps are important, and so is the order. They all tie into each other and skipping a step, or doing them out of order, can mean ineffective positioning for your product. April dives deeper into positioning, and shares success stories and cautionary tales in her interview on the Better Product Podcast.
Step 1: Competitive Alternative
According to April, “If you don't understand your own competitive alternative from the point of view of the customer, then you're not going to do a very good job in positioning.” Finding your competitors can be tricky, and oftentimes your idea of your customer’s alternatives is actually out of touch.
In order to find your competitors, you need to talk to your users. You had your theory about who your users would be and why they would choose your product, but that theory was likely proven wrong. Talk to your customers and ask them: What would you do if you didn’t have this product? Product or not, what would their other option be?
Step 2: Unique Capabilities or Features
So now you know what made you stand out in the market to your best customers. Now it is time to dive deeper. Ask them questions to discover the details behind your unique features. What does your product have that your competitors are lacking? This is the unique offering that only you can provide, and this will be a crucial component to positioning your product in a crowded market.
Step 3: Value
The next step is to find out what value is derived from those unique features. What is the deeper meaning behind those features? In the long run, what pain does this alleviate for your users? This will be the ultimate driver of your product. When you figure out the value for consumers you can communicate that to the market, and that is a value proposition that your competitors can’t copy.
When you figure out the value for consumers you can communicate that to the market, and that is a value proposition that your competitors can’t copy.
Step 4: Customer Segmentation
So now you have your value, and you know what that means for value provided to your customers. Now, who are those customers? What are the characteristics of a customer that makes them really think your value is important? This might mean that you need to conduct user research with existing consumers and prospects alike. After repositioning, this could also mean doing research to validate that you are speaking to that value in the market.
Step 5: Market Category
According to April, “This is the context I can position my product in that makes my unique value obvious to the customers I'm trying to communicate to.” When you change the context around a product, you change assumptions consumers make about it.
Figuring out the right market category means your users will already come in with preconceptions about who you are and what you do. You need to figure out those preconceptions for your market category, and if that truly aligns with your product.
If you don’t follow this order, you run the risk of positioning your product wrongly, ineffectively, or in a way that customers don’t care about. The entire purpose of positioning is to make it instantly clear who you are, what you do, and why customers should care, but those answers don’t come overnight.
However, when you follow the right positioning framework, the result is a unique market position that is compelling to your costumers and speaks to what they value. This positioning should be consistent internally and externally and should be reworked and reevaluated as your product changes, but the purpose remains the same: Tell the right story, to the right people, at the right time.