Product Positioning – ‘Customer Value’ Frameworks & Messaging

Frameworks, are useful for product management roadmap and development planning, product positioning and value proposition, product pricing, and for structuring marketing communications.  Here are a variety of way to organize your product features that put your prospective customer at the center.
 
To get started, explore the practical suggestions that follow on from the frameworks. And finally, acquaint yourself with the watch out the most common messaging problems and weaknesses!

The ‘good, better, best’ product positioning framework is solid.  Product positioning based on size (small, medium and large), e.g. size of the customer, users/seats, number of transactions, also works. But these product positioning frameworks go beyond and tie more directly into customer value.

 

Product Positioning By Customer Persona

Within in the B2B market place, product development, marketing outreach and sales needs to consider multiple participants. Where those participants have different needs, aligning your product positioning with those different customer personas allows you to speak to different needs within the same target account.

Product Positioning Along The Customer Journey

Use customer journey mapping to identify the value points along the process.  Each product/service should represent a juncture or transition point, in the ‘journey’ and be easy to identify.

Example: Align your B2B technology services along maturity chain.

  • Installation: Ensure your set-up is done on-time, on budget and is ultimately, correct.
  • Configuration: Speed your time to value and ensure settings are optimized for your specific business and needs.
  • Integration: Align your new investment with existing capabilities / systems through project design, planning and implementation.

Product Positioning By Customer Capability

Different customer have varying degrees of in-house capabilities and available resources.  Positioning features and services along this continuum of maturity / size ensures customers get the most out of your offering, and you target your larger market opportunity.

Example: B2B technology operations support offering could include:

  • Education: Learn best practices and new skills to ensure your operations team get the best from the product investment.
  • On-going Support: Get service level agreement backup for your in-house team so together we effectively manage most complex challenges or unexpected hiccups over the lifetime of the system.
  • Outsourcing: Achieve value quickly and reliably without the need to develop in-house skills by choosing an expert for all or some of the processes.

Product Positioning by Emotion

Emotion in product features makes for functional and successful product messaging.  Grounded in overall branding and customer benefits, it requires deep understanding of customers
The next time you see an ad that tugs your heart, stop and consider why that is.  Some of the largest FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands are excellent at this. The classic technology example is “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”.
 
“No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”.
  • Customer Benefit – what the customer gets
  • Product Features – what it is
  • Product Benefits – what it does
  • Emotional Benefit – how it feels
 As Maya Angelou said;
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Nick Bonney, one of my fellow Expert Independent Researchers at ICG, has more on Emotion in Product Features.


Once you’ve thought about and explored which framework will work for you, it’s time to get practical and start populating with messaging that prospects can easily absorb.  There is a lot of iteration involved. Before your proceed, note the most common messaging problems. These are so common, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll, initially, fall foul of one or more. 

Product Positioning – Organizing Your Messaging

For each solution element:

1. List Features

At this point to get you started, just list what your solution / approach does. Post-It notes can work well . Often you’ll discover that something you though of as one feature actually become multiple features. And one feature may serve multiple customer persona.

For group work Miro or another whiteboard sharing application can work really well. Start with whatever documentation is available. Technical documentation sometimes offers rich harvesting.

2. Group Similar Features

Look for similarities. Choose grouping guided by (an individual) customer persona and by choosing similar attributes

  • Example: you might choose to follow a typical workflow, perhaps diagrammatically.
    • For research: identify questions to answer; identify sample cohort; communicate with cohort; collect and validate data; analysis data;, report on data.
  • Example: you might choose to group by daily, weekly or monthly activities.
  • Note: the macro grouping, by customer persona, is itself the most important concept. By definition different customer persona care about different things.


4. Name ‘Feature Bucket / Group’

Examples might include e.g. Data Analytics (Features), Foot Protection for Long-distance Runners

  • customer persona language
  • unique / not overlapping (with other feature buckets for this customer persona…)
  • unambiguous – what would prospects understand by the description choosen.
  • grammatically consistent (e.g. start with an action verb or Capitalise Each Word)
  • correct and accurate – don’t promote vapourware nor oversell (
  • completeness is completely a judgement call…… you should neither sell yourself short nor get too far into the weeds.

5. Compose Feature Names

Compose feature description if you are going to that level of detail.

6. Market Place Check

At this point you might try googling those terms. Do you get results you’d expect?? If not, go back to step 2.

Another important element is your peer and other market players. Compare your features and groups to your aspirational and direct competitors. You don’t have to align with the market place. Innovation comes from difference. But if everyone else organizes around industry-sector, think carefully about the pros and cons.


Most Common Messaging Problems

  1. Internal Speak.
    • This is so common if you don’t “see” it in your own messaging be sure to get additional eyes on it.
    • Watch for acronyms some of which may be common within your sector but pose barriers for those ‘maturing into’ your market segment. Why erect an unnecessary wall.
      • Examples: getting started with CRM – Customer Relationship Management. Actually much of the functionality in this market sector is for managing not existing customers but rather prospects!
      • ATS – Applicant Tracking System, a subsection of HR hiring / recruitment. i.e. company / HR / recruitment / applicant tracking = 4 layers down
      • MES – Manufacturing Execution Systems. In practice this is a very niche term. Yes you can google it (although finding a large enough segment in AdWord may be challenging) but it not used in all manufacturing sectors. For example its not used in either truck muffler parts engineering nor food processing
  2. Too Generic.
    • Terrible => ‘Best software for data collection’.
    • Much better => “The only wart specifically designed for a dog.” (attributed to Neil Rasmussen, APC).
  3. Architecture Moonlighting as Features
    • User Management – every technology product ever has user management. What does your approach to user management to? Ensure visibility for the whole team or ensure confidential financial data is kept secure.
    • In particular for technology products consider those architectural features that nearly every approach has (database, export, visualizations). For those you ‘must’ talk about work hard to articulate the value of uncovering / presenting.
  4. Product Spec-focused
    • Yes you need a product spec sheet. But a random list of features is difficult to navigate. Work to group things conceptually. As your positioning and messaging matures, you will need to considering earlier customer-journey stages. Spec sheets often serve as detailed comparison lists later in the decision process.
  5. Mixing Levels of Abstraction 
    • Example – ‘Exotic Blue-Shell Fountain Pen with interchangeable nibs’ versus ‘pencils’.
    • Example – ‘Inventory management’ versus ‘product sustainability QR code’.
  6. Disorganized
    • not aligned to their role => reconsider the ‘customer persona’ approach
    • not aligned to their market place => reconsider segmenting by market or industry
    • misaligned with the state in their search for answers, i.e. incorrect customer journey stage. (In other words, not aligned to a conceptual framework such as those outlined above.)

To get expert assistance with product positioning, contact Jane.


About Jane Morgan

With 20 years high-tech marketing & product development experience from Boston to Billund, Berlin to Bangalore, Jane has managed teams and tech products with millions of installs, and millions of revenue (annually). She's researched and developed market strategy for global markets, and established the blueprint for product management in many new teams. As an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur, she changed vowels in 2014 and founded JEM 9 Marketing Consultancy. Today she works with CEOs & business leaders to assist them in understanding and reaching customers. Speaker on market research, technology marketing and product management.