It’s sometimes a little surprising how product positioning can get lost in the shuffle of a fast-growing company. Early on when your founders are your engineers or your just a team of ten, it seems all so clear. As you scale you not only have more interpretations of that positioning and the messaging that evokes it, but your products shift in subtle ways to drift away from what you once thought was your north star.
You need to keep your eyes on the prize. Positioning is never static. A positioning statement should be a living document that gets revisited at least once a year and probably less for early-stage startups. And positioning can be critical to scaling efficiently.
To review, what we are talking about is the position that your products occupy in the market and in the minds of your marketing audience. When they think of potential solutions to their problems and pain points, where do you sit? What are the key values & differentiators that come to mind relative to competitors? Do I as a customer feel (often instinctively) that I am in your target market — ie, are you serving and speaking to me? What might be the justification that I make in choosing your product over another?
When organizational leaders don’t have a clear view of position it’s really tough to evaluate decisions about engineering, product, or marketing. Something might /seem/ like a good feature or product direction but how does that look from the perspective of your brand? From the perspective of your customer? When others in an organization are not aligned on positioning, work is often misdirected. Engineering decisions are made that don’t align to customer needs and effort is wasted. A good example might be prioritizing availability over speed in your architecture. These natural trade-offs need to align with the position you wish to occupy. At the product level your roadmap might take you further and further from the market that business goals identified as the sweet spot. Positioning acts as a bridge between product and marketing to help keep those functions in sync.
Put another way, positioning is the framework, the glue, that binds so many organizational functions together to keep you all pointed in the same direction. Messaging is the way we articulate that positioning and it’s important to recognize that this is not merely external but plays an important role internally as well.
There are many resources that can help you with writing a clear positioning statement and it’s worth, even for experienced marketers, looking at some examples and frameworks for ideas before you embark on writing one. The golden rule is: it’s not about how you conceive of it, but how your market target, ie future customers, do. Put yourself in their shoes before you begin.
It’s probably pretty obvious why positioning matters for your external marketing audience. In fact, that’s usually how people think of this exercise. I’d like to suggest that position is way more than that. You can, in essence, be marketing internally too. It’s a way of making your customer and their needs real for everyone, even those who’s work is critical to their success but aren’t necessarily in contact in with them regularly. Positioning is the “why are we here and why are we special?” that can sometimes be tough to maintain at many points in your growth trajectory. For organizational leaders this can be a critical tool in rallying everyone around a common cause and a really important way to keep your growth efficient.