Like many aspects of the marketing world, positioning can be a challenge. You aren’t going to just ‘know’ how to position a product, it’s simply not that easy. Being one of many businesses in a crowded market can leave you struggling to figure out how you differ, and how you can stand out.
This blog post in its entirety is based on April Dunford’s Conquer Local Presentation at the 2019 conference. Dunford is a positioning consultant, author, and worldwide speaker who shares her knowledge on positioning your business in crowded markets, and gives expert insights based on her 20 years of experience in launching and positioning B2B products.
If you struggle with positioning, feel your brand positioning is weak, or just don’t know where to start, this post will teach you how to to assess your own positioning, and how you can re position it around your business's strengths.
Keep reading for positioning tips, examples, and what not to do.
What is Positioning?
Positioning is essentially giving context to your products and services. Context helps people to make sense of the world around them— particularly new things or things we’re experiencing for the first time.
What does this product look like to you?
A shoe maybe? A duck beak?
The main point we’re trying to make is, how do we know what this is without context? More importantly, will a customer buy this without knowing what it is? Probably not.
Now with context this time...
Now we can see that this funny looking looking product is not a shoe or a duck beak, but a muzzle for small dogs. Seeing a photo like this allows customers to grasp exactly what your product does without really having to explain it.
Brand positioning may seem like a simple context to grasp, but there are many factors that go into how a product or service is positioned within a market and in the minds of your buyers.
Why is Positioning Important?
When markets are crowded, your brand positioning strategy is of high importance. If the markets are this crowded, you want to be positioning yourself differently than the competition, and make it known. If you can’t explain exactly what your product/service is meant for, and how you are unique against the substitutes, then customers aren’t going to be receptive.
The digital marketing sector is extremely crowded. Let’s define crowded...
Marketing tech companies in 2012:
It looks fairly divided and dispersed across multiple markets.
Marketing tech companies in 2018:
The markets are extremely crowded, and that’s downplaying it. You’ll have to squint to try and spot your competitors in this graphic!
Scott Brinker, of the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, created these graphics to help customers find exactly what they are looking for. If a customer was looking for live-chat solutions, they can look at one category to find an agency who can offer that service.
This graphic helps to narrow down the market categories to a couple dozen each, but this means you are still competing with a couple dozen agencies who are all fighting for that one customer’s attention.
Example: Email for Lawyers
Dunford uses this example to explain how your brand positioning statement can change your outcome. If you pick the wrong market and positioning, your sales and marketing teams are going to spend a lot of money trying to mitigate/fix people's perceptions of your solutions.
In this example, they’ve decided to position themselves in the market of ‘Email for Lawyers’ after making the assumption that email might be the biggest issue for lawyers.
Looking at this graphic, we can see what their competitors, features, target and price will be. Now the price really doesn’t look appealing to a business —How are they supposed to see high returns on a cheap/free product?
Now, what would happen if they positioned themselves in a different market, such as ‘Team Collaboration for Lawyers’?
After re-positioning, we can see they are still targeting lawyers, but in a less crowded market; one that has the potential to make their agency more profitable.
What is the POINT here?
Weak brand positioning will feel like you’re running uphill, no matter how great your marketing is. But a strong position feels like you’re lucky— it’s magic.
How to set context
Companies often position themselves by default. Like the example above, they were probably thinking ‘My product makes email easy for lawyers, so my position in the market is ‘Email for lawyers’, but that is not often going to work out.
To set the context of a product, you have to do two things:
1. Position deliberately
2. Follow a process
Take a step back and think for a moment: What if what you’ve built, isn’t the thing that you’ve actually built. Even if you built something for a purpose, the default purpose is not always the way you should position it.
Take manufacturing robots for example. You’re an engineer with a cool new gadget that drives around on its own, delivering things from one spot to the next— perfect for a manufacturing facility.
You take it to a manufacturer (trying to sell them on your new creation) and present it as a robot.
The manufacturer is going to think “I have a lot of robots in my factory already, I don’t need more”, and you’ll lose the sale.
You have to think to yourself, is it really a robot that you’ve created? Or is it something else?
A manufacturer won’t want to buy because they think you are selling them a robot, for which they have many already. But your not really selling a robot, you’ve created something that can drive around all on it’s own, similar to self-driving car technology.
If you present this gadget to manufacturers as a self-driving device, rather than just another factory robot, their perceptions will change. You can position yourself in a different market, or even create a new category.
2. Follow a Process
Positioning is NOT a simple mad-lib you can fill out as you see fit..
You may have learned something like this in a university marketing class, but the ugly truth is that positioning is just not that simple. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes our first intention isn’t always the best fit for a product.
Your positioning process should look more like this:
The value that you bring all depends on who your customer segment is, your key unique attributes all depend on who your competitors are..etc. Each part of the process relates to the others—they are not mutually exclusive components.
Market Categories VS Trends
Regardless of the current trends, your market category should always stay the same. Trends can be a great way to stand out and get noticed by customers, while still being clear about the category and context of your product.
Market categories are the competing brands within a specific market arena. For example, agencies who specialize in live chat-bots are in the same market category.
Trends are changes or developments to something new or different. Trends are typically temporary until a new trend comes along. For example, each year Pantone releases a specific “color of the year”, which ends up being the color trend for the year. Living Coral was the decided 2019 color trend.
Here are some examples!
What NOT to do
Trends are a great opportunity for marketers to capitalize on, but you have to know how to incorporate them properly with your solutions and market category. If you are focused too much on the current trend, there is a chance you’ll confuse your potential customers.
Trends can’t redefine a market, but they can make it more interesting.
Scenario #1: Lacking the trend
If you are completely ignoring trends, you’re going to appear boring.
You may feel like you are doing a great job explaining your solution and giving it context within your market category, but you are missing the excitement factor.
You don’t have to be trendy, but sometimes it’ll be difficult to make customers excited without it.
Scenario #2: Too focused on current trends
Now on the flip side, some companies get so excited about the trends that they forget to focus on what they actually do. If customers can’t figure out what you do, they won’t understand why they need your products or services.
Dunford uses an example where she was consulting with a company that were explaining their company as ‘Uber for Cats’.
Uber for Cats? Cats driving other cats around? Can cats drive?
What is actually was, was a marketplace for pet services. They were trying to use the trendy Uber reference to sell their services, but no one could understand what they actually did.
Scenario #3: The trend doesn’t match your product
In this scenario, every aspect of your marketing and positioning are failing. Generally, this is a place you do not want your company to be sitting in.
A good example of this is the Long Island Iced Tea situation. Essentially, their stock was down and they tried to use a trend to boost their stocks. They decided to re position with no new products, but just a new name ‘Long Blockchain’— using a buzzword to spark the interest of investors.
Their stock ended up skyrocketing by 400%, but after two weeks, dropped to 0. Our point here— make sure you consider your product when you are layering on the current trends.
What TO do
The best thing that you can do is find the intersection between your solution, market context, and trend. You’re trying to find the perfect blend of all three to be the most successful in your product positioning.
Position yourself right in the middle, and your results will be fire!
There’s no doubt that product positioning is a tough task, especially in crowded markets. If you’re business does not stand out within your market category, it may be time to re position your solutions. Utilize this three-step process to position successfully for future growth.