With the Holiday's fast approaching, we're reaching an accelerated consumer environment, a critical time for any business or customer. People will be buying, and companies will be selling, but what will set your product or service apart? I'll tell you: product positioning.
I never really understood what product positioning meant. Physical positioning, I thought it must be. Business gurus and consultants talk about "product positioning" incessantly, but since I didn’t really know what it was, I never thought it was important. Until, of course, I had a product to position.
Product positioning, according to those who know more than me, is the process marketers use to determine how best to communicate a product’s attributes to their target customer based on customer need, competitive pressure, available communication channels and crafted key messages. …What?
Let’s dumb it down, for my sake, and so I can continue this article with an understanding of what I’m writing about. Product positioning is communication. It’s the process of communicating to your customer the pain point your product solves, so that they understand the benefits of purchasing the product. It’s the ability to convey the fact that your product has enough value for the customer that they will receive more than what they pay for.
It’s also positioning against competitors. I think of it like blocking lineman in (American) football. You need to communicate value well enough that it blocks the value of other products or services. How can you position your product in the mind of the customer, for example, so that it has more perceived value than other products or services on the market? What is it that makes your product a better solver of pain than anything else out there?
But let’s not mince words. Product positioning is your ability to communicate to your customer why your product or service is worth their credit card info. Your product might make perfect sense to you, but if it doesn’t make sense to your customer, than you might as well not have a product at all.
The biggest trap that entrepreneurs and salespeople fall into is that they become enamored with their own product. Yes, I know, passion behind a product is a large part of why a salesperson is a good salesperson, but when that passion clouds the ability to explain why it’s such a good product, there’s a problem. It’s almost like people become blind by how “cool” their product or service is, and they expect the customer to inherently understand why it’s so great.
Product positioning fails when salespeople and entrepreneurs become too excited about the bells and whistles. It’s easy to communicate to the customer processing speed, additional features, and sports packages, but if none of those things solves the pain your customer is feeling, you’re wasting air. Bells and whistles are great, but if the product doesn’t solve a real need at a reasonable price, there’s no use for the product at all.
When we started to sell our first advertising product, for example, I knew that the industry we were selling to was in dire need of it. How did I know? Well, when looking at the current forms of advertising in that industry, we saw that our target clients were easily 5 years behind the technological times, if not more. Duh! I thought to myself. This is a no-brainer. Customers will see this new advertising medium and fall over themselves to invest in it.
Which, in a way, should have been true, because the advertising we were offering was better than anything our target clients were using. It should sell itself! Famous last words, to everyone chucking out there, and of course, it didn’t sell itself.
People seemed interested in the product, but when it got the point where they had to put down payment, they would mysteriously go radio silent, not returning calls or emails. We found that there’s a large gap between interest and payment, and our product wasn’t positioned well enough to bridge the two sides.
Essentially, we had fallen prey to the bells and whistles. We had been working with this ad product for years, and we knew it’s power, yet were so caught up in the features that we forgot the most important part: the pain it was solving for our target clients.
It really was a curse of knowledge. We would go on talking about targeting capabilities and click-through destinations, and would forget to spell out how these capabilities and destinations would help our customers. So, on our sales calls, we would hear interest, sometimes even enthusiasm, but when we sent over the rate card or followed up with a proposal, we would get a polite “we’ll pass, thanks."
Devastating! It almost stopped us from moving forward with the company. But, thanks to content like Entrepreneur on Fire and the Tropical MBA Podcast, we knew this was just another thing we had to push through. We had to find a way to correctly position our product so it fit into the mosaic of the niche industry we were selling.
I like to think in similes and metaphors, and I quickly began to realize that our product was just a piece of the larger puzzle. We knew that our product would benefit our niche market, but we had to find a way to communicate that to our product would be beneficial. It was hard to admit, but while we knew a lot about digital advertising, we didn’t know a lot about the industry we were selling it to.
And if you don’t know much about the industry you’re selling, how the hell are you going to solve its pain? We got caught up in the bells and whistles and forgot about the underlying value.
So, we got back to work, which, ironically, was the same work we has been doing all along. Smile and dial, baby! Except this time, instead of selling, we were listening. We asked about goals and desires, we inquired about current strategies, and then we dropped the kicker: what’s your biggest marketing challenge? We knew we had a solution to their answer, whatever that answer may be, but we had to speak their language.
We talked and talked, and talked some more, always pitching our product at the end of the call, but never quite selling it. But, we were getting better at our pitch, and we were getting closer to a sale. Now, why were we getting better with our sales pitch? Because we began to understand how to position our product - in the mind of the customer - in such a way that they understood how it would benefit them.
We started to speak their language. Our product never changed on iota, but the way we communicated the results of the product changed constantly. And then we hit on something.
In our clients’s industry, there’s a lot of regulation. So much so that most of the marketing efforts are spent marketing to distributors and wholesalers, rather than to the end-consumer, which, if you know anything about anything, is bad. Our target clients knew this, but since the industry hadn’t changed since the 1930s, they all chalked it up to “this is the way it is."
But, it didn’t have to be, and we knew it! We began to see that the pain point was that the end-consumer was forgotten in the legal shuffle. The strategy of the industry was to push their product onto distributors, and then rely on those distributors to market and sell their product in retail locations. Sadly, many of these distributors had become glorified logistics companies, and our target clients were being lost in the noisy consumer environment.
Aha! What if we could use our product to create a scenario where we marketed directly to the consumer in key geographic locations, so that it increased demand and caused a “demand-pull” environment, pulling a brand’s product through the required distribution system? This would be much better than the prevailing “supply-push” environment.
We pitched it, and it worked! To an extent, of course. Constant polish is always needed, and consumer needs are in constant flux, but we began to see results. Our clients finally understood how our product could help them in their business.
The bottom line is that its all about storytelling. You’re always selling something, even when that something is yourself. Sometimes, however, people don’t resonate with your story. Sure, the things you say are nice, but they don’t make up a compelling story for the people listening.
A customer is only going to make a purchase when they feel compelled to do so. That feeling can come out of necessity, impulsive desire, or deep resonance, but the feeling has to be there to make a sale. A metal, triangular widget, for example, can do many beneficial things. It can serve as a door stop or as a tool to split wood. Who needs the benefits of a metal widget the most? Who wants or needs it so bad that they will feel compelled to purchase it?
That’s your story. That’s your customer.