Positioning an Innovative New Product While Minimizing Risk with April Dunford

Product positioning is essential to sales, and you simply can’t scale without getting it right. Yet most marketers and executives can’t even tell you what positioning means, much less how to do it. 

April Dunford is on a mission to change that. As an internationally recognized product positioning expert, April helps startups get their positioning straight. She has written a bestselling book on the subject: “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It.”

According to April Dunford, positioning defines how a product is the absolute best at delivering specific kind of value for which a well-defined set of customers deeply cares. Only by conveying THAT value to THOSE customers can you achieve product success. 

It’s a process best guided by analytics, research and market intelligence. Software product brands typically achieve it by studying sales figures, surveying customers and learning what value is sought by true best-fit customers. 

It makes a lot of sense. But what about new and innovative physical products, for which best-fit customers don’t yet exist, let alone gigabytes of customer data? How can you perfect positioning for a product the world has never seen, and de-risk gambling a fortune on a massive launch?

In this episode, April explains her 10-step process for perfect positioning she has taught to over 100 business leaders and used to lead numerous product businesses to acquisition. 
April tells how she has used multi-layered launch techniques to reduce the risk of physical products, a technique she even leveraged for her own bestselling book, in defiance of conventional publishing advice. 

There is no more respected mind in product positioning than April Dunford, and you’ll find this an engaging and richly informative interview.

Episode transcript:

Laurier: Hey product people! If you’ve ever struggled with product positioning and wondered about product-market fit, this episode is for you!

Welcome to Product: Knowledge, the podcast about branding and marketing products that improve people’s lives.

I’m Laurier Mandin, founder and CEO of Graphos Product.

In product marketing, one of the most impactful things we ever do is positioning: identifying the unique value a product delivers, and communicating that message with the people most likely to LOVE it.

But it’s a lot harder than it sounds, and positioning is one of those areas where products too often fall down.

My guest today is not only an internationally renowned authority on positioning, but positioning products something she’s succeeded at in the real world many times.

April Dunford spent the first 25 years of her career running marketing and sales teams for startup tech companies. During that time, she launched and positioned 16 products, leading to the acquisition of nearly all them — to the tune of over two billion dollars.

More recently, as a globally recognized positioning consultant, April has worked with well over a hundred clients and wrote a book called “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It.”

In the introduction to Obviously Awesome, April explains that too many marketers don’t even have a clear understanding what positioning is.

So I started our conversation by asking April to give us her own definition of “positioning.”

 

April: First of all, positioning is such a misunderstood topic.  It’s surprising since it’s not a new thing; it’s been around since the eighties. But if you were to gather a dozen vice presidents of marketing in a room and said, “define positioning,” you would probably get a dozen different definitions.

So mine goes like this: positioning defines how our product is the best in the world at delivering some kind of value that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about. Now that’s kind of a mouthful. And the reason it’s a mouthful is because positioning encompasses a lot of things. In my definition, it encompasses five distinct things.

It defines:

One: what are the competitive alternatives to what you do?

Two: what are your unique capabilities versus those alternatives?

Three: capabilities and features are one thing, but so what? So what’s the value that your product can deliver?

Four is who are the customers that care a lot about your value? It’s another way of saying what’s the ideal customer for your solution.

And then the last thing is market category. So, given you’re trying to communicate this value you to these folks, what is the best context to position yourself in?

Laurier: I think I’ve been waiting for “Obviously Awesome” ever since years and years ago when I read, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.” by Al Rees and Jack Trout. It’s a fantastic book. It’s really heavy on examples from famous ad campaigns, but the methodology and tactics in that book, I kept waiting for them and looking for them.

And there’s no clue. Not only is there not a systematic way to approach positioning, but there’s no real suggestion even to how you should do it aside from hiring their agency to do it for you.

April: That’s exactly it. I mean, I think they’re an early example of content marketing. When people tell me that content marketing is new, I’m like, no, I could give you a great example from 1982, where the sole purpose of this book was to get you excited and enthusiastic about positioning. but if you actually wanted to do it, you had to call them and pay up.

Laurier: Yeah. Yeah. And it in your book, in “Obviously Awesome,” you break the process down to 10 systematic steps and you make it also beautifully doable, focusing on fleshing out the value that product creates on identifying the people who are most likely to love it. Can you briefly run us through those 10 steps?

I know there’s a lot of meat to them, but you’ve probably got a way of going through them.

April: The book broke it down into 10, and 10 is a nice number, but I can back it up into, highlights. So, Rees and Trout, they wrote this great book. Got you all excited about positioning. What they didn’t do is tell you how to do it. And so this bothered me for a really long time.

And so I decided, well, I’m going to figure out how to do it. I positioned a lot of products. I think I could figure this out. So the first was. The first was thinking about positioning and being able to break it up into its component pieces. So I mentioned already what those five component pieces are.

The next thing you have to realize is that each of the components has a relationship to the others. And that’s something that was a bit of an “aha” moment for me.  If you decided these were the five things that positioning is made up of, all I got to do is figure out the best answer for each of those five things, smash it together and voila, great positioning.

Right? The problem is that I take any one of those things. Let’s take value. The unique value that my product can deliver to customers is completely dependent on the differentiated features. But my differentiated features are only differentiated when I compare them to competitive alternatives. So those three things are related. If I look at target customer segments, my best-fit customers are the customers that really, really, really care a lot about the value that my product can deliver.

So those two things are related, and then market category is a little bit more esoteric, but generally you can think of your best market category makes your differentiated value obvious to the people that are best fit for your product. So you got to have those other two things before you do that.

For a long time, I wrestled with the idea of, okay, everything relates to everything else, so where do I start? And for a long time, I felt like there was no starting point. You had to start somewhere and features was probably a good place to start work your way around the circle, get, develop a candidate, positioning, go out and test it. And then if it worked great, if it didn’t, you threw it out and you went and developed another candidate positioning, but after a while, the thing that I started to realize was if I did not start with competitive alternatives, then I would end up with positioning that sounded good internally.

It just didn’t necessarily sell outside of the office. My methodology starts with that. So it starts with saying, okay, if I were to think about my happiest customers, my good fit customers right now. And if I were to ask myself the question, if our stuff didn’t exist, what would they do?

Laurier: And that’s such a great question because that’s where the customer is. They’re living in that world of looking at options. They’re not thinking of you as the only option they don’t even want to, they want just the right option for them. So their mind is saying, what are my choices to solve this problem?

April: And one of their choices is do nothing, man. Like your choices is, you know what, I’m doing this on a spreadsheet right now and that’s just fine. Or I got Joey, the intern. And he’s doing this for me, and that works okay. And all the other things don’t look like a good alternative to that. So your competitive alternatives might be manual processes.

It might be pen and paper. But it might also be other software that looks like you, it could be software that you didn’t even really realize that customers viewed as alternatives to what you do. So that’s the starting point. First I got to figure that out. Once I understand that, then I can say, what have I got that the alternatives don’t have in terms of feature, function, capability, what have I got that they don’t have?

And then how do those features map to value? So that’s how I get competitive alternatives, unique capabilities, value. Once I have the value, then I can ask myself, okay, this is the differentiated value that we can deliver to customers. What are the characteristics of a target and account that make them a really, really good fit for the stuff I do.

And put another way. It’s the answer to the question who cares the most about my value. So that’s how I actually get to these are my best fit customers. They’re my best fit customers for a reason, because they feel the pain most acutely. They put the highest value on the value I can deliver so that it gets me to that.

And then I can take a step back and say, okay, there’s like lots of different market categories could position them product in, but what is the market category where my value is the most obvious to these people who are a good fit for it. And that’s the answer to the question, are we email or are we chat or are we team collaboration?

That’s how we get to market category. The methodology really is about getting the team together, because this really is a team sport, and then working through those five component pieces so that you can get to the best answer for each of them.

Laurier: I was thinking when you’re talking about value versus features, brands have this preoccupation with features it’s because they spend so much time working on developing features, but again, the customer only cares about value. It’s only the, what does this do for me and how does it make my life better? Those features are just the means to that end.

April: Exactly.

Laurier: We have to do that work for them.

April: MarTech customers for the most part don’t care so much how you do what you do. They just care, what’s in it for me? How is this going to make me money? How’s this going to save me money? I don’t really care that much about the tech underneath it. I just want to know what’s the end result.

Laurier: April, let’s take a short break and we’ll come back with a question I know is a little bit controversial in the product community.

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Laurier: Welcome back to Product: Knowledge, the podcast about creating and marketing products that improve people’s lives. I’m talking to April Dunford positioning expert and the author of “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It.”

Now, April you’ve said that product-market fit is not really a thing. Which is kind of shocking in the product marketing and venture capital world. And I sorta partially disagree in that. I believe it can exist, but I think achieving that is a journey. And it’s not a box that you tick on a checklist as you’re preparing your marketing plan.  But marketing teams come under a lot of pressure to say, they’ve nailed product-market fit early on. Tell us what you think now about product-market fit? Cause I know you’ve had a lot of discussions about that.

April: So product-market fit: it’s an interesting concept. and you’re right. People are under pressure, I think, to say that they’ve got product-market fit. And I believe that’s mainly because product market fit is a popular concept with venture capitalists, and the reason it’s popular is because it represents the point where you should be making an investment.

If you don’t have product-market fit yet, it’s a bad time to invest; if you do have product-market fit the thinking is, that once you have that now is a very good time to pour in a lot of money to invest in marketing and sales tactics, to rapidly scale. So this is a good time to put your money in.

Now here’s my problem with product-market fit. I’ve been the head of marketing inside that company, where the founder will come up and say, “We have product-market fit, April. It’s time to go put our foot on the gas.” And I’m like, “Okay, well, how do we know we have product-market fit?” And, nobody can agree on what the exact metrics are for this.

There’s no set way of measuring it. Every VC I talked to has a different way where they assess that; people will say, “well, you know it when you have it.” And I’m like, Oh, okay. But me as the head of marketing, I’m the person responsible for what happens after product-market

Laurier: You get to wear the outcome. So if you don’t have it, and you’ve lied, now it’s on you.

April: Yeah, the idea is product-market fit is the moment at which you’re ready to scale. But as the head of marketing, I can tell you exactly what I need to be ready to scale, and unlike product-market fit, I can tell you what that is. I need an actionable customer segmentation. In order to scale, that’s it. That’s the only thing I need. And what an actionable customer segmentation is, is I need to know exactly to a deep level of detail who loves my stuff and why. And most of the time, when I talk to startups and they tell me they have product market fit, I say, who loves your stuff and why?

And they cannot answer that question. With enough detail for me to actually be able to go and build marketing programs. To drive this big spike in revenue that everyone says they’re going to drive. So in my mind, I don’t know what product market fit is. I don’t know how it’s defined. I don’t know how it’s measured.

It’s this gut feel sort of thing. You know what, when you have it, it’s supposed to be this moment that once I have it, then I can scale. But I know that’s not true because most of the companies I work with that say they have it. Don’t, they don’t actually know what to do to go scale, so they aren’t ready to go scale.

And so, as a result, I’ve kind of decided that part of market fit is conceptually, I think I get what people want it to be. But I don’t think it’s actually used in a way that makes a lot of sense. And I don’t think it is operationally useful for startups because I can’t use it for the one thing it’s supposed to be good four, which is it’s the moment where you know you’re ready to scale. And I know that’s not true.

Laurier: Well, here’s the irony April to me, product-market fit is your definition of positioning. And it’s what “Obviously Awesome” is all about.

April: Maybe.

Laurier: If you could do the things in that book, now you’ve achieved product-market fit and you’re ready to scale. Cause you’ve done those things.

So I think you just don’t believe in product-market fit as the definition that existed in people’s mind until you articulated it the right way. So I’m arguing with you about this thing that you’ve perfected and maybe that’s it.

April: Maybe be like that. Like I, you know, again, my thing is I can tell you the moment where we’re ready to scale. The moment we’re ready to scale is when you can hand me an actionable customer segmentation that says, this is exactly who loves our stuff and why.

Well, then I can go build you amazing programs to go out and get those people and we’re off to the races. But until we get to that, if we’re still saying, Oh, you know, I think we’re good for SMBs, that’s way too big like what kind of SMBS right? I worked for a company once where the CEO was like, “We sell to fortune 1000 companies.”

I’m like, “But just all of them, like I’m just going to write down a company names and we just go after those? ” The actionable customer segmentation we actually came up with was we had software for managing internal software development projects. And, it turned out that our secret sauce was really around managing those projects across distributed teams.

And then you say, “Well, who has distributed teams?” Well, it’s actually people that do a lot of acquisitions or people that are outsourcing development offshore. Well, now you come to me and say, “April build a campaign for fortune 1000 companies.”

I have no idea how you do that. They’re all different. Some of them are mining companies and some of them are tech companies. I don’t know. They don’t have anything in common, but if you say, “Build me a campaign for large companies that offshore.” Well, I could build that, no problem. Right.  I know where those people hang out. I know what they read. I know how they learn about stuff. I know what companies they talk to, to do the offshoring.

There was a magazine called “Offshorers Weekly” and it cost $5,000 to do a full-page ad in that magazine, and I drove hundreds of thousands of dollars of pipeline just running that sucker every month.

Laurier: With those, those vertically oriented magazines, they still exist. And they end up on just those right desks …

April: Well so this is the thing, like if I can get really targeted in who I’m going after, I’m no longer spraying and praying to hundreds of thousands of people. And I’m hoping that in that hundreds of thousands, maybe there’s a hundred that fit my best-fit pro profile.

If you tell me exactly what the best fit profile is, then I can go fishing just in the ponds where the fish are and I’m going to catch a whole lot more.  Most of the time when we talk about product-market fit, what we actually are saying is I’ve got a product that some people like, but that’s it.

Laurier: And the biggest problem with that spray and pray approach is that when you sell to the wrong people, it’s not just another sale. At Graphos Product, we work a lot with launching innovative physical products. And one of the biggest challenges with positioning something that’s new and inventive in a physical product is that often you don’t have a lot of market input, and instead of churn, you get returns, which are super costly So when you’re getting ready to launch something that’s innovative, that’s physical, you end up having to make educated guesses as to what the most impactful value is. You know, the value that you talk about, and what kind of buyer is going to love that product.

If you don’t get that right, now you have stores that are getting returns. You know, you don’t want to position the product wrong and attract the wrong kind of people. You want to attract people that really love the product. So I’m interested in what advice you have for marketers who need to prepare a campaign for a big launch, but they don’t have very much real-world data to use in the positioning of that product.

April: less real-world experience you have, the harder it is. The more you’re going to have to really understand what are your assumptions around the positioning that you’ve got right now?

So what you’ll have is essentially a positioning thesis that says, ” We think we compete against this. We think this is, these are the capabilities we have that are differentiated. Therefore, our value is this. Therefore the people that are going to love it are these people. There’s a bunch of assumptions that are baked into that thesis for each piece of that. And so what you’re gonna have to try to do is validate those assumptions as much as you can, before you actually launch the product.

And so sometimes that’s trying to do a lot of customer discovery conversations where you’re validating, like, “I think these people will like this for this reason. How could I actually validate that? So what kinds of questions could I ask in customer discovery interviews, what kind of questions could I ask to say, “Hey, I’m assuming that you care a lot about this, is it true?

I’m assuming you do this for this reason, is that true? Can you give me an example of that? Can you tell me another product that you bought? How did you buy that product? Where did you go look for that product? What were the other alternatives you looked at?”

And so being able to have as many of those conversations as you can Is going to help take some of the risk out of this stuff before you actually go and do the big launch. The other thing that I’ll throw out there, I think for a lot of hardware products, this maybe isn’t possible, but I had a stint where I worked at a very big company and we put a lot of stake in product launches. We were very risk-averse. And one of the ways that we tried to mitigate risk in a product launch is we didn’t have a big-bang product launch. What we did was, we had a term for it there, we talked about Rolling Thunder. And so, the idea was we would do a little launch. And then we’d do another launch, and then we’d do another launch, and then we’d do another launch.

And then we do the post-launch event and then we do the post-post launch event. And then we would do the momentum launch event. We had all these names for them and what it allowed us to do was to take the risk out of having this one shot, blow your brains out, you know, we’re gonna ride to the moon or die in a fiery crash. It enabled us to take these smaller steps, validate all the things we thought that were really risky until we got out to a point where we’re feeling like, yeah, we validated what we need to, and now we’re ready to do, a bigger, broader launch.

Laurier: And that’s a tremendous show of patience just to be able to soft-launch on that many levels, that many stages. To test the product and validate it, and to get that input, so you don’t blow everything.

April: You know, I did it with my book and, and I did it as a bit of an idea experiment to see, would this work for a thing like this? So I wrote this book about positioning. It’s kind of nichey. It’s not a topic that everybody’s super excited about, you know, so I wrote the thing.

And go to launch it and everybody’s telling me, you need to do this big-bang launch, April, and hit the Amazon bestseller list. And so you need to do everything you can to get some action around this book on the first week. And I looked at it and went. Well, I don’t know, like, I don’t know what you know, is that really the best way to do it?

And so people kept telling me, you need to have a big sale and do that on the first week and that’ll help push your numbers up and whatever. And so instead I said, well, what if I just go out to my super superfans and say, Hey, the thing is launching right now. And I don’t have it on sale. It’s full price.

My superfans have been waiting for this book for a long time. I’ve been talking about it for years. And why don’t I launch that? And then why don’t I get the feedback from those folks to see what do they like, what they didn’t like, who are these people? You know, where, where are they sharing it?

Where are they talking about it? And that would kind of inform the marketing that I do after that, including my decision about whether or not to do a sale and what the timing was for the sale. And so one thing I learned was everybody thought the book was too cheap. I was only charging eight bucks or seven bucks for an ebook.

And everybody was like, God, it’s practically free. So I’m like, well, I’m glad I didn’t put it on sale for 99 cents. The second thing was that there were certain communities that were really excited about the book. And so I use that to inform what podcasts I did after that, where I went and did speaking events.

And so, the launch of the book turned out to be great. I did hit Amazon bestseller, which it turns out is, is nothing like anybody could do that. Um, but I sold a lot of books and then I sold a lot of books in the months after, but my, my sales steadily went up and up and up over the course of a year.

And at the one-year mark, I did a sale as kind of a one-year anniversary thing. And I sold triple the number of books that I did on my original launch, a year after, like the book is a year old. And so all the wisdom at the time told me like, No, no, no. You’ve got, you know, it’s a new thing and you know, if you do the sale later, you’re going to waste it ’cause everyone will have bought already. And that absolutely wasn’t true. So I do believe a lot in this idea of a Rolling Thunder launch and being able to use what you learn in the early days of the Launch launch to sort of build up some momentum and, you can launch and launch again and launch again a year from now.

I put out an audio book and I launched again, it was a series of launches over the course of a year and a half.

Laurier: Yeah. And that’s something you know, with digital advertising now, we have so much ability to do that. We don’t have to do this one  blow-out launch where everything is dependent on that one day and you put millions of dollars behind it. You can do all kinds of testing and you can gather data and soft-launch on different levels. Cause most of the market’s not going to hear about your, especially if it’s a small soft launch at first. You can afford to fail in a hundred different ways before you figure out what actually works, right?

April: Exactly. Exactly.

Laurier: Especially when we have something that’s innovative and it’s new, and You know, that’s an interesting thing with some of the products we launch at Graphos Product too, everybody is inventing a new category. And you give some really good cautions in the book about category design.

Because everybody thinks, “This is unlike anything else. We’re going to invent a new category, and we’re going to go and own that category and be the market leader.” But there are some risks to do that too. Can you talk about the risks of category design?

April: Yeah. So I think there’s a lot of confusion right now about category creation. Again, this is a bit of a concept that was driven more by the VCs than anyone else. And, we’re often pitching a story around how we’re going to create a category eventually when we talk to investors. And so that is often a good pitch for an investor.

But for customers, first of all, we have to sell the product that we have right now, and the product that we have right now to be understandable. And so one of the easiest ways to help people understand what a product is all about right now is to kind of ground them in something that they already know, and then take them on the journey for how this is different.

So while I do agree that in order to be successful, you have to have a tight definition of a market space where you win. That doesn’t mean that market space is always a brand-new category. In fact, generally it isn’t. If you look at the history of successful tech companies, very few of those companies were actually category creators.

Particularly when they first started out. I saw some neat data a couple of weeks ago where somebody analyzed it tech IPOs of the last five years. And they looked at how many of those tech IPOs were the companies actually positioning themselves as doing something that was a brand-new thing in a brand new category.

And over 90% of the companies, at the time that they went IPO, were actually positioning in existing categories. They were just clearly differentiated in the existing category and had clearly defined, ” Yes, we’re CRM, but we’re CRM for THIS.” “Yes. We’re video processing, but we’re video processing for THIS.”

“Yes, we’re a data warehouse, but we’re a data warehouse that sits on the cloud that does THIS.” So you can see why it’s easier to be successful that way, because it’s easier to understand what the product is all about. What companies seem to be trying to do is instead of saying that, they’re like, “Well, I don’t want to admit to the existence of any other competitors, and so I’m going to say, “No, I’m none of those things. I’m a Fluflummer

And you’re like, “Whoa, what’s a Fluflummer?”

And I’m like, “I’m glad you asked.  Let me tell you a story.” And then I got to do this whole big explaining thing where I’m like, “Here’s the problem that a Fluflummer solves. Here’s why you never had that problem before, because if you did, there’d be a category of solutions to solve it.

And, and here’s why this deserves to be its own category. And not only that, here’s why we should be the leader in that category.” That seems like an awful lot of teaching. As opposed to saying, ” We’re like this, but for these people,” which tends to be a way easier sales pitch.  I’m a little down on the idea that, we all need to be creating categories.

It simply isn’t true. 90% of the companies going public right now are not creating categories. So it’s more the exception than the rule. And I personally, because I’m the positioning lady and I deal with folks that have positioning problems, a good. Proportion of the companies that I’ve worked with in the past year have attempted to do some kind of category creation and have failed abysmally at it.

It sounded good. Their investors liked it. The CEO was excited, but when they actually went out to try and sell it, it was just very, very difficult to sell that out to customers who are just like overwhelmed with choices and saying, what’s the thing again? Why did, why is this so hard to figure out?

Laurier: Because people want to put you in a box.   The people behind new products, want to come up with something that is solving a problem they’ve had and see it as totally unique. And then they’ve got the customer who wants to say, “Well, what are you like?”

And if you’re saying, “No, I’m a Fluflummer,” they’re like, “Well, I don’t know what that is. That’s not in my vocabulary, and actually I don’t have time in your commercial or the moments after to process that. So just tell me what you’re like.”

 

April: Yeah, just get to the point, dude. And the thing is, is like you ARE unique. and you still must be highly differentiated, but you got to give me a starting point. Just give me a starting point of something you’re kind of like, that’s gonna be way easier than saying, Oh my gosh, we’re so unique.

We’re like an animal you’ve never seen before. That’s pink and has some things sticking out and some other things and some other things, and I’m like, “What like a Flamingo? Is it like…”

“No, no, it’s not a Flamingo. It doesn’t have feathers.”

I’m like, “It’s like a featherless Flamingo?”

“No, no, no. Oh. It’s like a thing, it’s got shorter legs.”

I’m like, “Okay, this is like a featherless duck.”

You know? “Like it it’s like, well, why don’t you just tell me it’s actually a pig?”

“What it is, it’s a pig. It’s like a pig, except it’s, it’s like a special kind of pig.”

“Okay. Now I get what it is.”

Laurier: In the book, you give a cake-pop example. And you have the inventor who came up with this delicious cake-pop, and that person is going around and telling people, “You know, it’s cake on a stick.” And people are visualizing like kind of stick your kid would pick up in the forest with a miniature slice of chocolate birthday cake on, and thinking, “Well I don’t want THAT.”

April: Right.

Laurier: And the whole thing is that to you as the inventor, it sounds like, you know, it’s cake on a stick. That’s exactly what your product is. But to them, it’s like, why would I want THAT?

April: And that’s a function of market category, right? If you come and tell me your thing is cake, now I’m in a cake contest. Right? I’m in a cake contest: you told me it’s cake. And I’m like, “Okay, I got cake in my mind.” And what wins a cake contest? The cakiest cake in the land, right?

Like I want a big piece of cake.

frosting. Like that is a key part of it. You know, you better be telling me about the frosting and then. You come with this thing. And everything’s special about your thing like that stick and the ball, and sparkles. You know, that stuff is not cake.

And so what you want to do with your market category is pick a market category that puts your distinct strengths at the center. So that you’re playing a game you can win. So, a cake pop is never going to win a cake contest. That’s not, what’s cool about it. What’s cool about it is it’s a snack and it’s portable and, I can drink coffee in one hand and have the snack thing in the other hand.

And so a better way to position it would be to say, “it’s a lollipop,” right? But it’s a lollipop for grownups that want to have a little snack in the coffee shop. So we made it out of cake. And if I position it as a lollipop, well, of course it’s got a stick and a ball and all of a sudden it makes sense, you know, and yeah.

Laurier: That’s practical.

April: Right. So now I get what it is. You tell me it’s a cake-pop. It’s a lollipop made of cake. Oh, I get that. You tell me it’s cake on a stick. Well, that just sounds like loser cake, man. I don’t want that. I don’t want that. That’s cake doing things it’s not supposed to do.

Laurier: To me, me the beauty of that is that it can be a really great invention, a really great product. And just by positioning it in a way that works in your inventor brain, but not in the ideal buyer brain, you’ve just killed your perfect product.

April: That’s right. And a lot of times that’s how new products get positioned. It’s because the inventor came up with an idea and said, you know what? I want to do better cake, or I want a better camera, or I want a better database, or I want better email. And that’s how they thought of it when they conceived it.

But then they build the thing, they iterate on it. They can go back and forth with customers. And the thing that they end up with, for a brand-new customer that’s never looked at it before, might actually be better positioned in a completely different way. If we take email as an example, what’s the difference between email and chat?

Almost nothing, Like they share 95% of the same features, but it’s the 5% that makes a difference. If you come and you tell me, “I’ve got a thing and it’s email,” I’m instantly like, “Okay, email, it’s like Gmail and it’s gonna have a calendar and it’s going to have a spam filter and I’m going to be able to file things away.”

Whereas you come in and tell me it’s chat… Well, I don’t expect that to have a calendar, but I expect it to do read receipts and I expected to do instant delivery and a whole bunch of other things. So it’s the differences that really matter. And so what you want is you want to choose a market category that puts your strengths at the center.

And makes your thing as understandable as possible so that you don’t have to do this great big, long, well, here’s a Fluflummer, and here’s why it matters. And here’s what it’s like, I could have done that for cake-pop too. I could have said, Oh, it’s revolutionary Blib Blab, and started there.

But it would have taken me a lot longer to get your head around what it was. Instead, I can start with something that you already understand and then say, yeah, does it compete as a cake pop, compete with a lollipop? Of course not. It’s for completely different audiences, but I can steal the lollipop frame of reference and say, yeah, it’s like that, but it’s for grownups in the coffee shop and it’s made out of cake.

Oh, I get it. Good. Now, is that a new market category? Well, no, I just positioned it as lollipop by positioning in an existing category. But did there ever exist a market category of a lollipop for grownups in a coffee shop? Well, no, but it’s still a sub-segment of an existing category and the way I positioned it right there. So it doesn’t mean my thing’s not unique. It’s absolutely unique. It’s absolutely differentiated. It’s absolutely fantastic and amazing. The world has never seen it before, but the way I sold it is by giving you a reference point of something that you already deeply understand so that you can quickly understand my thing.

Laurier: So category is that all-important context. And without that, you’d better have a way to create context that’s independent of those existing categories and segments, because without that, your task is so much larger.

April: That’s exactly it.  It’s almost like you’re launching two things.  First I’ve got to launch the category and then I’ve got to launch my product within the category. The risk of doing that is you successfully launch the category, which by the way, is going to take you years and deep investment.

And so you need patient and deep-pocketed investors to launch the category. And then after years of working at it, what happens? Well, generally once the hard work of creating the category is done, then the category exists in the minds of customers, but there’s usually this period where yeah, we kind of get what that is, but we don’t necessarily know who the market leader is.

And so you leave your flank open to a fast follower to come in and take advantage of the years of toil that you’ve already done to create the darn category and say, and they come in and they say, We’re just like that only better.

Laurier: Yeah, we make the one thing that’s better than a Fluflummer. We’ve got that.

April: Yeah. We’re like a Fluflummer Plus Plus. And again, if we look at tech products in Silicon Valley, the vast majority of the products you know and love today came about that way. Like Google was not the first search engine. There were tons of search engines before Google. Facebook was not the first social network.  iPod was not the first MP3 player. There were tons of MP3 players out there. The iPhone, it came years and years after the Blackberry. So, I do not understand this obsession with category creation, when we have so few examples of companies that actually started that way and ultimately were successful in capturing the category category that they created.

Laurier: April, I know people can get your book on Amazon and we’ll put a link to that in the show notes. As well, tell us how listeners can reach out to you and where they can find you if they want to book a workshop or… talk about some of the other things you do now, besides writing this awesome book.

April: Sure. My day job is I work one-on-one with tech companies that have positioning problems. So most folks start with the book.  It’s designed as a self-help kind of a thing. You can use it in your own company to try to figure out your own positioning.

It is helpful to have outside person come and help with that. And so if you want outside eyes on it and somebody that built the methodology, you can hire me to come and help you with it. I work one-on-one with tech companies to do that, mainly startups. My website is AprilDunford.com.

I’m not active on a lot of social media except occasionally on Twitter where I’m @AprilDunford. My email is April@AprilDunford.com. You can drop me a line too.

Laurier: That’s it for this episode of Product: Knowledge, and my conversation with April Dunford, positioning consultant and author of “Obviously Awesome.” You can find out more about April and her work in the show notes, or at AprilDunford. com.

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Thanks for listening. I’m Laurier Mandin.