Positioning (An Intern’s Journal)

Product Positioning is an Adventure.

With every journey, there’s an objective that you can’t accomplish alone. For product positioning, it could be “hit the perfect market segment” or “get user feedback, and they LOVE your product”, but it’s an iterative process that requires a team. And this objective may change over time, but you can rely on more and more insight.

In preparation, I’m sure you have a basic idea of a product launch. It’s like a boat. You stock up on provisions, tools, and a go-to market strategy before you sail the seas. You soon learn that no matter if you’re piloting the Titanic, or a small tugboat — you’re always at mercy of the waters (the consumers). What you can control is how your crew reacts to it.

I’ll dive into some top-level tips that I learned during my internship here at Chatnels.

5 Ways to Improve a Team’s Product Vision

1. Search for Multiple Perspectives (A LOT)

My manager sought feedback of every stakeholder in the company, on what they thought our product positioning was.

“What is your vision of the product?”, she’d ask, while taking notes.

No matter what, everyone can offer an insight — regardless of being a perfect fit to your user persona or use case. I love this sense of democratization. If you want to get some footing for the current positioning exists for your product, your best bet are the people who work on/use your product. Be wary though, we’re not looking to directly translate their insight into positioning.

For example, I worked on a product that was a directory platform, with AI-powered chatbots. It was originally positioned as a “switchboard for workflow communications”. That was the insight that we gained from talking to everyone.

But you don’t want to use that insight directly. You use it as an inflection point for pivoting your message. Once you have established an internal vision, it’s time to validate this with your users and consumers. I set off 2–3 hours each week to talk to potential clients, their problems, and gained insights on their perception of the app.

2. Create a Culture for Learning

One day, a package came into the office, and Colin (our CEO), pulled out 3 books — and put one on each of our desks.

The book was “Obviously Awesome” by April Dunford. He started an impromptu book-club, where we discussed the insights on product positioning. It was amazing to see our process, and the nuances be validated by what was written in a book.

I’d recommend you to pick up this book. Written in 2019, it’s pretty awesome.

My workplace is a small digital consultancy (working on some pretty big projects) in Vancouver, Canada. Myself and the other interns sit right across from the CEO. The arrangement and at work made it easy to learn from my manager and CEO.

Beyond seeking out people, consult different books and articles. Product positioning is not done by some marketer behind their desk. They’re part of an organization-wide conversation, and learning exercise.

Product positioning effects everything. Development. Design. Marketing.

3. Be strategic.

Follow your heart, but do it strategically. Go with what sounds right, based on data and rationale.

All of the marketing basics apply. Apply frameworks, and take a step back about the background works of your product positioning. Something you learn in Business 101 is that your target consumer segment must be reachable, substantial, measurable and actionable. These important basics can be forgotten if you throw strategy out the window, and solely focus on whatever customers feel.

Customers can feel certain things about your product, but often times, they don’t express it in a way that is actionable to you. They’ll say that “I can see your product for X use-case”. However, they’re giving you that recommendation from their own frame of reference. It’s your job to take this as qualitative data, and break it down. What feature solves their problem? Are we the best solution? What are the market/user/product forces at play?

Essentially, you have to be analytical, and planning. In the wise words of my Marketing professor: “Always allow yourself to change your decisions, when information changes.”

4. Empathize.

Product positioning becomes an exercise in empathy. I mentioned talking to customers and clients, when you’re working on a product team. Be wary of this: when you’re doing a product positioning exercise, you’re not trying to sell. You’re trying to interview, to pick out pain-points, and present/validate your solution.

For example, the product I worked on was an AI-powered chat platform. You have to be user centric, and think about what your customer perceives — not what it actually is. I talked to security services, mortgage brokerages, government, education, startups — and they each had a unique understanding of AI and the benefits of the product.

A strength that any team needs to work on is finding a cadence for empathy, and being user-centric above sales or conversions (when it comes to positioning).

5. Embrace Failure as a team.

Okay, this may seem like generic advice , but is especially true for product teams. You can do all the groundwork and research, but sometimes things don’t pan out. It’s not luck, it’s not magic, it’s just a mystery that we haven’t find all the clues to uncovering yet.

I went into some client demos and interviews, ready to present them a use-case. With studying their industry, building a report and slide-deck, I realized that this wasn’t the sole recipe for success. It was all of the steps above, and understanding that I could do all of those things and still not find the perfect position for the product.

It takes time. With each failure, moves your product closer to where you want to go. Our CEO taught me to treat each product demo as a lesson.

Failure is like the wind. Sometimes it’s in your favour, sometimes not, but it’s what moves you. It will be the greatest failure is what will propel you the farthest. (Small failures are fine too!)

Your team is navigating an ocean. It’s like a market. Market conditions reflect the constant change in the tides, weather, or sea monster competitors you’ll encounter. That’s why you’ll need your team.

The old saying of “the customer is always right” applies. 
You can say all you want about your product’s value. 
You define and write the perfect messaging for a market. 
The business case and product can seem flawless.

However, a product’s positioning isn’t what YOU say it is. 
Your team is at the mercy of the ocean. It’s what the consumer says about it, and how well they click with what you put out in the world.

If your product solves a problem, it’s your team’s mission to get it to the right hands. Don’t go alone, take your team and get started with your quest!

Philman Yeung

Philman Yeung

Intern at Excelar Technologies. Studying at UBC Sauder School of Business, he loves combining his passion for storytelling, art, and books.
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