Knowing who your customer is, what problem your product or service solves, and why it is important to your customer is an essential first step in developing a sound marketing strategy.
You have a new product and you have a new venture. Your goal is to make a product that a customer wants and will pay for. The biggest risk as entrepreneurs is to make something that nobody wants and nobody will pay for. Steve Blank’s series “The Lean Approach” provides crucial advice on customer discovery and the process of achieving good product market fit. And from that work and from your own research you’ll come up with great customer insights about your target.
And the goal here is to take that good information coupled with information about your competitors, your industry and your own product, and consolidate it into one useful document. And we call that a positioning statement. It will help you in every aspect of your marketing. And the best way to know whether this works or not is to ask your friends and customers and employees what is it about your product that makes it special, what makes it unique, what sets it apart, and why people or customers would be insane not to buy your product. And what I have found when companies or ventures do this is they find 10, 20, 30 different answers. And the problem with that is if you’re trying to market everything to everybody, you end up saying nothing. And so a positioning statement can really help you get everyone on the same page to help you understand what makes you unique, what differentiates you relative to your competition and why customers should buy your product or service.
There are a lot of positioning templates out there. I like to use Geoffrey Moore’s. Let’s walk through it with a specific example. And in this case we’re going to use Zipcar. And as we go through this process I invite you to jot down your own answers. It will help kickstart the process to develop a positioning document in your own organization.
The first thing you want to do is define your target. Identify all the customer segments who would be interested in your product and then prioritize them. Pick the one customer segment that you think has the greatest likelihood to be interested in your product. In the example of Zipcar, their target is young adults who live in the city, are urban and educated. And then once you’ve identified the key target you want to describe what the problem is. Here be really specific about what is the true pain that the customer is feeling. The hope is that your product can address this customer pain point. The problem that Zipcar identified is that customers need transportation. But they don’t want to own a car or in some cases they just can’t afford it. Many of these customers are also concerned about environment. And they want to reduce their carbon footprint.
Once you’ve identified the target and the problem then you want to state what your product does. In the case of Zipcar it’s a car sharing service. After you’ve stated what the product is you want to outline what makes your product different and better, what is the secret sauce. Identify the break‑through capability. Are you faster, cheaper, better, more effective, more efficient? Describe that in a way that makes sense to the customer. In the case of Zipcar, their break‑through capability is they let you save money and reduce your carbon footprint.
And then you want to compare what that is relative to the competition. So who is your competition? In the case of Zipcar, the competition was car owners that had one driver per car. Then you want to describe the emotional benefit that your product is providing for the customer. And here you want to be as emotional as possible and provide the benefit. In the case of Zipcar I’ve written, Zipcar makes you feel like you’re smart, responsible and actively demonstrating that you care about the environment. So once you’ve identified these key elements, put them altogether to create your own positioning statement.
So putting a positioning statement together can be really challenging even for the most advanced marketer. Let me give you a few ideas that will hopefully make it easier. First, enlist the support of your team. I promise you they will come up with ideas that you hadn’t even thought about. Second, do a very simple but quick exercise that I’ve actually used for many entrepreneurs as well a big brands. And it always helps get the juices flowing in terms of filling out the document. So just make a quick chart. And on the top row identify all the customer needs that your product is actually solving. So let’s say we’re bringing to market a snack geared toward children. So the core needs for the mom who’s actually buying that product would be things like we want to make sure it’s healthy, it’s not messy, it’s convenient. And oh, by the way it should taste good.
So once you’ve identified those customer needs look at your product and simply put an X across any need that your product is addressing. And then describe how specifically your product is helping solve that customer problem. And then once you’ve done that, do that for every one of your major competitors, and you will find through this process you have a lot of information to use that will help go into your positioning statement.
Ultimately the true litmus test of a great positioning document is that it is clear, easy to understand, and it describes your mojo, your special sauce, what makes you unique and relevant to your customer. And how you’re better and different than your competition. And if you do that, if you take the time to put this document together, I promise you you will use it in every aspect of your marketing strategy. And ultimately that is how you’re going to win in the marketplace.
Moore, Geoffrey A. 2014. Crossing the Chasm; 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. HarperBusiness.
Moore, Marion and Richard Helstein. Positioning: The Essence of Marketing Strategy. Harvard Business Review Industry and Background Note, March 16, 2009.
Doug Stayman. Blog Post. “How to Write Market Positioning Statements”. Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Kauffman Founders School, The Lean Approach, all modules, Steve Blank.
Questions for You
What makes my product or service special?
What does our brand stand for?
Who are my target customers?
What problem am I solving?
Do I know who my competition is? Am I thinking too narrowly? Remember competitors include ‘status quo’ and adjacent industries (e.g. cars as competition to an airline).
What does my product do? Think in terms of customer benefits, not just product features.
Of the customers who would use our product, which customers would view our product as a nice to have? Which would see it as a must have?
What are the breakthrough capabilities of my product or service?
What’s the benefit to my customer?
Tools and exercises
Does everyone on the team have the same answer to all the questions above? If the answer is yes, then codify the answers. If not, conduct a work session to inventory all the answers and develop a common view. Ensuring there is internal alignment is critical to presenting one unified voice to your customers.
Codify your answers by completing your positioning statement.