How to transform your product by giving it context

How to transform your product by giving it context

No product exists in isolation. Every offering is presented to potential customers within a context or a frame of reference, whether we set one deliberately or not. That context helps them understand what it is, who it is for and why they should care. A great product, presented within a context that highlights it’s strengths is unstoppable. However even a world-class product can be completely undone by a context that does the opposite. Here’s a simple non-startup example that illustrates what I mean. Context: An Experiment In 2007 the Washington Post conducted what they described as an experiment in “context, perception and priorities”. The idea was that they would take a professional musician and have him play in the plaza outside of a busy Washington Metro station and see what would happen. The musician they chose was Joshua Bell — arguably the best violinist in the world at the time. He was a former child prodigy and regularly sold out concert halls with ticket prices of $100 a pop. A bio of Joshua Bell in Interview magazine stated that his playing “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” The morning commuters of Washington were about to be exposed to a potentially life-affirming experience. Would they notice? And can a virtuoso make a decent living as a street performer? In a word — no. 1070 people passed Joshua while he played in the plaza. 7 paused to listen to him play. He made $32.17. When I first read about this the result didn’t surprise me too much. Maybe that’s because I take the subway to work and I’m usually...
If you think Positioning is a marketing exercise – you’re doing it wrong

If you think Positioning is a marketing exercise – you’re doing it wrong

Positioning a product today is radically different from what it was when the concept was first introduced. Anyone who has read Ries and Trout’s “Positioning – the Battle for Your Mind”, would be understandably left thinking that Positioning is an exercise completed by the marketing department (or marketing agencies) for the marketing department. The examples we have studied to learn positioning generally involve marketing teams coming up with creative ways to position products in advertising campaigns through the use of slogans or taglines or creative branding. Staking a claim to a market position, is merely a matter of telling the world about it (or so we have been taught). But things in the real world have dramatically changed. The first change is that Madison Avenue no longer controls the way customers perceive products. Buyers now have the means to research products themselves, and they do. Buyers are not only adept at ignoring (or simply blocking) most of the ads directed at them, they’re heavily skeptical of the few that do manage to break through. It may have once been possible to simply tell people what your product positioning was all about and have prospects believe you, that’s no longer the case. We’ve been lied to and we’re skeptical of what brands have to say about themselves. Advertising-saturated, noisy markets mean that positioning a product so that customers can understand it quickly is more important than ever. However, expressing that positioning to jaded, attention-deficient, skeptical markets is going to take more than just, well, more advertising. This is particularly true for new companies that don’t have the budget to even attempt to win...
How product framing can help grow your startup (or kill it)

How product framing can help grow your startup (or kill it)

I frequently talk to startup founders with innovative products that struggle to explain why their offering is really exciting. I frequently think the problem is really one of improper context setting or framing as I like to call it. What’s framing and why should you care? Framing is the act of providing context to help prospects understand what you are and why they should care. It works much like the opening scene in a movies does. In the opening scene of Apocalypse Now we see Martin Sheen punching a mirror in in filthy hotel room full of empty booze bottles and we have a pretty good idea about his emotional state of mind before we’ve heard a word of dialogue. Framing helps audiences quickly get oriented so that they can understand what’s going on and focus their attention on the action. New prospects are like people watching a movie. If we don’t let them in on where we are, who we are, and what we are about to show them, they might be left feeling confused, or worse incorrectly guess the answers to those questions. In general, startups are bad at framing. In some cases they don’t provide a frame at all, instead focusing on features or technology before they give prospects a clue about what they are in a broader since. More frequently however, I see startups provide a frame, just not a very good one. Startups will often place their products within a frame that fails to highlight their strengths and often puts their competitors at an advantage. This weak framing is often done unconsciously because they believe that there is only...
Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love

Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love

The past 8 months has been a whirlwind of action for me. In October I acquired Sprintly – an agile project management tool for startups, along with the original founder, Joe Stump. It’s been an incredible experience so far and definitely the most fun project I have worked on in my career yet. As part of getting Sprintly re-started, I’ve been out doing some talks and podcasts about my experience in running the business so far and I thought I should share those here for folks that have been wondering what’s new. A few weeks back I gave a talk at TechTO called Leaky Buckets, Death Stink and True Love – it’s a quick talk on what I’ve been focused on in the early days of running Sprintly. TechTO is a really fun event and part of what makes it so interesting is that the speakers only get 5 minutes to present. I cannot do anything in 5 minutes. I went a weeny bit over (ok, ok it was 6:30 and I spoke as fast as a chipmunk) but it was a hoot.  Here’s the video. I also did an interview with the folks at Funnelcake where I talked a bit about Sprintly stuff, positioning and other startup marketing things. It was a fun discussion. You can check out the transcript of our discussion here and if you haven’t been reading their blog, it’s a great resource for marketers of all stripes – check it out here – April Dunford on Positioning.    ...
Startup Market Segmentation: 5 Steps to Selecting a Target Market

Startup Market Segmentation: 5 Steps to Selecting a Target Market

For startups, breaking your market up into addressable market segments is important. First of all you have limited money and people to execute programs, therefore you have to focus your efforts on the audience that has the highest probability of purchasing. Secondly, focusing on a segment allows you to build early momentum more easily – awareness and word of mouth builds faster across like-minded groups, and success stories resonate well across a segment of similar prospects. A key element of your company’s positioning is “Who are you selling to?”. It sounds like a simple question to answer but often for startups, a sloppy market segmentation is the root of a lot of marketing (and ultimately sales) problems. When I ask the question “What’s your target market?” I often get an overly simplistic answer like, “SMB’s”. That’s just too big to be a practical target market for a startup. You aren’t going to close business with every single SMB this year are you? Of course not. You are going to close business with a certain kind of SMB. A special snowflake sort of SMB that gets what you do, loves what you do, and will pay money for what you do. You’re going to sell those weirdo, magical, unusual SMB’s that are willing to ignore the fact that you’re small and broke and you’ve never really done this before. What makes those people so strange and awesome? The answer to that question is the key to your segmentation. “What are the characteristics of prospects that love my unique stuff the most?” Here are some steps to choosing a good market to target: Really get a...

Positioning for Advantage

I gave a keynote at East Coast Startup Week this week on Startup Positioning. Think of these slides of the skimmable version of my earlier post on Startup Positioning (read that post if you want some color on what these slides are talking about) with the addition of a couple of examples using the template. Plus motorcycles, monster trucks and racing pigs because I know you secretly love all of those things. Enjoy. Positioning for Advantage from April...
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