Position your product for market fit

I recently read April Dunford’s book ”Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It”. This is my summary of the key concepts and ideas from it.

The main point of the book is that you need to be deliberate about the context that you place your product in. The context gives the customer a frame of reference to figure out what it is, who it’s for, and why they should care about it. Product developers often overlook this exercise because it’s obvious to us what that context is. You might think that the vegan, tasty protein-bars you’ve developed are perfect for a quick protein boost post-workout. Your customers might think of them as a healthy snack to grab when they get home before dinner is ready. The context matters because you base a whole range of important business decisions on it. Where do you sell the product? How do you market it? How do you price it?

Customer’s usually don’t know as much as you about the market you operate in, or the potential alternatives that exist. They haven’t purchased a product like yours before and they look at what you deliver with fresh eyes. It’s vital to understand how they categorize your product. What they see as alternatives. You need to provide the correct context for them to see the excellence of your product. If you can position your product in the correct market category you’ll have all the assumptions working for you. Consider the protein-bar from the previous paragraph. The amount of protein in it is not as important if it’s a ”keep my sugar levels up between meals” snack. And you might be able to put a bit more sugar in it and still be competitive in that market category.

Dunford identifies two big traps that product developers fall into. The first is to get stuck on the product that you intended to build. You have an idea about what our product should be and the value it should deliver. It’s hard to break out of that box, even when your product has morphed and you should find a new category for it. One example she uses is an email service that focuses on speed and ease of use. It might be that the context of ”email” is making customers assume a certain set of characteristics. And to categorize it as ”chat” would make it easier to communicate what value it actually brings.

The second trap is to fail to react to changing markets. You have done the work and have found your context and market fit. Then the market changes in a way that weakens your position, and you fail to realize it. It’s easy to fall into this trap because, again, you as a product developer, operate in a context that is quite different from that of your customers.

Dunford argues that there are five main components of effective product positioning.

1. Competitive alternatives

What would customers do if your product didn’t exist? How are they solving this problem right now? Are they using another product with a similar value proposition? Are they ignoring or not aware of the problem you’re trying to solve? Do they solve it by applying force or more workforce at it

You need to look beyond what you see as competitors in the market to understand what the alternatives to your customers are. Remember that Netflix considers Fortnite more of a competitor than HBO.

2. Unique attributes

What are the features and capabilities that you have, that alternatives lack? Are you faster? Are you more cost-effective? Do you use machine learning to increase conversion? What is unique about you? And why does it matter to the customer?

3. What value do you provide?

You have identified the features that are unique to your solution. What value do they provide to the customer? Why is your machine learning better than what they’re doing now? And can you prove it? Vague statements about the effectiveness of your solution are not as powerful as data and facts.

Know what value you provide, and understand how to prove it.

4. Characteristics of your target market

Once you have a group of buyers that love your product, find out what the commonalities are. What characteristics do they share that you can identify and go look for in other customers?

A side note: If you don’t have that group of super-happy customers, you should hold off on positioning your product. You need to have at least a small group of fans to be able to identify patterns in who and why they love what you provide. One super-happy customer might do, but more is better of course.

5. Market category

What market do you describe yourself as being part of? If you find the right category you’ll find that all the customer’s assumptions are working for you. If your market category isn’t right, you’ll find their assumptions working against you. Consider the email vs chat example above.

Dunford then goes on to lay out a process for you to identify your context and market fit. It’s a straight-forward approach and the book serves well as a manual. I’ll leave it to you to pick up the pick if you’re interested in the steps.

All in all, a short and to-the-point read, which gave me some new insights and ideas. Well worth the time if you have a product that you try to position in the world.