Obviously Awesome

Obviously Awesome

Author
April Dunford
Year
2019
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Review

What is it about? Was it worth reading?

I’ve seen April speak at a conference and she was truly captivating. April is a great communicator, and is shows in this book.

The key insight of the book is to position your product from your customers point of view. The boundary between product management and marketing is blurry, so getting comfortable with positioning is important.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

“How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess.” Warren Buffett

What is positioning?

  • Think of positioning as context. Context enables people to figure out what’s important.
    • Think of it like the opening scene of a movie. Tells you where, what, why and who. Sets the context before the story
  • Context can transform how we think about a product
  • Great products, poorly positioned, can fail
  • The Two Traps of Positioning
    1. Being stuck on the idea of what you intended to build, when you product has become something else.
    2. You designed your product for a market, but that market has changed.
  • The common failure is not deliberately positioning the product. Don’t stick with a “default” position if the product or market have changed
  • Don’t fail to consider other—potentially better—ways to position your product
  • Repositioning can change both how your customer sees you, and how you see your product.
  • A positioning statement won’t help you. Despite being widely taught and referenced (in Crossing the Chasm)
  • The 5 Components of Effective positioning
    1. Competitive alternatives: What your target customers would “use” or “do” if your product didn’t exist.
    2. Unique attributes: The features and capabilities that you have and the alternatives lack
    3. Value (and proof): Value is the benefit you can deliver to customers because of your unique attributes (features)
    4. Target market characteristics: the customers who care the most about the value your product delivers.
    5. Market category: The market you describe yourself as being part of, to help customers understand your value.
    6. Bonus 6th: Relevant trends. Trends your target customers understand and are interested in that can help make your product more relevant right now.
  • How the components are linked
    • To identify unique attributes you have to compare to competitive alternatives
    • Attributes drive the value, which determines who the best target customers
    • Target customers highlight which market frame of reference is the best
    • Trends must be relevant to your target customers
  • The order in which you define your components is very important
    • Alternatives → Attributes → Value → Target Market → Market Category → Trends

The 10 Step Positioning Process

  • STEP 1. Understand the Customers Who Love Your Product
  • STEP 2. Form a Positioning Team
  • STEP 3. Align Your Positioning Vocabulary and Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage
  • STEP 4. List Your True Competitive Alternatives
  • STEP 5. Isolate Your Unique Attributes or Features
  • STEP 6. Map the Attributes to Value “Themes”
    • Features → benefits → value
    • Create a table:
    • Feature / Attribute
      Benefit
      Value
      15 megapixels
      Sharp images
      Can be printed large
      X
      Y
      Z
  • STEP 7. Determine Who Cares a Lot
    • An actionable segmentation lists a person’s or company’s easily identifiable characteristics that make them really care about what you do
    • Best-fit customers are easiest to sell to and retain
    • Target as narrowly as you can to meet your near-term sales objectives. You can broaden the targets later.
  • STEP 8. Find a Market Frame of Reference
    • Choose a market frame of reference, that makes your value obvious, to your best-fit customer. How?…
    • There are different approaches for isolating, targeting and winning a market: go head-to-head, subsegment or market creation
  • STEP 9. Layer On a Trend (but Be Careful)
    • Make the connection between your product and the market obvious
    • Make the connection between the trend and your product obvious
  • STEP 10. Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared
    • Positioning isn’t useful to a company on its own
    • Share it across the organisation, get buy-in
    • Get it to inform all activities… branding, marketing campaigns, sales strategy, product decisions and customer-success strategy.
  • A positioning canvas can help:
Product name and one-line description
Market category (and sub-category)
Competitive Alternatives
Unique Attributes
Value
Who cares a lot
What would customers use if your product didn’t exist?
What features and capabilities does your product have that the alternatives do not?
What value do those attributes enable for customers?
What are the characteristics of a customer that makes them care a lot about the value you deliver?
  • Translating Your Positioning into a Sales Story
    • Definition of the problem that your solution was designed to solve
    • Describe how prospects are trying to solve the problems today
    • Describe the perfect world - describe the features of the perfect solution
    • Introduce the product and position it in the market category
    • Talk about each of the value themes in more details
    • Handling of common objections
    • Case study / list of current customers
    • Next Steps
  • Track and re-evaluate your positioning over time
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

“How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess.” Warren Buffett

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different. Michael Porter

Signs of weak positioning:

  • Current customers love you, but new prospects can’t figure out what you’re selling easily
  • Long sales cycles, low close rates, you lose out to the competition
  • High customer churn
  • Price pressure

What is positioning?

  • Think of positioning as context. Context enables people to figure out what’s important.
    • Think of it like the opening scene of a movie. Tells you where, what, why and who. Sets the context before the story
  • When customers encounter a product they’ve not seen, they look for clues to help them figure out what it is, who it’s for and why they should care
  • Messaging, pricing, features, branding all create context
  • Context can transform how we think about a product
    • World’s best violin player couldn’t attract a crowd outside a subway station, the performance was sabotaged by his context
  • Great products, poorly positioned, can fail
  • Context enables quick decisions, without it we’d be paralysed by choice.
  • Most products are exceptional only if understood in the best best frame of reference
  • An increasing number of products are competing for the shrinking attention of prospects
  • The Two Traps of Positioning
    1. Being stuck on the idea of what you intended to build, when you product has become something else. Buyers, distribution method, competitors, pricing and margin and features and roadmap can all change.
      • Changing the frame of reference around the product, the context, can change everything about the business
      • The product we end up with is often not what we started to build
    2. You designed your product for a market, but that market has changed.
      • Competitors, technology, preferences, economic conditions and regulations change
      • A product that was well positioned can suddenly becomes poorly positioned
      • Markets are complex, overlapping and shift rapidly.
  • The common failure is not deliberately positioning the product. Don’t stick with a “default” position if the product or market have changed
  • Every product can be positioned in multiple ways → often the best position for a product is not the default → positioning is a deliberate choice that requires time and attention
    • Don’t fail to consider other—potentially better—ways to position your product
  • Repositioning can change both how your customer sees you, and how you see your product. After repositioning you’ll market, sell and develop your product differently.
Find out who you are and do it on purpose Dolly Parton
  • Great positioning takes into account:
    • The customer problem.
    • The customer alternatives
    • How you’re uniquely different from those alternatives → and why that’s meaningful for customers
    • The characteristics of prospects that really value what you can uniquely deliver
    • The best market context for your product → that makes your unique value obvious to those customers who are best suited to your product
  • A positioning statement won’t help you. Despite being widely taught and referenced (in Crossing the Chasm)
    • It assumes you know the answers
    • It reinforces the status quo
    • It’s hard to remember
    • It doesn’t give you any hints about what to do next
  • The 5 Components of Effective positioning
    1. Competitive alternatives
      • What your target customers would “use” or “do” if your product didn’t exist.
      • Be experts in the different solutions that exist in a market, including their pros and cons
      • You might be worried about the startups in your space but your customer likely thinks of doing nothing, spreadsheets, or manual processes as the alternative
      • The alternative is the yardstick your customers use to define ‘better’.
    2. Unique attributes
      • The features and capabilities that you have and the alternatives lack
      • Unique attributes are your secret sauce → things you can do that the alternatives can’t.
      • You’ll have many differentiators → so make sure they are different when compared with the capabilities of the real competitive alternatives from a customer’s perspective
    3. Value (and proof).
      • Value is the benefit you can deliver to customers because of your unique attributes (features)
      • Value is the reason why someone might care.
      • Make value fact based. Subjective claims won’t be believed. Your opinion does not count as proof; the opinion of customers, reviewers and experts does. Data or third-party opinions are difficult to refute. Your value needs to be provable in an objective and demonstrable way.
    4. Target market characteristics
      • The value you provide is somewhat relevant to a wide variety of customers.
      • BUT sales and marketing efforts should be focused on the customers who are most likely to buy from you.
      • Your positioning needs to clearly identify who those folks are.
      • They are the customers who care the most about the value your product delivers.
      • Identify what sets them apart. What makes them love your product more than others
      • Target market customers buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts and spread the word
    5. Market category
      • The market you describe yourself as being part of, to help customers understand your value.
      • A frame of reference for your target customers, to help them understand your unique value.
      • Shorthand customers use to group similar products together.
      • Declaring your product exists in a market category triggers a set of powerful assumptions (about your competitors , functionality and pricing)
      • Your market category can work for you or against you.
      • You don’t have to educate customers of you choose it well.
      • Choose a bad one and you’ll trigger assumptions that do not apply to you, that will make marketing and sales efforts less effective
    6. Bonus 6th: Relevant trends.
      • Trends your target customers understand and are interested in that can help make your product more relevant right now.
      • New and noteworthy trends help customers understand why they need to pay attention to right now.
      • They can help align customer company priorities to an urgent purchase of your product.
      • Customers want to learn about new, interesting and potentially disruptive technologies or approaches. Nobody wants to be left.
      • Buyers are always interested in how the world is changing and that makes them interested in trends
      • Using a trend in positioning is optional (but often desirable).
  • How the components are linked
    • To identify unique attributes you have to compare to competitive alternatives
    • Attributes drive the value, which determines who the best target customers
    • Target customers highlight which market frame of reference is the best
    • Trends must be relevant to your target customers
  • The order in which you define your components is very important
    • It is critical to start with understanding what the customer sees as a competitive alternative. Then work through the rest of the components—attributes, value, characteristics, market category, relevant trends—from there
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The 10 Step Positioning Process

STEP 1. Understand the Customers Who Love Your Product

  • Your best-fit customers hold the key to understanding what your product is
  • Leave the moderately happy customers out of your survey
    • Improve the quality of your customers by focusing sales and marketing efforts on prospects who share the attributes of your most happy customers
    • Concentrate on best-fit customers
  • Make a shortlist of your best fit customers
    • They understand your product quickly, buy quickly, become raving fans and refer others to you
  • If you don’t have super-happy customers yet, delay your positioning. Cast a wider net until you can find them.
  • Most of your target customers won’t have heard of you or your rival startups → they’ll compare you to what they use today
  • Don’t position to customers how you position to investors
  • Focus on positioning your product before your company if you have a single product that accounts for the majority of revenue.

STEP 2. Form a Positioning Team

  • Across different functions from sales to marketing to customer success
  • They’ll bring a unique point of view relative to how customers perceive and experience the product
  • You’ll need their buy-in.
  • Many outputs flow from positioning:
    • Marketing: messaging, audience targeting and campaign development
    • Sales and business development: target customer segmentation and account strategy
    • Customer success: onboarding and account expansion strategy
    • Product and development: roadmaps and prioritisation
  • Positioning is intertwined with the overall business strategy and therefore needs to be led by the business leader.
  • Bring in an experienced facilitator to guide the positioning discussion.

STEP 3. Align Your Positioning Vocabulary and Let Go of Your Positioning Baggage

  • To consider possible new ways to think about a product, we have to consciously set aside our old ways of thinking about it.
  • Spent 30 mins going over positioning concepts and definitions with the team
    • What positioning means and why it is important
    • Which components make up a position and how we define each of those
    • How market maturity and competitive landscape impact the style of positioning you choose for a product
  • Let go of your positioning baggage. Most products can be many things to many types of buyers.
  • A disconnect between how creators and customers perceive the product will cause market confusion
  • Call where your history appears in your current positioning
  • Get agreement from the team that, although the product was created with a certain market and audience in mind, it may no longer be best positioned that way.

STEP 4. List Your True Competitive Alternatives

  • Customers don’t always see competitors the same way we do
    • The customer opinion is the only one that matters for positioning
  • Start with the customer, not what the founder thinks
    • The features of our product and the value they provide are only unique, interesting and valuable when a customer perceives them like that in relation to alternatives
  • The foundation of positioning is the problem your customers are trying to solve, and how they perceive your offering in comparison with other ways of solving the problem.
    • Ask customers what problems they’re trying to solve
    • Customers are terrible at describing them
    • Understand the alternatives to which they compared us
    • Customers group solutions in categories, but talking to them about problems doesn’t necessarily reveal those categories
      • who your real competitors are in the minds of customers?
      • how would a customer replace you? With what? What would our best customers do if we didn’t exist?
    • Focus on your best customers and what they would identify as alternative solutions.
    • What would the majority of your best customers really do?
  • Group them if they cluster

STEP 5. Isolate Your Unique Attributes or Features

  • Strong positioning is centred on what a product does best
  • Isolate what makes you different and better than those alternatives
  • List all of the capabilities you have that the alternatives do not. List every attribute you can think of
  • Think about the feedback you get from customers: why do they chose your offering?
  • Your opinion of your own strengths is irrelevant without proof.
    • Focus on objective facts and things that are provable
    • Ask how would you go about proving that?
      • 3rd-party validation that your product’s feature is better than the alternative counts as proof
      • an independent reviewer states your product is easier to use, that’s a fact
      • a customer says in an approved quote your customer service is better than another company’s, that’s proof.
  • Concentrate on “consideration” rather than “retention” attributes

STEP 6. Map the Attributes to Value “Themes”

  • Customers only care about what features and attributes can do for them
    • 15-megapixels → sharper images
    • Articulating value takes the benefits one step further: putting benefits into the context of a goal the customer is trying to achieve
    • Features → benefits → value
  • Create a table:
  • Feature / Attribute
    Benefit
    Value
    15 megapixels
    Sharp images
    Can be printed large
    X
    Y
    Z
  • If a feature’s benefit and value is well understood, the feature might be presented as valuable in it’s own right (only works when consumers have been trained though
    • Talk only about features and expect a ‘So What?’ response
  • Clustering the value into themes, how would your customers related them?
  • Grouping attributes that provide similar value to get down to a more reasonable number. The goal of this step is to see the patterns and shorten the list to one to four value clusters.
    • Common to have just one value cluster

STEP 7. Determine Who Cares a Lot

  • Look at which customers really care about that value
    • not all customers care about that care about value in the same way
  • This is segmentation.
  • An actionable segmentation lists a person’s or company’s easily identifiable characteristics that make them really care about what you do
    • For consumers, a segmentation could include combinations of things such as other brands they own or like, stores they buy from, the job they hold or their music or entertainment preferences.
    • For businesses, it could be the way they sell, other products they have, or skills they have or don’t have
  • Determine what makes some prospects much more excited about your offerings than others
  • Best-fit customers are easiest to sell to and retain
  • The broader your focus, the more difficult it is to connect with prospects and convince them
  • Your best best customers are quick to understand and buy. They don’t negotiate price. They tell their friends. They don’t churn.
  • Point your limited marketing and sales resources at them (just make sure there are enough to fit your sales growth targets.
  • Target as narrowly as you can to meet your near-term sales objectives. You can broaden the targets later.
  • Your product positioning will constantly be evolving. Don’t worry about making your position positioning fit for where you’ll be in 2-10 years.
    • Great positioning resonates with your best-fit customers right now, and will evolve with them over time
  • A segment needs to meet at least two criteria to be worthy of focus:
    • big enough that it’s possible to meet the goals of your business
    • have important, specific, unmet needs that are common to the segment

STEP 8. Find a Market Frame of Reference… that makes the most of your strengths, then determine how to position within it

  • Pick a market frame of reference that makes your value obvious to the segments who care the most about that value
  • A ‘market’ needs to exist in the mind of customers
  • You position in a market to trigger a set of assumptions (about competitors, features and pricing) that work to your advantage.
  • It gives prospects context about how they should compare your product and to whom
    • Comparisons quickly help prospects figure out what you’re about and whether they should purchase
  • Choose a market frame of reference, that makes your value obvious, to your best-fit customer. How?…
    • Use abductive reasoning (if it looks like a duck) choose a market category by isolating your key features and their value, and asking yourself, What types of products typically have those features? What category of products typically deliver that value?
    • Check out adjacent (growing) markets. Markets often have overlaps or blurry lines.
    • Ask your customers (but be cautious). They will attempt to position you in the most obvious market possible. Which might not be the best one for highlighting your strengths.
  • There are different approaches for isolating, targeting and winning a market: go head-to-head, subsegment or market creation
  1. Head to Head
    • You aren’t claiming to be better for a certain type of customer, you claim to be better for most, if not all, customers.
    • You accept the current way the market category is defined.
    • You accept the current evaluation criteria
    • You’re attempting to win, the way the game is currently played
    • Use the head-to-head style if you’re the market leader in the market
      • If you’re new to market, going head-to-head is risky
      • A large challenger could try it if the sands are shifting favourably to them
    • You don’t have to convince people the category needs to exist (you don’t have to educate)
    • Check if the category is established in the minds of customers
    • Check your competition. If buyers understand the market then there is market demand, it won’t stay uncrowded for long
    • Establish yourself as leader quickly
    • If you are the leader, you need to continually reinforce the current way of thinking (buying criteria and reputation). Defend against competitors.
    • You don’t have to teach buyers too much about the category itself and you can rely on what they already know BUT you need to fit within their existing definition
    • Be prepared to battle against multiple competitors who will be simultaneously trying to prove they are better than you
  2. Subsegment (author calls this big fish, small pond)
    • This is positioning to win a subsegment of an existing market
    • You are aiming to dominate a piece of an existing market category.
    • Your goal is not to take on the overall market leaders directly, but to win in a well-defined segment of the market.
    • You do this by targeting buyers in a subsegment of the broader market who have different requirements that are not being met by the current overall market leader.
    • Splitting up an existing market is called subsegmenting
    • The goal is 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.
    • You get the advantage of a well-defined category without the stiff competition.
    • Easier than attempting to directly take on a larger leader.
    • Benefit from word-of-mouth in tight market subsegments.
    • Don’t worry about reducing market size, you are simply unselecting the part of the market that was never going to buy your product anyway in order to focus only on customers where you have a distinct advantage
    • Check your chosen subsegment is big enough to hit your growth goals
    • This style requires a well defined category and a clear market leader (that isn’t you)
    • There also needs to be clearly definable groups of customers with unique needs (that aren’t well addressed by the market leader)
    • The subsegment has to have a very specific and important unmet need (that you can meet)
  3. Market Creation (author calls this create new game)
  • Positioning yourself to win a market you create. Creating a new market category
    • Prove to customers that a new market category deserves to exist
    • Define the parameters of that market in the minds of customers
    • Position yourself as the leader within i
  • New technologies or shifts in customer preferences create opportunities for market creation
  • Or you could combine one or more existing markets to form one with different buying criteria.
  • Only use this approach if you can’t use the others
  • You have to spark demand, which requires a massive change with a big impact
  • It involves the greatest amount of “teaching” the customer.
    • You have to establish the market, the buying criteria and your supremacy
  • Have a good reason as to why the category hasn’t emerged sooner. Why now?
  • If successful you could create a market that is perfectly tailored to your strengths and weaknesses.

STEP 9. Layer On a Trend (but Be Careful)

  • Layer a trend on top of your positioning to help potential customers understand why your offering is important to them right now.
    • Optional but powerful
  • Try to put your product at the centre of your product’s strengths, your market context and a trend that is relevant to your customer base
  • Trends can only be used when they have a clear link to your product
    • Make the connection between your product and the market obvious
    • Make the connection between the trend and your product obvious

STEP 10. Capture Your Positioning so It Can Be Shared

  • Positioning isn’t useful to a company on its own
    • Share it across the organisation
    • Get buy-in
    • Get it to inform all activities… branding, marketing campaigns, sales strategy, product decisions and customer-success strategy.
  • A positioning canvas can help:
Product name and one-line description
Market category (and sub-category)
Competitive Alternatives
Unique Attributes
Value
Who cares a lot
What would customers use if your product didn’t exist?
What features and capabilities does your product have that the alternatives do not?
What value do those attributes enable for customers?
What are the characteristics of a customer that makes them care a lot about the value you deliver?

AFTER POSITIONING: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

  • Translating Your Positioning into a Sales Story
    • Definition of the problem that your solution was designed to solve
    • Describe how prospects are trying to solve the problems today
    • Describe the perfect world - describe the features of the perfect solution
    • Introduce the product and position it in the market category
    • Talk about each of the value themes in more details
    • Handling of common objections
    • Case study / list of current customers
    • Next Steps
  • Update your messaging
  • Review your product roadmap and pricing strategy
  • Track and re-evaluate your positioning over time
    • A sudden change in the competitive landscape could signal a need to adjust your positioning.
    • Other outside forces can also change your market.
    • New technology can suddenly change what is possible in a market. Once customers understand it, purchase criteria can shift very quickly.
    • The attitudes and preferences of customers can shift over time.