Obviously Awesome – a product positioning process and template

Obviously Awesome – a product positioning process and template

Obviously Awesome: a product positioning exercise Scroll down for a template — but I recommend you read the post before you try to use it. I’ve been a marketing executive at a half dozen successful startups and I’ve been a consultant and advisor to dozens more. I’ve also worked with a handful of massive global companies. If you asked me to point out the most common problem I see, my answer would be the same, regardless of the size of the company. Every company I have ever worked with has struggled to make their awesomeness obvious. I’ve watched startup founders, after working for weeks on a pitch, field a dozen variations on the question “So, how are you different from Company XYZ?”. I’ve seen teams at large companies build truly innovative new products that failed when customers simply couldn’t understand their value. Too often I see a massive disconnect between companies creating offerings that are important, world-changing, exceptional, AWESOME…and customers that fail to see anything interesting about them at all. Deliberate positioning puts your strengths front and centre The unique greatness of our offerings often feels obvious to folk inside the company. We have a ready answer to the question — “Why should a customer choose us?” Yet, if we ask customers the same question, they often find the differences between what we offer and what other companies offer hard to understand. This problem happens because we do not put our unique strengths at the centre of our positioning. Instead we position ourselves in the market we started in, even after our products have evolved well beyond that. We have failed to actively, deliberately...
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...
What The Heck Is Your Product Really?

What The Heck Is Your Product Really?

I was one of the judges in a pitch contest last week (thanks for having me Innovate Manitoba) and listening to the pitches it struck me how for most products, the answer to the question, “What are you?” could be answered in multiple different ways. It also struck me that how you answer that question changes a lot more than just your marketing – it changes your vision of what your company could become in the future. An Example: One Product, Two Frames Here’s an example. One of the companies pitching (I’ll leave their name out of it since I haven’t run this piece past them), has a gizmo that sits the on the dash of your car and lights up when you are approaching a speed trap, a red light camera or a reduced speed zone. The value proposition is “Save money on tickets”. What do they do? They help you get fewer tickets. Or put another way, they are in the ticket avoidance business. But it struck me that they could be in other businesses. Instead of being the thing that helps you save money on tickets for example, it could be the thing that helps you drive more safely. Instead of being in the ticket avoidance business, they could be in the driver safety business. Changing the Frame Changes the Future Is one way of thinking about it better than the other? Probably, but I have no clue which one – I have no background or experience in their business. (Aside – pitch contests drive me a bit batty for this reason. My opinion is likely wrong about...
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...
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