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April Dunford on why positioning is everything

Patrick Campbell Oct 29 2020

Stop a second. What do you picture when you hear the word “positioning?” Maybe you’re thinking of the orientation of your desk, or you’re thinking of the space between the objects on your desk. Perhaps you’re thinking of the way your body is sitting while you’re listening to this podcast. If you’re in marketing, and “positioning” in your mind is about lumbar support and furniture, you probably won’t have a very long career. In actuality, positioning refers to the space that a brand occupies in the minds of customers and how it differentiates between the products of its competitors. And no one, and I mean no one, speaks as well on this topic as April Dunford.  

April has helped position the likes of IBM and Huawei, as well as many other significant tech businesses, helping companies grow and get acquired multiple times over. She’s an international keynote speaker not only on positioning, but also market strategy, and new product introduction. And she didn’t write the book that defines positioning, because she wrote the book on how to nail positioning. But she almost went down a different career path that would’ve taken her in a completely different direction than tech.

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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key terms: 

What is Positioning?

Positioning isn’t a tagline, it isn’t messaging, it isn’t a vision statement. Positioning describes how you are uniquely qualified to be a leader in something that an identified market segment cares a lot about. Through a positioning exercise you identify these pieces and then vision statements, elevator pitches, value propositions, and taglines all stem from that work.

Why is positioning important?

April says, “Everything we do in marketing and sales is the house. Positioning is the foundation upon which the house is built.” Without a solid foundation, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or functional the house is, it will collapse.

Practically, positioning is important, because there are more options, competitors, and distractions than ever, along with more marketing than ever. Without proper positioning, you end up throwing good money after bad by not knowing who, how, or with what you should target. Positioning makes your entire company more effective.


Action plan:

 What to do today: 

  • Order and read April’s book, Obviously Awesome (2.5 hour read)
  • Discuss your product’s positioning with your exec team
  • Schedule when you will go through a formal positioning exercise

What to do next quarter:

Run a positioning exercise to ensure you have a central document that answers the following questions: 

Positioning Process-png

These pieces are relatively straightforward. Here are descriptions from April’s work: 

  • What is it? – this is the one sentence description of what you are. The key here is to keep it really short and use plain English words. This isn’t about describing the value (we will get to that) or why it’s different from other things (we will get there too)—the idea is just to answer at the most basic level, “What the heck is it?”

  • Target Segment – This box is the description of the target customers you are going after right now. The trick here is to focus on who you will sell to over the next six months (not the ultimate market which is typically much broader). This market should be the folks that you are most likely to close in the short term. For B2B startups you will have a description of the target company and the target buyer within that company.

  • Market Category – This is the market category that you compete in. It’s important because often startups have a choice of multiple categories that they could compete in but the one you choose will define what the real competitive alternatives will be.

  • Competitive Alternatives – What are the solutions that compete with your solution? This should take the customer’s perspective and can include things that aren’t necessarily products such as “hire an intern” or “do nothing.”

  • Primary Differentiation – This is different from the Key Benefit but often the Key Benefit is derived from this.

  • Key Benefit – This is the single biggest benefit that your target buyers get from your offering. This is the one thing you would talk to customers about if you could only talk about a single benefit.

What to do within the next year: 

  • Utilize your positioning exercise output to work through the following deliverables
    • GoToMarket strategy
    • Sales decks
    • Marketing channels and specifics
    • Website copy
    • Content
    • Essentially everything that needs to be in the context of the positioning

Who should own this? 

Positioning is a team sport, but typically the head of product marketing or the head of marketing owns this if you don’t have product marketing inside your organization.

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This is a ProfitWell Recur Studios production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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