The Biggest Positioning Trap And How To Avoid It

by Strategy

Over the years, I have had the chance to work on many cool products and services.

My CEO clients know how awesome their product is.

But their problem is that nobody else around them does. At least, not enough people, and not soon enough.

My job is to help them reframe or revive the business strategy that will fix that. I do this by creating a new narrative that everyone within the company needs to adopt.

At the outset of our work, I always point out that they are not going to succeed only because their product or service is the best. Other factors come into play. One of the most difficult to nail correctly is how people understand the product.

Your customers don’t buy the best solution to their needs. They buy the solution that they can understand the best.

In 2006, Microsoft launched Zune, a portable media player. Zune was a great product. It had very good playback performance of audio, video, and photos. User loved the interface and some said it was better than Apple’s iPod. Yet, by 2011, Microsoft discontinued it and dealt with a $289 million loss and one of their most infamous failures.

Zune was just not different enough in the mind of consumers.

How do you avoid a similar situation?

First, make people understand why they need something like your product now.

What matters is to position your product in the right context. That means that you should not rely on features and benefits to bring clarity. Instead, context brings meaning.

What customers want to know is not just the What (the product), but first and foremost the Why – why is this going to make their life better.

Resist the temptation to lead with your product.

Then, what should come first?

The three pieces of the story you should tell first.

Before you can even talk about your product, you need to realize that you are up against an existing narrative that people have adopted for a while.

Zune had to fight against the original iPod narrative of “1000 songs in your pocket”. That didn’t work.

You need to change how the market thinks.

For that, talk about:

1 – What has changed in the world that makes your product indispensable.

Think about the big undeniable, irreversible, and inevitable change happening around us. It represents a new opportunity that your customer could benefit from or a risk that they need to avoid. If you think of your customer as the hero of your story, this is the disruptive event that creates the need to act differently. For the electric car market, it’s been global warming. For Zoom, COVID helped.

2 – The traditional products or solutions.

Name the traditional way that your customers have had at their disposal to fulfil their needs. Show why you believe that it’s outdated and even detrimental to them. This would be the villain of your story. The villain can never be a person or a competitor. You have to be comfortable with the idea that you will publicly attack it. You will have to commit to being transparent and vocal about this. This will help your customers truly see what you believe and it will make it easier for them to choose between you and another service provider. For Uber, the villain was the traditional and broken taxi industry.

3 – The old narrative

The old narrative is the way we’ve always “gone by”. This would be the limiting belief that gets in the way or your customer when they need to change and accept innovation. The old narrative is tough to change. It is usually institutionalized and socially accepted. It will limit your customers in the way they think and act. You need to change it. When I first tried Pandora, I thought it was cool, but I was afraid to commit to it because I believed that it might not have all my favorite music. It turns out I was wrong. But first, Pandora had to make me believe.

Go take that new cool product to market, and watch for that Zune trap!

If you can’t see it, I’d be happy to shed some light. Just let me know.

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