“How to position your product” is the biggest question.

“No matter how many times you explain, customer just doesn’t get it”

“We expect user to use our product in X way, but they use it in Y way”

We do ‘this’, but they think we do ‘that’ and starts comparing us with something ‘that’.

If this is your Kaifiyat (frustration), then you are not alone. Most of the startup entrepreneurs and marketers face this challenge every day.

“How to position your product” is the biggest question.

Shankar Maruwada, brand builder for Aadhar (UDAI project) and P&G products ran a very intensive round table discussion at TouchMagix office Pune. With Twelve entrepreneurs, primarily building global standard technology products to solve business and/or consumer problems echoing same problem – How to position my product without ambiguity.

Beginning of the session, Shankar made it clear that its not a “Gyaan” session, no checklist, best practices or a formula. There is no one pill to solve everybody’s problem. Infact, Shankar insisted, “You’ll walk away with more questions than any answers.”

Bob’s Story: Very first thing Shankar asked all the participants to write a brief story of our “Bob – The Customer”.

Imagine Bob is your most prominent customer. Bob has a problem, Bob uses your product, your product improves Bob’s life.

Rest of the day, Shankar used the “Story” as a base to have each participant pitch/sale their product to everybody in the room. As a participant pitches his/her product, rest of the group critiqued it as a customer. Since most entrepreneurs come from a background and/or experience where they could imagine a use of the pitched products, they were able to provide valuable inputs.

While one entrepreneur pitched his enterprise communication product, while someone else pitched their idea to implementation services business. Rest of the group found it difficult to understand “what exactly does it do”. Thats when Shankar helped with his expert probing questions to highlight the core problem these entrepreneurs are trying to solve. The group also helped highlight a critical situation where the product could make the most impact.

This exercise helped to understand “Although your product might be solving 10 problems or your may have 10 different features, it is important to understand which is THE MOST BURNING PAIN/PROBLEM your product help solve. Focus only and only on that. This helps creating a “Good positioning” in customer’s mind as he is looking for a solution for the same.

DSC_4659Curse of Knowledge

At this point, Shankar introduced a concept of “Curse of knowledge” which works in both ways. To prove a simple yet profound point, Shankar made us perform a group exercise. (I won’t reveal the details as it will spoil the fun and learning if you happen attend the session in future)

This exercise helped realize two things –

  1. What you think is easy for customers to understand, may not be that easy. So work hard at it.
  2. Once you “Know” something, it is difficult to Not know it. – Curse of knowledge.

Curse of knowledge may work in two ways. Based on what words you are saying in your pitch, your customer starts connecting dots in his own mind with his pre-knowledge and starts comparing your products against it. If your pitch helps tap into right knowledge, customer quickly gets the point. However, if your pitch distracts him on different line, then you face a challenge of not being able to convince him. Most importantly if your product is expecting to change his existing habits, then you face a real challenge as customer (in his mind) will always try to defend his own working habits and will be reluctant to accept/understand what your product does. Here Shankar gave an example of if someone try to change our deep rooted email behavior, will face a significant challenge unless you bring a real value proposition that customer cares about. Here one of the participants shared his experience of how people are looking at website updates as a “job to be done” whereas same users are perfectly comfortable in updating their status on social media.

“The hook” and “The Golden Circle”

At this point Shankar introduced the “Hook or Nail” concept by showing DropBox Product video. In this video, Lee Lefever has identified a common hook from day to day real life of need to organize things in one place. How this hook helps in relating to the need of organizing your digital assets in one place accessible anytime, anywhere. Followed by this Siman Senek’s Golden Circle emphasising on importance of “WHY” and how order of WHY-HOW-WHAT of could change the way people perceive you. The key message here was that “People dont buy what you do, people buy why you do it” and how this is at core of Apple’s success. Shankar also showed another video where complex concept of differential gear was explained with simple analogy of pared bike riders.

Now was a time for us to re-write our Bob’s story by identifying “Hook” and techno-jargon less clear messaging. A few more pitches/product-videos were reviewed and critiqued. This time, Shankar steered the discussion to gain more clarity by drawing mind map of every pitch. With his expertise in digging deep into core emotions, he helped participants to identify keywords that could help them refine their pitch to drive clarity. In this exercise, you want to identify all objectives, emotions, and needs related to your product. Now, arrange them in their priority, connect them with relevance, and eliminate those that add no value or create confusion. Here, asking “Why” is an important aspect of finding the truth and getting clarity. To supplement his point, Shankar shared couple of stories from his efforts while establishing Aadhar brand. How interactions with rural population simplified Aadhar’s positioning (“Pehechaan hi Jindagi ka Aadhar hai”) and help achieve massive adoption.

Framework to think: In the last spell, Shankar summed it all in a simple framework. Every concept has three parts.

Mindset (Belief) – A mindset or accepted/known beliefs of your customer

Benefit – The solution or value your product creates

Support – Social proof or reason to believe

Example: Afraid of wearing a black suit (Mindset) in a party as dandruff could expose you? Worry not, use our solution to get rid of (real benefit) stubborn dandruff and be confident (emotional benefit). Endorsed by these celebrities (Social proof), our dandruff solution builds the confidence to make you hero.

In five hours of intense group discussion, all of us had good understanding of what might be going wrong. Everyone has different product, different customer mindset, different challenges and different situations; but each one will be searching for one “Hook” around which a pitch can be built.

Product positioning starts in Customer’s mind. You need to find a hook where you could position the product with utmost clarity. Next time you struggle with “How come they don’t get it”, ask yourself – Did I find the right hook or have I tapped into wrong zone of knowledge?


Useful videos:

Guest post by Abhijit Mhetre founder at Canvazify – visual platform that helps entrepreneurs and design thinkers drive innovation through collaborative ideation. Abhijit is passionate about collaborative innovation and loves everything about running a startup.  

Why “No other product like yours” is not cause for celebration. #PlaybookRT

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, founders, CEO’s and others from startups based in and around Mumbai met at the office of WebEngage. We were there for the iSPIRT PlaybookRT on Positioning and Messaging by Shankar Maruwada. Below are my notes and thoughts about the event…

Identifying and defining your customers

Shankar emphasized that the process of developing a positioning and messaging strategy starts with identifying and defining who our prospects or customers are. Finding out what they value and what their pain points are. In case of an existing customer base, one must evaluate what made a customer choose our product over other options.

It is important to remember that finding out who your customer is, is a lifetime process. And the results of such an exercise can keep changing over time.

The positioning and messaging objectives

Once customers have been identified and defined, we must start work on how we should define our product so it appeals to the customer base identified. Our positioning and messaging should be such that…

  • It gets the customer’s attention quickly
  • It is extremely easy for them to understand what your product is
  • Enables them to see without much effort, how the product would be useful to them

Using Analogies

Analogies can be a powerful method to quickly position your product in the mind of the prospect. A new idea is better understood when it is stated in the context of an already well known idea.

To take the example of some popular movies which were based on newish ideas at the time they were pitched…

  • The film “Aliens” originally was pitched as “Jaws on a Spaceship” and that image sold.
  • Similarly the 1994 movie Speed was pitched as “Die Hard on a bus”!

Some other helpful tips to help with your positioning process…

  • List out what questions you want your customers to ask? That will help you figure out how your positioning should be.
  • Don’t get trapped by words. Get the idea and thought first and then figure out how to articulate them.
  • When you say there is nobody like you, you are in trouble. No one wants to be the first person to be a fool.
  • People will position your product anyways. It is not optional. Your job is to guide them to the positioning you want.
  • To add credibility to any benefit that you choose to highlight, quantify that benefit. For e.g. Product X is so simple that employees complete their tasks in half the time
  • Your positioning statement and initial messaging should be as short as possible. Remember internal chatter in the prospect’s mind starts in about 30 seconds.
  • When there are multiple benefits, try to create a hierarchy of benefits.

One way to really know that you understand your customers is to see if you are able to predict their behavior. If you can successfully predict their questions or action, then you have a good job!

Curse of Knowledge

One of the most interesting things that Shankar spoke about was the Curse of Knowledge.

Wikipedia describes this as…

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. 

Anyone who has attempted a positioning and messaging exercise for their products has surely battled this. It requires us to…

  • See ourselves from the eyes of the prospect.
  • Understand how they perceive us currently. Understand what our prospect values.
  • Understand how our product must appear and what it must say so the prospect feels enough trust and sees enough value to go ahead and purchase.

The curse of knowledge is easily the biggest roadblock in this process. A better informed person is not always able to anticipate the judgement of a lesser informed person. Applying this to sales, it is said that a better informed sales person may actually be at a disadvantage as compared to a lesser informed agent pitching the same product. This is because the better informed agent may fail to ignore that knowledge which they posses but the prospect does not.

They could end up over estimating the prospect’s product knowledge or the value the prospect attaches to certain benefits or features.  A lesser informed sales agent would probably have a better idea of what the customer has understood. They would probably explore more to understand what the customer truly values.

It is important for the prospect to see our positioning and messaging as relevant to them. The curse of knowledge can fool us into believing our messaging is universally understood.