What Is Product Positioning?
Product positioning is the process of deciding and communicating how you want your market to think and feel about your product. Successful product positioning requires your team to articulate:
- How your product can solve your customer’s problem
- Why it is a better solution than its competitors
Why Is Product Positioning Important?
Very few products will represent the ideal solution for everyone. Trying to build a marketing story so broad that it appeals to everyone will likely result in messaging that fails to resonate with anyone. Product teams need to understand the segment of the market most likely to find their product appealing. They also need to be able to articulate the value of their product in a way that will resonate specifically with that audience.
If a business wants to market a line of clothing to upper-income consumers, for example, it will be a mistake to try positioning those products as affordable. A better approach might be positioning the company’s apparel brand as the choice of key influencers among the upscale demographic.
Note: You can develop more than one position for the same product. The goal of positioning is to present your product as attractively as possible for a specific market segment. If your product appeals to several demographics, you will want to develop a positioning plan for each segment. Each message will likely be different.
How Can I Position My Product?
Before we discuss a few best practices for this exercise, it’s important to address a common misconception that many marketing and product teams have about product positioning. Ultimately, a business does not get to determine the position its product holds in the market. Only the market itself can do that.
As marketing experts Al Ries and Jack Trout explain in their book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, a product’s position lives in the minds of its customers and the general public. It represents all of the experiences people have had with a product and its company, and the emotional reaction they have when they see the product, hears its name, sees its logo, or hear a reference.
But even knowing that it will ultimately be up to your market how they view your product, you should still engage in the positioning exercise. Your goal here is to figure out the most compelling way to present your product to your target customers. Here are a few steps to get you started:
Step 1: Get to Know Your Persona
The first step in developing an effective positioning plan for your product is to gain a deep understanding of the people you hope will buy it.
You need to learn more than just the age range of these people, or the geographic regions where they live. Additionally, you will need to know how these people view the world, what their common goals and dreams are, their fears and concerns, who influences them, etc.
You can learn this information through surveys, by speaking directly and at length with small groups of your ideal personas, and via market research. Your goal here is to develop a strong sense of who your persona is as a person. It is the only way you can craft messages and present your product to connect with these people emotionally in a positive way.
Step 2: Analyze Your Competitors
As we pointed out in the introduction, positioning your product successfully requires both that you find the right message about your product for the right market segment and that you articulate to that segment what makes your product better than the rest of the field.
The Milk Duds team examined its competitors and found one area where they could dominate. Their caramel-covered chocolates took longer to eat than a typical chocolate bar or smaller treats like M&Ms’ candy-covered peanuts. Then they created a unique position that resonated with candy buyers: You’ll have a longer-lasting candy experience with Milk Duds.
Examine the competitive landscape for your products. Is there an emotional trigger your competitors are missing that you could use to carve out a valued place in your consumers’ minds?
Step 3: Decide How You Want Your Persona to Feel About Your Product
The next step is the most difficult. You will need to apply what you’ve learned about your persona, and about any potential openings in your market, to identify a unique space for your product to occupy in customers’ minds.
Product positioning requires more than simply articulating the unique value proposition of your product. It also requires that you find a way to connect on an emotional level with your prospective users and buyers. You must ensure that they have a strong, positive feeling about your brand when they encounter it.
If you don’t take proactive steps to influence those emotional reactions in your users, they might develop their reactions—and those might be negative.
An Example of Brilliant Product Positioning
In their book, Ries and Trout discuss many real-world examples of products that have had tremendous success positioning (and re-positioning) themselves in the minds of consumers. Let’s look at one here.
The Milk Duds Example
At one point in its history, the Milk Duds candy brand was struggling to survive. Its parent company couldn’t compete with the more successful chocolate bars on the market. Few stores would even carry Milk Duds—and most of its sales were to movie theaters.
Then the company’s marketing and product teams hit on a brilliant idea. Milk Duds last longer than other candies. They made more sense as a movie theater treat because moviegoers could enjoy their snack longer during the film than if they bought a Hershey’s chocolate bar. This message of a long-lasting treat resonated far beyond movie theaters. Eventually, it made Milk Duds one of the most successful candy products on the market.
What they did and why it worked:
The team behind Milk Duds found a new way to position their product for customers, one that no other candy provider was trying to earn: The long-lasting candy bar. The company didn’t change any aspect of the product itself. They found a new position for their brand to occupy in the minds and hearts of candy-buyers.
product strategy / user research / product vision / user persona / buyer persona / unique selling proposition