Product 101: How to Write a Positioning Statement


Your product is one among millions.
With so many products,
why should a customer choose yours?
Positioning answers this question.

A product’s “position” is the place
it occupies in the customer’s mind.
All products have a position—
even if it’s the position of “unfamiliar”
or “irrelevant to me”
or “not very good”.

Successful products are relevant
as well as highly ranked.
They stand out.
They have a unique position.
The purpose of “positioning” is to create
and articulate what makes your product unique.

A key step in positioning
is to write a positioning statement.
Let’s start with a template based on the classic
positioning structure by Procter & Gamble:

Classic positioning statement popularized by Procter & Gamble

Or if you want to be really succinct,
use this one by Marty Neumeier:

Short position statement by Marty Neumeier

Good positioning statements reflect good positioning.
So what is good positioning?

Here are five traits:

1. Unique

Your positioning must be unique.
It must not already be owned by another company.

If you want to be the best,
but someone else is already the best,
you must find or make another space to own.

Imagine you’ve created a new soft drink.
You want to position it
as the world’s number one soft drink.
Unfortunately, Coca-Cola already owns this position
in the mind of customers.
Knocking Coca-Cola from that position is impossible.
Pepsi can’t even do it.

In the mind of customers, Coca-Cola maintains its position as the number one soft drink in the work.

So what do you do?
Find an open space:
What do customers drink if they don’t want cola?

Hmmm.

Instead of being the leader of all soft drinks,
you position your new drink
as the best alternative to all colas.
That’s the story of 7up, the “uncola”.

7up is positioned at the “uncola”, essentially creating a new category of soda.

7up distinguishes it from Coca-Cola by being the “uncola”.

Another example:
It’s 1984 and you’ve invented a new computer.
You don’t even try to knock IBM
from its position as a leader in computers for business people.
Instead, you reposition the IBM PC
as the square, boring, and hard-to-use computer
for people who like accounting.

In contrast, you position your invention
as an easy-to-use computer
for people who want to have fun.
Say hello to Macintosh.

The Macintosh became the creative computer for everyone else.

Today, IBM doesn’t make PCs anymore.
Lenovo, HP, and Dell are now the leaders.
But the Mac is still the easy-to-use, fun,
and cool alternative to PCs.

Between 2006–2009, Apple personified its positioning in an advertisement campaign called “Get a Mac”

2. Narrow

If your positioning is too broad,
the customer won’t remember it.
If you’re everything to everyone,
then you’re nothing to anyone.

Consider Levi’s:
Levi’s was once the leader in denim.
The company started with just a few successful styles.
501s. 505s. 517s.
Now Levi’s has a confusing array of products.
From cheap denim sold at JC Penney’s
to expensive high-end designer jeans sold in Japan.
It also sells shirts, skirts, hats, and scarves.
They make everything for everyone,
but has lost all their meaning.

Is Levi’s still the clear leader in denim?
Nope.

Levi’s product strategy is so confused and disorganized, even Wieden+Kennedy can’t make a good ad campaign. What does “Go Forth” even mean?

3. Affordable

Your budget will determine how narrow your positioning will be.
Can you afford to be the best in the world?
Then, how about just being the best in San Francisco?
That’s how Craigslist started.
It then became the best online classifieds in the world.

4. Durable

Good positioning is durable in the customer’s mind.
But it must also be durable in the product owner’s mind,

Once your brand owns a position in the customer’s mind,
you’re stuck with it.

Did you know Xerox made a personal computer before Apple?
Did you know Starbucks sells sandwiches?
Did you know Kleenex makes paper towels?

No?
That’s because each brand already owns
a specific position in your mind.

Xerox = Copiers
Starbucks = Coffee
Kleenex = Facial tissue

It’s very difficult to change a position you own.
Xerox will never be known for computers, even if it makes them.
Starbucks will never be known for sandwiches, even if it makes them.
Kleenex will never be known for paper towels, even if it makes them.

So, make sure you can live with your positioning for a long time.

Kleenex does make paper towels, but promotes it under the brand Viva. Kleenex is just too well-positioned as tissues. Notice the teeny tiny Kleenex logo.

5. Believable

To be believable, your product must deliver
on its positioning promise.

What if the first Macintosh was actually
very boring and difficult to use?
Then positioning it as a computer
for the fun person wouldn’t be believable,
leaving an opportunity for others
to own the open position.

Once you own the position,
customers will be more forgiving,
but you must still deliver.

Today, the Mac has increased greatly in complexity.
It is harder to use that the original version.
Still, it is considered and believed
to be “easy-to-use” and “cool”,

Why? Because the alternatives
are still harder to use and boring.
In addition to the above traits,
design legend Ralph Caplan recommends
you answer these three questions:

1. Who are you?

Are you a manufacturer?
A service provider?
A retailer?

2. What do you do?

Do you make computers?
Do you fix computers?
Do you sell computers?

3. Why does it matter?

Are you the best?
Are you the fastest?
Are you the cheapest?


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