This article is based on a presentation from the Masters of Product Marketing event in October 2022. Catch up on this presentation and others with our OnDemand service.

One of the most frequently asked questions in the PMA Slack channel is, "Who has a messaging framework that I can use?" Messaging and positioning are some of the core activities of product marketing, yet many people still struggle with how to get them done and make sure that their organizations adopt them.

Even experienced product marketers sometimes get stumped when it comes to messaging and positioning, as most of us develop product marketing skills through trial and error. My early career would’ve been so much easier if PMA had been around with all their content and templates and frameworks.

Throughout this article, I'd like to provide you with some best practices and a process that you can adopt, adapt, and use in your own company the next time you're faced with the challenge of crafting positioning and messaging for the products that you sell.

In this article, I’ll be exploring:

  • Product positioning
  • Positioning templates
  • Context
  • Data collection
  • The positioning process
  • What messaging is, and why it’s important
  • The messaging test
  • Messaging deployment

What is product positioning?

Let’s start with positioning, which is all about where you want to play and where you choose not to play.

There’s no perfect positioning strategy, and once you’ve established one it shouldn’t be set in stone; you have to update and refresh it over time. It’s also worth noting that good positioning is also not a clear determining factor for success. However, poor positioning will certainly spell doom for your product.

Several key factors go into your positioning, including…

The market

  • Which market are you playing in?
  • Is your solution entering an existing category or creating a new one?
  • How dynamic is the market?

The competition

  • Who are the key players?
  • How similar are their capabilities?
  • Do any of them have greater capabilities?

These questions can be answered via thorough competitive intelligence.

The buyer

  • Who buys your product and why?
  • What challenges and needs do they have?
  • What is their buying process?
  • Will your future customers look like your existing ones?

Your differentiators

  • What key product characteristics make you unique?
  • Why do you win and why do you lose?
  • What value does your company bring to the customer?

The positioning template

Now, we have all this information, what do we do with it? You want to start by using it to fill out a positioning template. You can download your own from the Product Marketing Alliance’s membership area.

Why is a positioning template useful?

The first reason you should use a positioning template is to explore all the different possible directions you could take and then document and explain why you believe certain directions are better for your company than others.

The second reason is to ensure clarity on the direction that you're suggesting. You can clearly articulate the reasons for your choices, such as why you should go into healthcare and not financial services, or which buyers you should go for and which ones you should avoid.

The document also helps create alignment across different stakeholders like sales, support, and many others, so that they are able to participate in the positioning exercise and align on expected outcomes.

Finally, laying out all of this will help you see how to best set the context for your buyer and create a narrative that will help you position your product in the minds of your customer.

Exploring context

Let's take a quick detour here to talk a little bit more about that critical component I just mentioned: context.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely states that most people don't know what they want unless they see it in context. Below, you can see a good example from the book. The question is whether the dark blue circle on the left or the right is larger.

Source: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

In fact, when we remove the light blue circles and show just the dark blue ones side by side, we can see that they’re the same size.

When we see circles surrounded by smaller or bigger ones, our brains trick us by changing how we interpret things. In other words, the context in which the circle is placed affects how we perceive it – the same applies to your product.

Source: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

This is why it's wise to choose your market and your competitors carefully. When someone asks you who you compete with, the answer you give them will give them a frame of reference and immediately place you in either group A or group B.

Also, because we love comparing things that are easily comparable, if you're selling software to developers, for example, you should use examples that developers understand to set the context.

Similarly, if you're selling software for human resources, you want to set a familiar and easy-to-understand context. This is a core part of positioning. I’ll give you a couple of examples.