Book summary of

Obviously Awesome

How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It

Obviously Awesome

Positioning is the act of defining how you are the best in your market. This guide will help you position your product to maximize your business success!

If you fail at positioning, you fail at marketing and sales, and the whole business fails! Positioning is context setting for your product. You can shift the context to transform a product that customers found confusing, into an obvious must have purchase.

It can transform the way we think about a product. Most products are exceptional only when we understand them within the best frame of reference. Your dessert might be better positioned as a snack, and your email solution might make more sense if was positioned as chat.

2 traps to avoid when thinking about positioning:

  1. You get stuck on what you intended to build, and don’t realize that your product has changed.
  2. You stick with your default positioning, even when the market changes.

Five signs that show that your positioning is weak:

  1. Your current customers love you, but new prospects can’t understand what you’re selling.
  2. Your company has long sales cycles and low close rates.
  3. You have high customer churn shortly after purchase.
  4. Customers are asking for features you don’t plan to deliver.
  5. Customers complain that your price is too high.

Five components of effective positioning:

  • Competitive alternatives: What would your customers do if your solution didn’t exist? It can be other products, or alternatives like “hire an intern to do it” or “use a spreadsheet” or “suffer and do nothing.” It’s important to understand what your customers compare your solution with, because that’s what they use to define better.
  • Unique attributes: Features you have, but your alternatives lack. It can be technical features, or a delivery model, a business model.
  • Value: Benefits you deliver to your customers based on your unique attributes. Value is the reason why someone might care of your unique attributes. Value should be fact-based and objective. If it’s something subjective like a nice UI, you should have opinions of customers or reviewers to prove it.
  • Target market characteristics: Characteristics of a group of buyers that lead them to care about the value you deliver. You should focus on customers who are most likely to buy. Your positioning should clearly identify who those folks are. Your target-market are people who buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts, and tell their friends about your offering.
  • Market category: The market you describe yourself that you’re a part of. Your category has big consequences. If you say my product is a CRM tool, people will assume some basic CRM features, assume that your main competitor is Salesforce, and that your pricing would be similar. Your market category can work for or against you.
  • (Bonus) Relative trends: Trends your target customers are interested in that can make your product more relevant right now.

How to Position your Product in 10 easy steps:

Step #1 Understand customers who love your product

You should spend most your time looking for things that work and decipher why it does. What marketing campaigns brought in the most leads? Which pieces of content were consumed the most?

In the early days, try to get your product in front of a diverse audience, and see the patterns that emerge. Do bigger businesses love your product more than smaller ones? Is a certain industry more drawn to your product?

Make a short list of your happiest customers and focus your marketing and sales effort to customers with similar characteristics.

Step #2 Form a positioning team

A positioning process works best when it’s a team effort, ideally from different functions within a company.

Assemble a team and find out the assumptions that different groups have about your attributes, value and target markets. Work through a positioning exercise that aligns the whole team with the desired results.

The team should include the person responsible for the business, and people from marketing, sales, customer success, and product & development.

Step #3 Align your positioning vocabulary and Let go of positioning baggage

Your team needs to be on the same page regarding:

  • What positioning means and why it’s important?
  • Which components make up a position and how we define each?
  • How market maturity and competitors impact the positioning you choose?

Step #4 List your true competitors

How your customers view your competitors is the one that matters for positioning.

You’re trying to answer this question: What would our best customers do if we didn’t exist?

You can then group your competitors. For example, there might be a group called “do it manually” that includes “hire an intern” and “do it myself with Excel.” Another group called “use a small-business accounting solution” that includes QuickBooks, etc.

Step #5 Isolate your features

Once you’ve listed your competitors, it’s time to isolate what makes you different and better than those alternatives.

Some examples of features: “a 15-megapixel camera,” “integrates with QuickBooks,” “one-click installation.” They should be objective, provable facts. If they’re subjective, you need to provide proof from 3rd parties, like independent reviewers, analysts, etc.

Concentrate on “consideration” rather than “retention” attributes. Excellent customer support is a retention attribute. You shouldn’t include it.

Step #6 Map your Attributes to Value

Why does the feature matter to the customer? What value does it provide?

Attribute Value 15-megapixel camera Photos that are sharp even when printed One click reports

15-megapixel cameraPhotos that are sharp even when printed
One click reportsYou can make better decisions based on accurate, up-to-date metrics

Step #7 Determine who cares a lot

Look at which customers really care about your provided value. Determine what makes some prospects much more excited about your offering than others.

Your best-fit prospects buy quickly and instead of asking for a cheaper price, they might tell you you should price your product higher!

You might think “why wouldn’t I want to target as broad of a market as possible? The reality is the opposite! The broader you focus, the more difficult it is to connect with prospects that your solution is the bet one for them.

Target as narrowly as you can to meet your near-term sales objectives.

Step #8 Find a market frame of reference that makes your value obvious

Picking a market is like giving customers an answer to the question, what are you?

There are a few ways to do that:

  • What types of products typically have your features?
  • What are adjacent markets that are growing quickly?
  • Ask your customers and prospects (but be cautious because your current position might confuse them)

There are different approaches for isolating, targeting and winning a market:

Head to head: Positioning to win an existing market.

You’re not trying to change the game. You are trying to win the game the same way it’s played.

If you’re a small business just starting out, this is rarely a good choice. Trying to beat an established market leader at their own game is like trying to out-cola Coke.

There is an advantage to it, however. You don’t have to convince people that the category needs to exist.

If you choose this way, you will have to be moving quickly to establish yourself as a leader. If you are looking to bootstrap your business, this might not be the best way for you.

Big fish, Small pond: Positioning to win a subsegment of an existing market.

Many startups compete in established market categories by breaking up the market into smaller pieces and focusing on one piece they can win.

You are trying to carve off a piece of the market where the rules are a little bit different to give your product an edge over the category leader.

Dominating a small piece of the market is generally much easier attempting to directly take on a larget leader. Smaller segments are easier to reach and target. List building is easier. Your value proposition will be highly targeted and obvious to prospects. You also get a word-of-mouth advantage within the subsegment.

You might think that moving to a smaller market might mean less opportunity, but the reality is the opposite. You’re simply unselecting the part of the market that was never going to buy, and focusing on customers where you have a clear advantage.

To use this approach, your category needs to be well defined, with a clear market leader. There also needs to be groups of customers with unique needs that are not addressed by the market leader.

Create a New Game. Positioning to win a market you create.

Developing a new market is a big challenge. You should only use it when you conclude that you cannot position your offering under any existing market. Your company should be large and powerful to capture the attention of customers and media to make a case for why the new market category deserves to exist. The style is usually possible when there has been a massive technological, economic or political change with a big potential impact on what’s possible. This style is very difficult to execute, but if you manage to do it, the rewards are massive.

Step #9 Layer on a Trend

You can layer on a trend that helps potential customers understand why your offering is important right now. If a current trend helps you reinforce your positioning, you can use it to your advantage. Trends can give “boring” products an extra gloss of interest.

You should only use a trend when it has a clear link to your product, or it can backfire.

Step #10 Share your positioning

You can now share your positioning through your organization so you can have company buy-in Create a one-page document of your positioning to distribute across your company. All your messaging should reflect your positioning. Your positioning should inform your branding, marketing, sales strategy, product decisions, and customer-success strategy.


Don't miss our new book summaries!

  • Actionable takeaways
  • Read in minutes
  • Unsubscribe anytime