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When Customers Don’t Get It

When one of the best violinists in the world wears dirty clothes and plays in a DC subway station nobody stops to listen. In the fancy concert hall, the same people say that “his music does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live,” and pay $300 to get in.

Your product is the violinist and positioning is the act of putting it in a fancy concert hall or a smelly subway station. Positioning is the context that changes the content.

In Obviously Awesome, April Dunford defines positioning as the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about.

She explains how to do exactly that in the simplest and sharpest way I’ve seen, which is indeed awesome. Her framework is all about the components that make up positioning.

Positioning Components

Dunford’s positioning components are nothing new but she puts them clearly together while emphasizing 3 things:

  • You don’t matter. Your customers' perspective gets to define your positioning components

  • There is a logical order to the components that align with how people think

  • The components inform one another

There are 5 + 1 bonus components, each one is an answer to a single question.

1. Competitive alternatives

If you didn’t exist, what would your (best) customers use?

Customers think in comparisons and they will compare you to your alternatives. This is not about the companies you dream of beating but rather the actual alternatives a customer will use without you. My team was surprised to learn that our fiercest competitors are Excel, Word, consultants, and manual work.

2. Unique attributes

What features/attributes do you have that alternatives (the ones above) do not?

With your actual alternatives in mind, the only reason someone will use you is if you do something that they don’t. This can’t be a 10% improvement, it must be a concrete thing that can’t be done without you.

3. Value (and proof)

What value do the attributes enable for customers?

Nobody is reading this article because of my writing style or humor, you are here to improve your sales by learning a powerful positioning framework. In other words, nobody cares about what your features do. What customers care about is what those features can do for them.

4. Target market characteristics

Who cares a lot about that value?

When pitching to investors your goal is to show how massively large your market is. In positioning the goal is the opposite. You want to define your market characteristics narrowly such that you only target your very best buyers. This is how you get the most $.

Moving from local governments to small local governments was the biggest sales breakthrough in my startup.

5. Market category

What context makes your value obvious for these target customers?

The biggest point of failure is getting your market category wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting your product in the subway instead of the concert hall.

At my startup, we first categorized ourselves as a pilot management platform to which buyers responded with “you do what?” We then shifted to becoming a procurement solution to which buyers responded with “omg please help.” It changed everything.

6. (Bonus) Relevant trends

What trends make your product relevant right now?

Buyers are humans and humans do things later if they can. A relevant trend creates a sense of urgency: this wasn’t possible yesterday, the market is moving fast, move now or stay behind.

Unleash Your Real Identity

Positioning is your identity, and your goal is to become the best version of yourself. Positioning is used to build your sales story, come up with marketing messaging, and inform your roadmap and pricing.

Positioning is nothing more than your 5 + 1 positioning components. Now that you know what questions to ask, you need to get the answers right. The rest of Obviously Awesome describes a 10-step process to do that.

Get positioning right. Your product belongs in a world-class concert hall.


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