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Missing out on product positioning at the early stage
A lot of startups suffer after initial growth because they can’t figure out what they are building & for whom.
Hi 👋, Welcome to the 49th newsletter post.
The original post was published on → Olivine Marketing.
“Product positioning isn’t mind work - it must be documented and well-guided. It’s also not a one-time thing and needs to be evolved as the product expands and changes - there’s no shortcut to it.”
But many startups often ignore understanding positioning, in fact, marketing altogether, from as early as the MVP stage (I’ve made this mistake with my startup too). Building a SaaS product for any founder is more glamorous than working on marketing or positioning. They fear that insufficient delivery in value will make the customers choose the alternatives, so they focus on improving the product.
I am product market advising a leading SaaS startup (in its industry) that didn’t have any competitors (major) until the last two years. For them, dominating the market was easy even without building a marketing foundation as they focused on partnerships and developing robust technology.
When I boarded the team, I saw their competitor was quick at positioning itself in the market, spending money on delivering the message correctly and building their own narrative. Not only that but they were able to build recognition and get press attention fast.
The worst part was, what we would have been called as they are known for now. That’s one of the biggest reasons why industry leaders lose their dominance.
I always look for Clubhouse as an example here. They come first with the idea and look where they are now.
If you aren’t setting your positioning in the customer’s mind correctly from the beginning:
You won’t be able to create clear marketing strategies
Hiring and onboarding marketing people will be tough
Won’t be able to collect the data to build the product right
You won’t have a clear roadmap of how it began and where it is now
Still, it’s never too late to lay a strategic marketing foundation and get it off the ground.
Understand your current position in the market
While working with this startup I found some red flags that resonate with so many startups:
Their landing page copy talks more about the accomplishments and features than what makes users buy the product.
In the name of marketing, they didn’t have clear documentation, random social media posts, and SEO content with no base pillars, so no reason for organic traffic.
As they have this major benefit from partnerships, customers coming from marketing leads weren’t that qualifying because how they positioned the product was a little vague.
They never gave their customers a clear idea of who they were.
If the product positioning isn’t right, the messaging will be mess and copy will be completely irrelevant.
The first thing is to understand your own product, customers and then competitors. After that there are several ways in which you can lay product positioning foundation:
Product functionality: What unique you have to offer? If you see a very narrow or saturated market you can easily find out what makes you different. What motivates customers to use your product? Any use case scenarios you can come up with? This will also help you create a storyline.
Customer segment: Is your product used by different customer segment? Let’s say, big entreprises, small businesses or individuals - find who can be your flag bearer and for whom you product is most relevent.
Competitors: If you sell orange juice and there is another orange juice shop opposite. How will you position yourself? Maybe there is a mixed combination of orange juice with other flavours which sells most and makes you stand out.
Your product isn’t for everyone, narrow it down
If you’re a Notion user, you’ll see it’s for different customer segments - enterprise, small business, and personal. It’s also differentiated based on solutions, and team functions and you can even create templates or landing pages. But it showcases clear positioning and messaging throughout its internal team and customers - their customers know why to use them, who they are and understand how relevant is the solution.
The narrower and more focused your product positioning, the more relevant your product becomes. That means your product isn’t built for everyone and doesn’t solve every problem.
This wasn’t how Notion use to present itself at the early stage like it does today, they were so focused on a specific group which helped them expand to different target audiences clearly and the purpose of using - which comes from feelings, emotions, and aspirations.
The key is to make the product familiar in the customer’s mind. Startups look at big established brands for inspiration neglecting that those brands have evolved a lot from the time they started.
Keep positioning simple and relevant
If a well-established company says to me that they don’t think their positioning is working, then a lot of times it’s a go-to-market issue. Companies have a hard time executing it, committing to it, and articulating it. As a result, get caught up in doubts.
Try to find what’s not working with the current positioning - is it relevant to your product, customers, and future vision?
Successful positioning strategies focus on where the product is today and how it could potentially progress to where you would ideally like it to be in the near future.
If you’re thinking you need to be more creative with your positioning to make a difference, you are running behind to make things look good. At times it needs to be simple and direct.
Positioning for different solutions
Multiple target groups = messing with positioning.
If you try to widen your target for positioning, maybe to increase revenue, you are doing the opposite of being clear and targeted.
Often times I see startups try to include different users and use cases in the brand story because they want to target all of them altogether, making it confusing. Your product is always going to be a superhero for a particular group, even if it serves several purposes or customer groups.
So, your goal is to be more relevant to that target market or segment than everyone who has the potential to use your product. With this, you’ll also focus on providing specific product users with the best user and product experience. This definitely can be expanded by messaging and content, but it doesn’t need to be on your landing page and positioning.
The story of the product changes as it evolves
A very less talked about area is what if you were selling the product to enterprise users that require a sale-led approach and now for version 2.0 you want to focus on small businesses or product-led growth. That’s a very normal thing, but as the selling approach changes the positioning and the narrative of your product also change and it evolves.
Positioning is hard to nail because it involves understanding what makes your product different: it’s easier said than done. And just to say, it’s not a one-day project. It can take weeks to deeply understand everything about who you are, what your product does, what problems it solves, and for whom.
👋 PS: I’m Ritika founder, product marketer and advisor for early-stage to unicorn startups, work with me or connect with me here. If you’re a first-time founder looking for curated resources, download here. You can also promote your product in this newsletter or share your feedback or questions here.
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