Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Positioning Series

When you hire a product manager, one of the first series of tasks she should complete is to position the product. Positioning a product means defining your target market and key messages you will use to appeal to them.

Positioning the product in the most effective way typically requires leaving the office and doing substantial market research, including quantitative research (questionnaires) and qualitative research (prospect interviews and ethnographic studies).

Positioning a product should be an iterative effort. But as your new product manager educates herself by interacting internally within the company (talking to executives, sales, marcom, and developers; reading existing documents), she can begin filling out a preliminary template. She should answer the following questions:

  1. What is the company's distinctive competence?
  2. What are the top three problems the product solves?
  3. What is the product's biggest weakness?
  4. What is the strength within the product's biggest weakness?
  5. What is the product's biggest competitor?
  6. What is the competitor's biggest strength?

This list is by no means exhaustive but includes the most important questions for simple cases. Fitting the product into the positioning umbrella of the company or a line or suite of products may be necessary. Profiling prospective buyers and sizing the market are also important.

However, answering these preliminary questions goes a long way towards determining the best position for your product. After taking an initial stab at them, your product manager should conduct the market research necessary to validate and flesh out the answers.

In future entries, I will discuss what each of the questions means and how to obtain the answers.

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