03020 Positioning: Making a Statement

In an earlier topic called “Product Positioning: Where Do You Stand?” I discuss product positioning to give your product a unique and highly competitive placement in the market. One of the outcomes of the process of determining the focus of your product – in terms of such elements as target market, users and features – is the development of a compelling statement describing your product.

The positioning statement paints a picture that grabs the attention of your ideal prospects and helps them remember the product and what it could mean for them if they bought it. The key to a successful statement is to make it compelling, something that speaks so well to prospects that it gets them listening and helps them distinguish your product from the competition.

Product Managers are in a powerful position to work with Marketing to build a statement that is truly compelling, because they know what speaks to their customers and what they are looking for. Even the most technically oriented of Product Managers have been called upon to explain their product’s purpose in terms that business users and executives can understand. They have seen which words and ideas work and which don’t.

Your sales reps can take the statement verbatim and use it for their “elevator speech” or “elevator pitch”, the quick synopsis of the product that they would use if they find themselves riding the elevator up to the conference room with their prospect, who has just turned to them and asked: “So tell me, what does your product do?” This same speech is the intro at trade shows and on cold calls, designed to keep the right prospect interested in hearing more.

The same statement gets repeated, in whole or broken out into its separate elements, in product presentations and all marketing materials. It’s the point in an in-person presentation where people sit up and pay attention. It’s the sentence quoted in a callout box on the brochure, the one you want the reader to remember, if they take only one thing away with them.

Follow the tips below to create a compelling positioning statement that becomes an effective basis for sales pitches, marketing collateral, and all presentations about the product.


Aim For the Bull’s Eye

Describe the users of your product in terms of the specific market niche you have targeted. Don’t be more general or more vague in hopes of catching more prospects. You may attract more prospects, but not more qualified ones. Remember, there’s a reason that the specific niche was chosen.

Let’s take the example of a product that is designed to be a report writer. It runs in a Web browser, and is simple enough that typical business users with little technical expertise can build reports. It can be hooked up to many different kinds of databases. Let’s call the product “NET NET”.

Now, lots of people write reports. But “people” is not the description of your target market. Your target market is “businesspeople”. And it isn’t “businesspeople, or interested home users and some technical analysts”. Never mind that there may actually be some of the latter in your customer base, the product is aimed at non technical users.

You want to grab your listener’s attention, and every company loves to hear about misery, especially if it happens to be their misery. So you might want to address how busy they all are. They’re “on a tight deadline”.

The positioning statement begins something like this:

“Businesspeople use NET NET to create management reports on a tight deadline.”

Speak to the Contract Signors

While your product may be used by a number of different job functions at different levels in an organization, you want to aim the positioning statement at the people who will pay for it. The statement should talk about those who will sign the contract and those they care about: their bosses and their departments.

Our sample statement needs to introduce the idea of department managers (who happen to be the ones who buy the software). Here’s how we might change it:

“Managers and their departments use NET NET to create management reports on a tight deadline.”

Use Standard Business Language

Try to make the explanations in the statement as non-technical as possible. This should be something that decision-makers in most of the target businesses – supervisors, managers, executives – can readily understand. It’s okay to use jargon if the term is very widely understood by your target prospects. In fact, in such a case jargon is really a standard business term.

Let’s say we make the target niche for the product even more focused. It will be aimed at finance and accounting departments:

“Comptrollers and their staffs use NET NET to create management reports on a tight deadline.”

Use Bottom Line Metrics

Your product has lots of benefits. Perhaps its capabilities improve communication or quality. Those are both very important. But you need to find a bottom line benefit that speaks to the majority of decision makers. Think in terms of increased revenues or sales, reduced cost, or higher profits.

The purpose of using NET NET, for example, is:

“To cut the cost of providing financial results to executives.”

This pushes costs cutting only, over convenience and a pretty interface. Because in a lousy economy – sorry, did I say lousy? – cutting costs is something you can bank on.

Trump the Competition

Describe the product in terms that the competition cannot beat. Use the most competitive, unique features that differentiate it from the others. By doing so, you will help prospects remember why your product is different and better.

Our report writer product works in a Web browser while others work only in Windows. You can move from PC to PC at the office to access and update reports. Therefore:

Comptrollers and their staffs use NET NET to create management reports on a tight deadline – using a web browser on any available computer – in order to cut the cost of providing financial results to executives.”

This last statement is a keeper. No doubt it could be tweaked and more content added (perhaps in a second sentence), but this is a statement that most comptrollers and finance managers will find compelling. And they’ll remember why your product is better.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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