Positioning Series - An introduction to the series.Hope you enjoyed the series! For more information on positioning, see my article, "How to Formulate Marketing Messages".
Distinctive Competence - "What is the company's distinctive competence?"
Prospect Problems - "What are the top three problems the product solves?"
Biggest Weakness - "What is the product's biggest weakness?"
Strength within Weakness - "What is the strength within the product's biggest weakness?"
Biggest Competitor - "What is the product's biggest competitor?"
Competitor's Biggest Strength - "What is the competitor's biggest strength?"
Friday, March 31, 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006
What is the competitor's biggest strength?This question is the sixth of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product.
After you've determined your product's biggest competitor, determine that competitor's biggest strength. To reach the largest market, you generally want to attack at the biggest competitor and the biggest strength. Find the weakness within that strength and position your product to exploit that weakness.
Answering this question is much like answering the third question, "What is [your] product's biggest weakness?" You can identify your the competitor's biggest strength by considering both the perceptions of their product and the business and operational impact it has on their company. Often, the competitor's biggest strength stems from their distinctive competence.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
What is the product's biggest competitor?This question is the fifth of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product.
When determining your product's biggest competitor, think broadly. Even the very first search engine on the web had a competitor: the manual process of surfers browsing and linking to what interested them. Your product's biggest competitor may not be immediately obvious, but it exists.
Identifying your product's competitors helps you determine how you can differentiate your product from them. It also helps you determine the potential size of the market for your product.
The next entry in this series will describe how to position your your product against its biggest competitor.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I agree with the notion of consensus and buy-in that Joy suggests. Whenever someone mentions standards, I like to quote Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Here is what they wrote about standards in Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams:
"Identifying an ideal practice, or at least a candidate ideal practice, is a useful endeavor. But the programs that mandate such a practice are something else entirely."In general, seek standardization through convergence, not by mandate.
"[Big 'M'] Methodologies seek to force convergence through statute. There is an inevitable backlash, the result partly of enforcers' heavy-handedness and partly of thinking workers' strong sense of independence, the cowboy mentality so common to those who populate any new frontier. Better ways to achieve convergence of method are training, tools, and peer review."
"It's only after this kind of gently guided convergence that you may think of publishing a standard. You can't really declare something a standard until it has already become a de facto standard."
"The opposite approach would be one in which every new undertaking is run as a pilot project. To the extent that there was a standard way to carry out the work, that would be the only way you weren't allowed to carry it out. The standard would be for at least one part of the effort to be run in a non-standard way. (This seems to be an informal rule within certain divisions of Fujitsu, for instance.)"
Monday, March 27, 2006
What is the strength within the product's biggest weakness?This question is the fourth of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product. You've already identified the biggest weakness of your product. Now find the strength within it.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, Listerine's weakness of tasting like medicine serves as a good example. The other side of the coin is its supposed effectiveness in killing germs. Its bad taste actually strengthens this positive message.
Another example is a product that is expensive to produce (relative to the competition), such as food containing all-natural ingredients. If your product is expensive to produce, you either need to lower production costs or tout the benefits to the customer that result from the expense.
When you position your product according to the strength within its biggest weakness, you:
- Differentiate your brand in a manner clear to prospective customers.
- By embracing your weakness, you increase the credibility of your positive message.
- Make it difficult or impossible for a competitor to attack the product's weakness without indirectly supporting your key message.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
What is the product's biggest weakness?This question is the third of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product.
Every product with any chance of success in the marketplace has weaknesses. Your product can't be all things to everyone. Your challenge is to ensure that the weaknesses correlate with strengths that resonate with your target market. You can then market your product so that customers translate perceptions of weakness into those corresponding strengths.
One of the classic examples is Listerine. Perhaps Listerine's biggest weakness is its taste. But its taste instills confidence that it effectively kills germs.
You can identify your product's weaknesses by considering both the perceptions of the product and the business and operational challenges it presents for your company.
More on the relationship between strengths and weaknesses in the next entry in this positioning series.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
What are the top three problems the product solves?This question is the second of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product.
Identify the problems the product solves by asking, from a user or buyer perspective, "Why would I use or buy this product?" But don't stop there. Relentlessly follow up with, "Why does that matter?" until you end with satisfaction of basic needs.
Take Promised Land Strawberry Milk, for instance:
Q. Why would anyone buy it?Thus anxiety due to a concern about the drinker's health is one of the the problems that Promised Land Strawberry Milk solves. Note that artificial hormones are not themselves the problem; they merely cause the problem.
A. Because it comes from cows that aren't treated with artificial hormones.
Q. Why does that matter?
A. Because other milk comes from cows treated with artificial hormones might contain unhealthy ingredients.
Q. Why does that matter?
A. Because I fear those other milks will damage my long-term health if I drink them.
Q. Why does that matter?
A. Because I care a lot about my long-term health and feel stressed when I think I am jeopardizing it.
Once you've identified the top problems, you may end up positioning your product as the antidote to one or more of them. As the folks at Pragmatic Marketing teach, target problems that are:
- Customers are willing to pay to solve.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
What is the company's distinctive competence?This question is the first of several questions I've enumerated that a product manager should answer to most effectively position a product.
As it faces competition, your product will usually fail in the marketplace unless your company has some sort of sustainable advantage. The company's distinctive competence is the source of this sustainable advantage.
Examples of distinctive competence include:
- Market leader or first to market. Being the market leader or first to market sometimes means that competitors will have difficulty ever catching up.
- Unmatched staff. If you have an extremely talented or skilled staff that no other competitor can hope to acquire, you may be able to leverage it for sustained advantage.
- Location. Your company may have an ideal location that no competitor has. That location may give you a low tax rate or some other financial advantage. For a brick-and-mortar business, it may mean visibility from the street or convenience for your customers.
- Intellectual property. Technologies and other IP that your product owns may prevent competitors from being able to duplicate your success.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
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:
- What is the company's distinctive competence?
- What are the top three problems the product solves?
- What is the product's biggest weakness?
- What is the strength within the product's biggest weakness?
- What is the product's biggest competitor?
- 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.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I began purchasing Sony laptop computers in the late 90s. The main reason for choosing Sony was that their "desktop replacement" laptops had all the features that made me more productive: large display, high resolution, and a touchpad. A bonus was that the laptops were sleek and stylish.
Though the stylishness of the laptops was not the primary reason for my purchasing them, it reinforced my purchasing decision. Rational or not, somehow the stylishness made me more confident in the quality and reliability of the product. My first Sony laptop did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, I am using it to type this blog entry. It has been durable and reliable.
After less than a year-long honeymoon, my second Sony laptop has been a major disappointment. It is even more stylish than my first Sony. However, it developed an overheating problem, the support for it was lousy, it went out of warranty when I needed it serviced for overheating, the backlight crapped out, its battery life is pathetic, and it weighs too much.
I had a similar experience with a Sony video camera.
Sony seems to be trying, like Apple, to establish itself as a fashionable brand. All of its products seem to be stylish is some way. But Sony is no Apple. Apple has substance to back up its image. Sony no longer does, at least in many of its newer products.
I would like to buy a new laptop, but I will not be buying a Sony, no matter how stylish it is. To me, there is no longer any substance in the "Sony" brand.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Readers of this blog will be shocked to find me citing someone with the last name "Ries", but Laura Ries has a recent entry in her blog that hits all the right points on positioning. She touches on:
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Friday, March 17, 2006
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Brand equity is a set of assets (and liabilities) linked to a brand's name and symbol that adds to (or subtracts from) the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or that firm's customers. The major asset categories are:Branding is mostly about building and maintaining brand equity.
- Brand name awareness.
- Brand loyalty.
- Perceived quality.
- Brand associations.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
If you can relate, here's a funny video for you.
Via Kathy Sierra.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
"Mountain View, Calif.-based Google makes virtually all of its money from text-based advertising links that trigger commissions each time they are clicked on. Besides enriching Google, the system has been a boon for advertisers, whose sales have been boosted by an increased traffic from prospective buyers.Time will tell whether Google will be able to successfully combat this phenomenon.
"But sometimes mischief makers and scam artists repeatedly click on specific advertising links even though they have no intentions of buying anything. The motives for the malicious activity known as click fraud vary widely, but the net effect is the same: advertisers end up paying for fruitless Web traffic."
Monday, March 13, 2006
Sunday, March 12, 2006
I enjoy these meetings because I get to play the role of facilitator. In most organizations and companies, meetings are long and unproductive. About six years ago, I took it upon myself to become a skilled facilitator. That meant reading books such as How to Make Meetings Work and The Art of Facilitation.
Tonight I was able to keep the meeting flowing so that it finished twenty minutes early.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Jack Trout, reknowned co-author of the classic book, Positioning, wrote a piece in Forbes in which he states that word-of-mouth marketing is nothing new, and that it is not the "next big thing".
I must say that I find Trout's piece to be entirely reasonable despite his characteristically provocative tone. Trout sums up his point near the end of the article:
"[Word of mouth is] not the next big thing. It's just another tool in your arsenal."It makes sense that consumers have grown increasingly tired of, and immune to, constant bombardment of advertisements. The Internet has amplified and accelerated the effects of word of mouth. It's therefore true that word of mouth and other forms of PR have greater relevance these days. But word of mouth has its limitations and is no panacea.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Thursday, March 09, 2006
- Define the problem.
- Define criteria for evaluating potential solutions.
- Brainstorm potential solutions.
- Apply the evaluation criteria to the potential solutions.
A product solves problems that prospective customers face. Understanding these problems is the highest priority task of a product manager. Product managers formulate requirements that serve as criteria for evaluating whether the product ultimately solves these problems.
Product designers and implementers apply their creativity and skills to implement the solution, unfettered by requirements that contain design assumptions.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
"Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created."According to this Reuters story, half of product returns are due not to functional defects, but to consumers' inability to figure out how to operate them. Furthermore, the average US consumer is willing to spend 20 minutes learning to use a product, after which he will give up.
I have a quibble with the conclusion of the scientist who led the study. He concluded that poor product definition was the root cause of these usability problems. I contend that the lack of usability metrics (requirements) is more specifically the primary cause. The first step is simply for companies to define the maximum amount of time and effort it should take for a typical new user to get the product working - and develop tests to ensure the products meet these requirements.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
- AT&T Wireless
- Bell South
Confused yet? Read on. The plan is for AT&T (formerly SBC), which will also gain controlling interest in Cingular, to drop the Cingular brand name and revive it as AT&T Wireless. Sorting through this circuitous mess, we will end up with the following brands:
- AT&T Wireless
I suppose that the simplicity is good from a branding perspective, but does "AT&T" have any coherent meaning anymore?
Monday, March 06, 2006
- Information Architecture
- Graphic (or Visual) Design
Your product manager's role is not to be an information architect, graphic designer, or usability expert. However, she should specify, in measurable terms, how usable the product should be. The usability requirements are the metrics by which we judge whether the designers have done a good job.
For more information on the distinction between designing for usability and specifying usability requirements, see this entry from November of last year.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
For more information on Google and its product management practices, see the Google product management series roundup.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
I snowboarded for six straight days at the Brighton resort. It was my first time, so I took lessons the first day. The instructors taught me the basics and, by the end of the day, I was able to do 'S turns'. An S turn is where you go down the hill, turn in an arc towards one side, then go down the hill and turn in an arc towards the other side. It keeps your speed under control.
Once I knew how to do S turns, I felt it was time to practice rather than take more lessons. So the next five days I spent perfecting my S turns, while progressively subjecting myself to more difficult courses (blues and even some segments of blacks).
For anyone, including experienced skiers who haven't snowboarded, I have the following observations:
- Take lessons. Practice is very important, but you have to know what to practice.
- The frustration of the first day or two learning to snowboard is well worth it. Be prepared for a lot of falling down and a lot of minor aches and pains.
- Don't skimp out on the protective gear. I fully decked myself out with a helment, wrist guards, knee and elbow pads, and goggles.
- Keep your speed under control. Snowboarding has a reputation for being a dangerous sport, but it doesn't seem all that risky to me if you protect yourself and don't go too fast.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Thursday, March 02, 2006
- user log-in and log-out - specifies that the product will have users log in and log out for security reasons
- CRUD - specifies that the product will enable users to create, read, update, and delete information
- support for tags - specifies that the product will enable users to tag information to facilitate future retrieval of information
- user interface widgets - specifies components included in the product's user interface
- user manual - specifies what will go into the user manual for the product
- support - specifies how the product will be supported
All of this information is appropriate in a user interface or high-level design specification, but generally not in the requirements document for an end-user product.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
"While there can be significant benefits in brand extension strategies, there can also be significant risks, resulting in a diluted or severely damaged brand."Extending a brand is not something you should take lightly, and doing it effectively requires market research and strategy expertise. Read the article to get more specifc tips on how to extend your brand - if you dare.
"The most common brand stretches include line extensions within the same category."
"Yet, a large number of brand extensions into new categories have proven to be dismal failures."
"Many marketing managers think that it makes sense to 'transfer' the promise and equity of their established brand. But that isn't always true. Companies sometimes go too far trying to extend into categories that are not a good fit, and they risk losing credibility in their flagship brands."
"If consumer perception, based on research, does not corroborate that the proposed extension is a fit with the brand's values, it will not be a success, no matter how needed or exciting the new product is."
"Once a brand extension is executed, it is still important to identify any changes, positive or negative, in perceived core brand values, using the consumer as the barometer for these measurements."