Early on in my career journey as a product marketer, I envisioned crafting positioning and value props by hunkering down with my headphones on, a great playlist, a mug of tea, no interruptions, and my creative juices magically flowing to my keyboard and voila - compelling positioning would thus come to life.
Then I’d wrap it all up in a pretty slide deck and my stakeholders would commend my brilliance and we’d be off to the races to put it into place.
Of course, I quickly learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
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In my time at Stitch Fix, I was a solo product marketer without a team. As such, I often struggled to identify who to collaborate with when developing positioning and value props. I failed to reach out to my partners and ask for help, but once I did, it made all of our jobs so much easier.
I group positioning work into three main buckets:
The magic didn’t always flow and compelling and clear positioning wasn’t always obvious, or easy to craft on in this solo fashion. I’ve learned over the years that creating positioning is actually not a solo job and it can and should be done in close partnership with the support of your stakeholders.
This means that alignment is critical to arriving at compelling positioning and clear value props that ultimately serve to make the creative teams’ jobs easier to execute against. It’s also key to identify who your stakeholders and partners in the process will be.
Before kicking off any initiative, I always want to understand who the ultimate decision-maker will be. Do I have carte-blanche authority to decide and move straight to execution mode? Oftentimes this is not the case, but I also frequently find that identifying that single decision-maker can be tricky.
Securing alignment with your stakeholders is key to knowing who is the person that has the final say to make or break all your positioning work. Does everyone agree with who that decision-maker is?
The goal is for your partners to understand how the decision will be made and that your role is to do the development work and to put forth the recommendation for sign-off.
During my time at Pandora, our leadership team implemented the DACI model, which was an effective tool for decision-making in a collaborative structure. This isolates the final approval to one single person and secures alignment across all stakeholders on who holds that decision-making authority.
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In the absence of identifying the decision-maker, it can be really challenging to navigate conflicting leadership positions and nearly impossible to align the group on the final decision. Even if you don’t have an official DACI, RACI or decision-making framework in place at your organization, you can still align with your stakeholders on who ultimately has the final say.
Once you’ve identified your stakeholders and decision-maker, the next step is to ensure they agree on the role positioning will play in your marketing strategy and the scope of work.
- Does this inform the brand positioning or are you positioning a net new feature as part of a portfolio of offerings from your company and this needs to ladder into an existing brand positioning?
- Are you repositioning an existing product and how broad does this body of work reach? Will this require reworking marketing creative and copy across various channels and the product experience?
- How will the final output manifest in your marketing creative strategy? Will this inform specific campaigns, emails, landing pages, creative assets, or copy in the product experience?
- How does this product stack up against your existing product offerings? Does it require any revisions to the existing positioning for those products?
The answers to these questions can be sorted out through stakeholder interviews.
Meet with your partners to understand their perspective on the product, who it’s for, and what customer problems they believe it addresses. In these conversations, you can also identify what role they believe they will play in the decision-making process and to who they defer on the final say.
Asking questions like: “Who else would you recommend I talk to get their input on this?” or “Who do you think has a strong opinion on this?” can help you hone in on identifying the decision-maker. Through these conversations, you are laying the groundwork to bring your stakeholders along on the journey. Make them a part of the process as this isn’t solely on you.
Gather insights and data that will inform the positioning and value props. The best way to approach this is to talk to customers. You can leverage existing data through product feedback, customer service tickets, and sales team feedback.
For net-new features or products, this can be a bit tricky and often feel like you’re grasping at straws, but there are likely insights hiding within your own organization. This is where talking to your stakeholders can be super informative. Oftentimes they have information and insights that can be used as a starting place to develop the positioning and value props.
Sales, in particular, is a great partner to connect with, as they are talking to customers and getting feedback regularly - so even for a new product, there’s likely a reason this product idea came to fruition, as it’s likely solving an existing customer pain point. Ask sales to put you in touch with customers and talk to them 1:1 to get further insights.
When speaking to customers, it’s helpful to learn how customers would describe the product themselves and what they believe the core benefits are. Playing this back to them can help ensure you’re capturing it accurately. Oftentimes, the most simple way to convey a product’s unique value is to learn how someone would describe it to their friend or someone they think would find value in it.
Once you’ve wrapped up your pre-work, you’ll want to socialize your findings with your stakeholders so they have visibility into the process, understand the inputs and expected outcome.
Positioning is the simplest distillation of how your product is uniquely suited to address a specific customer need and how they will benefit from it. The goal is to keep it simple and concise and then bolster it with value props.
I’ve tried in vain to stuff my key value props into a positioning statement and it’s never worked. I end up with a mouthful of marketing jargon that isn’t concise or clearly conveys the essence of why customers should care about the product.
A framework that I like to use is What, Who, and Why:
- What it is: Using very clear and even plain language, messaging that you’d likely never put in front of a customer.
- Who it’s for: Who is the customer that will benefit from this? Be specific about them. Speak to their specific needs and motivations.
- Why it matters: This is where you elaborate on what is in it for the customer, how this maps back to what your brand and product do, and how it benefits the customer.
It’s important to get granular here, as oftentimes the initial benefit or value prop is surface level. For example, when developing value props at Stitch Fix, we knew that the service saves people time and is convenient.
But so many products promise the allure of time savings, so we sought out to think about why a customer actually cares about saving time.
For Stitch Fix customers, this was so they can spend their time doing something else, likely more enjoyable than the problem your product is solving for. Identify what that thing is.
- Value props: What are the unique attributes that your product has and what is it solving for your customer?
- What core desires does your product tap into?
Once you’ve developed the positioning, from the what and why, it’s great to have options. There’s never a clear-cut single positioning statement and set of value props for each product. Creating options that index in various directions can help align stakeholders on the direction you want to go.
As a product marketer, you are usually the closest person to the positioning and the work that it informs. Your stakeholders are looking to your expertise to develop this, and it’s key to enforce that
Positioning is not customer-facing messaging.
I intentionally write positioning in the third person and with plain language to avoid any misinterpretation - I don’t want to see my positioning verbatim in marketing collateral.
To help contextualize this for stakeholders, I like to include real-world examples of how each option would manifest in a marketing campaign. I’ll mock up sample email copy or paid ads to help stakeholders visualize how each of the options comes to life in your marketing strategy.
Alignment & Socialization
Finally, you’re ready to align on the big decision. With the pre-work and socialization of the inputs that informed the positioning and value props, regrouping with stakeholders should be the opportunity for a healthy discussion to revisit your work that everyone is now familiar with.
This is where you need to steer the conversation towards decision-making and alignment. It’s important to give room for feedback, but this should be done upfront and incorporated into the work you’ve developed thus far.
Anticipate who might not be on the same page and spend more time bringing them onboard, digging into their perspective and finding ways to incorporate this perspective into the work, or educate them on why you’ve chosen the direction you’ve taken.
Once you have alignment, you’ll then shift into execution mode and implement the positioning and value props across your marketing messaging. This can be done with a messaging toolkit that is rooted in your positioning and value props. You can partner with your brand and copy team if you have one.
This is also a great opportunity to share out and socialize all the amazing work with a roadshow of the toolkit across marketing, sales, product, and any partner teams who will be creating messaging. This helps ensure the marketing message is consistent across the entire customer experience.
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Once everyone is aligned, you’ll want to put forth a testing plan to further validate it through messaging testing. It’s also helpful to timebox the positioning so that everyone understands the expected lifespan of this work.
Products and markets evolve, so should your positioning. Plan to revisit often and assess how to evolve your positioning over time. As you revisit the positioning and value props over time, you’ll go through this same process and have the benefit of the first iteration as a jumping-off point to iterate from.
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