Missy Franklin is an Olympic medalist. She’s a swimmer.

Missy Franklin swimming

Shawn Johnson is an olympic medalist. She’s a gymnast.

Shawn_Johnson_competes_cropped

When you see Shawn and Missy side by side, you realize how well suited each is for their particular jobs.

Gymnast and swimmer

Product marketers need to think this way. Every product has strengths and weaknesses—but many of those exist only in the eyes of a beholder. To be sure, there are “table stakes” features, such as a functional product that complies with relevant laws. But beyond those, everything is negotiable.

  • Software that’s complex, with a steep learning curve is also a professional-grade tool.
  • Food that’s high in calories is also great post-workout energy.
  • Toilet paper that’s thin and rough is also green, sustainable, and suitable for septic systems.

Positioning is about finding the right frame of reference that emphasizes your strengths and mitigates your weaknesses—or better yet, turns those weaknesses into strengths. If you can find a target market for which that’s the case, and where the market is able to sustain your business model, that’s a clear sign that you’ve found the right positioning.

The check-out counter at retail stores is full of examples of attempts to reposition products:

Mommy hooks and screen cleaners

But there’s something missing from these examples. Good positioning not only changes the frame of reference by which a product is judged—it creates an entirely new frame of reference. Hangers and screen cleaners are known functions; gymnastics and swimming are known sports. Truly category-defining products and services found a way to create an entirely new way to understand the market, often in concert with a change in the job that was being done.

The challenge is that you can’t simply make up a new category. It has to immediately resonate with the market. That means when you launch the product or service and position it well, the market says, “oh, yeah. I didn’t realize that was a thing, but now that you’ve told me, I can’t not see it.”

That’s great reframing. It’s hard as hell, and when you get it right, it changes the fate of your organization entirely.

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