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The 3 Pitfalls of Product Positioning

Eileen Licitra - Director, Product Marketing - Iteris, Inc.

As marketers, we all know that product positioning is the “mental space” your products and services occupy in your customer’s mind, relative to the competition in your marketplace.

Your company’s formal positioning statement is an internal document that directs the external communication that will influence prospective buyers. Successful product positioning must start with a formal positioning statement that influences prospective buyers, and meets the following criteria.

Does your product:

  • Clearly differentiate itself from the competition?
  • Meet an urgent or important need among companies in your target industry or segment?
  • Demonstrate credible and defensible viability – you can prove it?
  • Offer precise, simple, and powerful solutions?

Here are a few common pitfalls when defining product or service positioning:

  1. A limited understanding of your target customer.  If you haven’t clearly researched, defined, and validated your target customers’ most urgent problems or needs, including the economic value they may be seeking in a solution, it is easy to miss the mark on positioning. You must test your assumptions. In the long run, skimping on this process may cost you a lot of money, time, and resources. With the many cost-effective methods and channels to gather market feedback and validation, marketers can learn what is truly important to their company’s customers – by incorporating customer sentiment into messaging, creating clarity, and conveying confidence into what your products or services deliver.
  2. Too much focus on competitors rather than customers. In the quest to find points of differentiation, companies often scrutinize their competitors’ product features, price points, and marketing messages to come up with a “differentiator.” The pitfall with this approach is a specific differentiator may not be significant enough to your target audience. Competitive analysis is without question an important component in developing strong product positioning – just don’t put a primary or exclusive focus on it.
  3. Jargon that obscures your message. Your product positioning must be differentiated and demonstrable. And it must clearly resonate with your target audience in a way that communicates real value, and is easy for them to understand. Often, companies communicate with complex jargon that confuses and alienates the very people they are trying to attract and engage. Below is an example, and while it is fictitious and obviously exaggerated, it is actually quite similar to some B2B company positioning messages I often come across:

    XYZ’s integrated cloud based solution connects and streamlines internal workflow processes and harnesses the power of big data to deliver company-wide ROI.

    Drop the jargon. Boil your message down to its most precise, simple and powerful points. Stay away from common “generic” words that many companies use -- but don’t necessarily demonstrate, for example, high quality, innovation, and service.

When positioning your product or service, think deeply and objectively:

  • What problem are you trying to solve with your products or services for your customer?
  • Is the problem important, urgent, or painful enough for companies to want to use it and why?
  • How are companies solving this problem today?
  • Based on market research and validation, do you know if your solution is better than the competition’s and why?
  • Who are the ideal customers for this solution and why?
  • What are your ideal customers’ common characteristics: Industry or industry segment, company size, company stage?
  • What is meaningfully different or unique about your solution, and how will you demonstrate this?

Remember that product positioning isn’t what you think. It’s what your prospects and customers think. To develop powerful positioning you need objective research, market feedback, and a clear focus to ensure that your product or service occupy the right space in the mind of your prospects. Following these sure-fire steps can lead to powerful communication that draws the right customers to your company.

I welcome your comments below, and invite you to share this information.

Photo - Eileen Licitra - Concentric Focus Eileen Licitra, Director, Product Marketing
Iteris, Inc.


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