April Dunford on Positioning

May 17, 2023

April Dunford, CEO of Ambient Strategy on the top missteps to avoid in a positioning exercise, and how to arrive to well-defined positioning for your company.

Video Transcript

Speakers: April Dunford, CEO, Ambient Strategy. April Dunford, CEO , Ambient Strategy

April Dunford: Hi, my name is April Dunford. I've spent 25 years of my career running, marketing and product teams at fast growing startups. I'm now the CEO of Ambient Strategy. I worked with tech companies, and my specialization is positioning.

What's the difference between positioning and messaging, branding, or storytelling?

April Dunford: So positioning is a pretty misunderstood concept, which is surprising because it's not new. It's been around for a long time, but we often confuse positioning for branding or messaging or storytelling. I define positioning this way. Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering some value that a well defined set of customers cares a lot about. That sounds like a mouthful because it is. It's composed of five different pieces. What are the alternatives to what I do? That could be status quo, by the way, not just competitors. What features or capabilities do I have that the alternatives don't have? How does that translate to value for customers? What customers are we talking about? So who's our best fit customer? And lastly market category, which you can think about that as: What's the market that I position myself in that my value is obvious to my best fit to customers? It's the answer to, "What are we? Are we chat or messaging or CRM or a database?" Now thinking about how it relates to messaging and branding and everything else. I like to think of positioning as a fundamental input to those things. I cannot write messaging until I know who is the messaging for. And what is the value I'm trying to communicate. I can't craft stories until I know who the hero of that story is. I need to deeply understand, who my best fit customers are, who I'm trying to differentiate from and what my value is before I can attempt to craft things like branding. So I like to think about it this way. If everything we do in marketing and sales is the house positioning is the foundation upon which the house is built.

What are the key components of positioning?

April Dunford: Positioning is composed of five key component pieces. Here's what they are. First one is competitive alternatives. Second one is key differentiated features or capabilities. Next is value. Next is customer segmentation or who's the customer that you're trying to go after. and the last is market category. Let's talk about each of these briefly, So the first one is competitive alternatives. This is not the same thing as competitors. Competitive alternatives could be: Use a spreadsheet, Have an intern do it. A lot of the status quo things we compete with in B2B software are things that you wouldn't consider "a competitor." But they are alternative ways of solving the problem. We need to understand that so that we can understand the next piece, which is what are our differentiated features or capabilities. These are usually easy to define. It's the features of our product, but it can also be things like particular expertise we have, our experience. we have, certifications, things that aren't necessarily features, but our capabilities of us as a company. Next we have value. We're really looking for the differentiated value here, and it's kind of the answer to each of your features. So what? So what you have all these features? So what for customers? What is the value that those enable for customers? The next one is target customer segments. So what are the characteristics of a customer that makes them a really, really good fit for the value that you can deliver on? Then lastly, you have market category. That's a little more complicated, but you could think about it this way. Your best market category is the category that makes your value obvious to the people that you're trying to communicate it to. It's the answer to the question: What are we at a fundamental level? Are we email, or are we chat, or are we CRM? Your best market category puts your strengths right in center.

How do we determine the best answer for each of the components of positioning?

April Dunford: In my opinion, the starting point for a good positioning exercise is to think about competitive alternatives. So I get asked this question a lot. How do we know what our best competitive alternatives are? How do we actually know that? In my mind, there's two things you have to be really careful about. One is, competitive alternatives are not necessarily competitors. They could be alternative ways of solving the problems, such as using a spreadsheet or having an intern do it. The second thing to keep in mind is that what you're really looking for are the alternative ways of doing things that your best customers would do. In B2B, we often have customers that yes, we landed a deal with them. Yes, they pay us money every month, but they're not exactly our best fit customer like we kind of expect them to turn in some ways, maybe we landed them when the product was brand new. They're not you really using it the way we think people should use our product. So, what I like to do is I like to look at my happiest customers, my best fit customers, customers that close really quickly, and didn't ask me for discount. They deeply understood the value that we could provide. They're happy. They reference us. If I just take those folks and I go and ask them: Hey, if we didn't exist, what would you dio? And that's kind of two things. What's whatever they were doing before you showed up on the scene? And then it's also, whoever the alternatives were that if they did look a competitive alternatives, who else were they looking at? So, you need to deeply understand that first, once you understand that, then you can say, "Okay, this is who I actually compete with. Therefore, this is what I've got that they don't have. I can then take those features, translate them to value that gets me my differentiated value." Once I understand that. And I can say, Well, why is it that some companies really appreciate that value and some don't? What are the characteristics of a company that makes them a really good fit for my value on then? Lastly, I've got market category, which is basically I've got this value. I've got these folks and my best position as email or chat. What is the context? I could position my product in that That value is obvious to those folks. So in my opinion, you've got to start with alternatives. You work your way through the component pieces. If you do it that way, then you should get to the best answer for each of those.

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