Product positioning can make or break a product.
When done correctly, it can unlock meaningful value for your company, has the ability to unlock new markets, and can massively expand user bases. But when product positioning is slightly off base, it can tank even the most exciting new feature or product.
A complete product positioning statement outlines four things: target audience, pain points, competition and alternatives in the market, and product (or feature) differentiators.
At its core, a product positioning statement should help customers efficiently find and choose your product over the competition. The product positioning statement also serves as a representation of the company’s brand and brings to life whom the company will serve and why.
The act of creating a product positioning statement brings together deep research, big data, and many stakeholders. It involves teasing out internally a shared understanding of why a product was built, and forces a strong connection between that and what was built.
“Product positioning has the rare dual role of being the backbone and the heart of your product line. It demonstrates where you can win in a crowded field and is the foundation that aligns your company and customers around a common meaningful story.”
— Meghan Keanery Anderson, VP of Marketing at Jasper.ai
If you’ve tried to craft a product positioning statement before, you know that the process can be really challenging — but when done well, there is both external and internal reward.
In this post, we are going to highlight content from Reforge’s Product Marketing Program, built by Mary Sheehan and Meghan Keaney Anderson, to explain two key things:
Let’s start by jumping into the four parts of a product positioning statement.
Meet The Contributors
Meghan Keaney Anderson
Meghan Keaney Anderson is a marketing executive with twenty years of experience at the intersection of digital marketing, brand development, creative leadership, and product marketing. Her career spans nonprofits, startups and global publicly traded companies.Learn More
Mary Sheehan is an accomplished product marketing leader with deep experience. From leading roles at NextRoll, to FirstUp and Google, she now helms Adobe Lightroom's Product Marketing team. Mary has also authored the acclaimed book "The Pocket Guide To Product Launches" and hosts the popular Women In Product Marketing podcast - making her a triple-threat in product management knowledge sharing.Learn More
4 Parts of a Product Positioning Statement
It might sound incredibly intimidating to write your first product positioning statement when a blank document is staring back at you. Don’t fret, even seasoned marketers and product experts still struggle with it. But if you can break the process down into its key components, the task becomes a lot easier to wrap your mind around.
A product positioning statement has four parts:
- The audience
- Their pain point(s)
- The competition/alternatives in the market
- The differentiated benefits
“Your positioning statement is not just a fill-in-the-blank mad lib. Every part of your positioning statement needs to be well thought out and sets the baseline of your strategy. From the audience to the differentiation to the pain points, to the category that you play in. Every piece of that needs to be fine-tuned to make sure that you will win in the market.”
– Mary Sheehan, Head of Lightroom Product Marketing at Adobe
To help illustrate each part and why it's so important, we are going to use Monday.com, a workflow platform, as an example.
1. Product Positioning Statement Part 1: Target Audience
This won’t shock too many people: a target audience is who you are trying to target with your product. But don’t skip over this step because you think it is an easy one. Defining the target audience is the base that you are going to build the rest of your product positioning statement on top of.
There are numerous attributes you could include when defining your target audiences such as user behavior, organizational characteristics, geographical details, and consumption habits.
Instead of picking attributes for the sake of it, it’s important to identify attributes that your company can actually use for targeting. For example, if you have no way to get a signal on how often someone drives or you believe that the frequency of driving has no connection to your product, that is not a helpful attribute. It's just noise.
For Monday.com, we imagine their target audience would be something like: Director/VP-level leaders at newly remote companies with more than 200 employees. This is all information that you can reasonably get about a target audience in a cost-effective way.
Sometimes, there are multiple segments within an audience. The most common version of this in practice is segmenting out the buyer from the user.
Product Positioning Statement Example: Figma
For example, if we think about the design tool Figma, the user is likely to be a product designer at a tech company. The buyer, however, might be the head of product design or the head of product. In most cases, each segment needs its own strategy and so you should consider creating a positioning statement for each audience.
Mary Sheehan, Head of Lightroom Product Marketing at Adobe, ran into the challenge of identifying the buyer as separate from the user while at AdRoll (now NextRoll).
“You can do all the user testing in the world, but if you don't understand who the ultimate buyer is, your launch will fail.”
– Mary Sheehan
2. Product Positioning Statement Part 2: Pain Points
The second part of a product positioning statement is the customer pain points. A pain point is something that causes friction in the target audience's day-to-day life that a product or service aims to solve. Understanding this pain point is critical to understanding how motivated a user is to use a product.
We imagine the pain points for Monday.com are:
- Collaboration and project management has become unruly as companies have gone partially or fully remote
- Companies have more friction and cost from inefficient review cycles and miscommunication between siloed departments
An important part of defining your pain point is also understanding if the customer is aware of this pain point. For instance, if you are at a company that is a category creator, you might want to spend a fair amount of time raising awareness.
With Monday.com’s pain points, they are probably pretty obvious. Most team leaders are always thinking about efficiency, collaboration, and project management, and challenges in this can be felt frequently — sometimes more than daily!
3. Product Positioning Statement Part 3: Competition / Alternatives
Part three of the product positioning statement deals with competitors and alternatives in the market.
The market category informs your understanding of the competitive space. One of the best ways to identify and deepen your understanding of your category is to determine what the current alternatives are to your product and create a point of view on their strengths and weaknesses.
When thinking about product alternatives, you can think about direct competitors. For example, Uber and Lyft are direct competitors. Or you can think about how customers solve solutions. For example, to get from A to Z, a person might also walk, take public transportation, or drive themselves.
For Monday.com, the alternatives are direct product competitors such as Asana and Trello, which are well-established but expensive per seat, as well as close-to-free options like Google Sheets (which has no automation). Most customers are solving this common pain point with a free or paid digital tool.
Now if you believe you are a true category creator, it’s important to still understand the status quo — which could very well be “doing nothing.” For example, if your product is an AI writing assistant, the main alternative for writers today is to write unassisted. They very literally have to pick whether to use a tool or not, rather than pick between existing tools.
4. Product Positioning Statement Part 4: Product Differentiators
The fourth and final part of a product positioning statement keys in on your product differentiators. Product differentiators are the characteristics that make a product stand out while also solving the previously identified pain point.
Ultimately, you need to know which aspects of your product would drive the customer to pick it over the available alternatives.
There are three elements of product differentiation:
- What drives the differentiation
- The benefits of differentiation
- The level of differentiation
To finish our Monday.com example, we’ll explore one of the product differentiators:
- What drives the differentiation: Monday.com makes inter-department collaboration easier and operates in more parts of the business
- What is the benefit: It’s a one-stop-shop for what used to be solved with different tools (CRM, HR services, etc.)
- The level of differentiation: High, this is very different from alternatives
Differentiators help tie the pain point a customer faces with the features or solution you are proposing to them. It explicitly explains why your solution does it better for their specific pain points, not just in general.
2 Common Product Positioning Mistakes
It’s easy to look at a product positioning statement and treat it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise, but then you’re doing work for the sake of work.
Approach the product positioning statement as a north star to how you will enter and win in the market. Then use the process of defining each element as a way to get organizational alignment and you’re on the right track to a successful product or feature launch.
However, even if you are approaching the process of creating a product positioning statement with the best intentions, there are two common mistakes that drastically decrease the effectiveness of this tool: not using data and not having a strategic emphasis.
Positioning Mistake #1: Lacking strategic emphasis.
It can be easy to treat all of the product positioning elements as equally important, but they aren’t. To truly set your product or feature up as different from the rest, you need to identify which part of the positioning gives you a competitive edge and lean into that.
For Monday.com, the strategic emphasis should be on the differentiator part of the product positioning statement. They differentiate by being not just another tool, but instead a whole system. The way people work has meaningfully changed, and companies need a work operating system to support that.
Positioning Mistake #2: Not using data to inform the positioning elements.
One of the most challenging things you have to navigate when drafting a product positioning statement is separating intuition and opinions from actual data or research. For instance, it might be easy to anchor on a feature that the product team is very excited about as the key point in your positioning.
However, in reality, it’s not the actual pain point customers think of when they are making a decision about whether or not to choose your product. If you aren’t rigorous about having a research-based positioning statement, you’ll see compounding downstream effects when you are trying to bring the product to market.
Meghan Keany Anderson, VP of Marketing at Jasper.ai, talks about the implications of not fully understanding the customer pain point for a product launch while she was at HubSpot because internally they were excited about a particular feature.
“We got enamored with our own story and went with positioning that was all about personalization. There was a lot of enthusiasm at launch, but when it came 30 days later, we found that the burden of changing your website platform and the fear of a lack of usability in a new system really got in the way.”
—Meghan Keany Anderson
Nailing Product Positioning Informs A Successful Go-To-Market Strategy
When you launch something into the market, you want to get it right. Your internal teams have spent a ton of time and effort on an exciting feature or product, so it’s important to understand how this will resonate with your target audience.
A complete product positioning statement includes a clearly defined target audience, an awareness of the most important pain points the product addresses, a robust understanding of the competitor landscape, and well-articulated differentiation. Altogether, this allows your customers to confidently select your product over their alternatives.
When our experts Mary and Meghan talk about the companies that do product positioning well, it’s often connected to a very successful go-to-market strategy as well.
“One of my favorite examples of product positioning is Coors Beer. What do you think of when you think about a nice cold CoorsLight? You're going to be so refreshed, you're gonna have the taste of the Rockies, and you are going to have one cold beer. That is the power of positioning. It makes you crave something that you know will be really refreshing, and then you'll even do the work to get it.”
– Mary Sheehan
“An example that jumps to mind for me is Gusto HR software for small and growing businesses. I think that what they do so well is they're not trying to be something bigger than they are. They are squarely focused on small businesses. I feel heard by that brand and that's where I'm going to go, as opposed to some of the other options that are out there.”
–Meghan Keany Anderson
Whether you're launching a new feature or a new product, positioning is key. For frameworks, tactics, and tools to make your product positioning exercise more valuable and more likely to succeed, sign up for Reforge to take the Product Marketing program.