Strong Positioning

I didn’t know that positioning was a thing until I read Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. I’d always just lumped it in with bullshit “Branding” exercises and other design astrology.

The hallmark of weak positioning is that people can’t understand what your product does. When they do, they don’t get how it’s different from any other product in the space. Strong positioning helps people instantly connect with what’s special about it.

The way NOT to do positioning is to fill out blanks in a ‘positioning statement’. This is where the whole corporate branding exercise idea comes from. The problem with a positioning statement is that you end up with a sound byte that nobody cares about or ever uses.

The whole point is to figure out if the category you’re in is the best category to help people understand what is special about your category in relation to your competitors.

The way to do this is to walk through 5 step process that maps out your options:

  1. Figure out what people would use if your product didn’t exist.
  2. Then figure out what’s unique about your product in relation to all the alternatives you just listed out.
  3. What do these unique attributes enable for people? More importantly, what proof can you offer to communicate this value?
  4. Who cares about the value you’re uniquely qualified to deliver?
  5. What category makes your unique value immediately obvious to the people who care about it most?

The idea here is to come up with as many options as you can for each step.

Each step is fairly obvious in isolation. It’s the sequence that makes this awesome. The sequence unfolds all of the elements you need to have an interesting conversation about whether or not you are in the best category for your product.

If you’re not then you can start to think about better options.

If you are then you can double down on why.

The key is understanding that you can only pick one thing to communicate at each step. The game is figuring out your single best option at each stage.

What great about it is that all of this stuff stop being a collection of loose ideas floating around in people’s heads. Now there is one place where everyone on the team can capture and store ideas on what our competitive alternatives are, what’s special about us, how we can prove it, and who we’re trying to reach.

We can all finally agree on what our position is and why. Most importantly, if it doesn’t work out or people aren’t resonating with aspects of our new position then we have great options for each step that we can systematically work through.


Questions I’m still working through…

  • What are good examples of “categories”? The definition of a category is step 5 feels a bit loose.
  • Similarly, what are great examples of “proof of value” in step 3? Apart from testimonials, hard data, and something being self-evident, how else do you prove value?
  • How do you hold two positions at once? Let’s say a product is valuable to doctors because of one of its features and it makes sense to position it as a medical product. The same product is also really incredibly useful to mountain bikers for a completely different reason. Can you hold two positions at once or do you have to commit to one? If you don’t have to pick then what does your “main” website or social media accounts communicate? Are you supposed to come up with a third, more abstract position, that applies to both categories as well?
  • What does this all lead to? Once you have strong positioning, what is the outcome? How does it usually manifest to turn a business around?