Positioning (and naming) in tiers

I was running a positioning exercise with a team of product managers and VPs. We were really getting into it when the VP of Marketing interrupted the process to say, “We need to use the word ‘power’ in our messaging. The president loves that word.” Maybe that’s why so much of the positioning I see is industry gobbledygook: Marketers are trying to impress the leadership instead of the customer.

When you have a corporate positioning document filled with empty claims like “world-class” and “customer focused” it’s really hard to know what you do for clients.

The first rule of positioning is to focus not on what you can do but focus on what you can do for your customers, using their language.

A simple test for positioning is to consider whether your competitors can realistically say the opposite. “Our product is designed for massive deployments” is a claim that might appeal to large customers. And scare way the small ones. Furthermore, the opposite claim—“we are designed for small environments”—is also reasonable. This says that you’re focused on smaller companies and you’d like to stay away from large deals.

However, a product rarely stands alone. Whether a product or service, it lives within an environment, a company, a portfolio, or a marketplace. So in addition to positioning the product itself, you’ll need to put the product in the context of its environment.

For example: the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite.

Company [Amazon]

Portfolio/category [Kindle]

Product [Paperwhite]

In this case, it’s merely a naming convention; you would be unlikely to buy multiple products in the Kindle category. However, when positioning the portfolio of products, the “features” of a portfolio are often the products within it.

For example: Microsoft Office 365 Word

Company [Microsoft]

Portfolio/category [Office 365]

Product [Word]

You’d need positioning documents for each of the products. For Microsoft Word, you might describe: 1) reviewer mode for collaboration, 2) multi-language dictionaries, and 3) powerful scripting language. You’d also want positioning for the suite. Office is a portfolio of products; you’re likely to buy many of the products within the suite. Microsoft Office “features” are Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other applications plus the interoperability between them.

Taking the same idea one step further, you might position the company by calling out its suites of products as “features”: Windows, Office, Surface, Xbox, and Bing.

Positioning a product, suite, or company isn’t really that hard. You just have to know what your customers are saying. And then convey your product essence using the words of your customers.

Maybe it seems like a lot of work but believe me, it’ll save a bunch of time wasted on re-work in the months to come. Figure out what you want to say, and then say it.