April Dunford's playbook for nailing product positioning
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Issue 018

Obviously Awesome by April Dunford

Reviewing a designer-friendly process for nailing product positioning 
Ever wondered why some design-centred products struggle to gain traction while seemingly sub-standard user experiences often prove popular with customers?

Timing - such as first mover advantage - is a common factor, with those first to market benefitting from a lack of competition. However, it could also be down to positioning: how a product is presented to connect with potential consumers.

Positioning is the subject of a book by April Dunford (a leader in the field of positioning) called Obviously Awesome.

Whether new to positioning or not, April's 10-step playbook helps teams uncover the actual value in their product and how to articulate it to potential customers in a way that is intuitively understood.

Not only does this result in happier customers, it also empowers design teams to confidently focus on features and benefits that customers genuinely care about.
Cover of the book Obviously Awesome by April Dunford

"Market confusion starts with our disconnect between understanding the product as product creators, and understanding the product as customers first perceive it"

April Dunford - Obviously Awesome

The relationship between design and positioning

Poor positioning impacts design teams more than we might think.

Positioning a product in the same space as existing competitors - known as 'default' positioning - can see us prioritise copycat features over fresh ideas that could satisfy unmet user needs. This can accelerate a race to the bottom, competing on price and quality.

Designers working on these products can feel stuck attempting to reinvent a me-too offering.

A more innovative product whose positioning does not effectively articulate its unfamiliar benefits can contribute to high customer churn (one of April's 4 signs of weak positioning). Designers may feel frustrated that their efforts are not appreciated by customers who signed-up based on misaligned expectations.

Worse still, these same designers may be coerced into exploring deceptive patterns in a bid to increase retention.

Obviously Awesome explains these common positioning problems using recognisable examples. April then guides the reader through a neatly structured process for exploring your product's true value, and how to articulate it in a way that unlocks competitive advantage.
The process is simple to follow and facilitate using a practical set of tools, culminating with your awesome new positioning captured on the Positioning Canvas.

Marketing customer value over features

Step 6 of April's 10-step process tackles a typical positioning red flag: focusing on features over the customer value these features could unlock. 

This chapter really got me thinking about how design consultants like myself position ourselves to potential clients.

If we take April's Feature > Benefit > Value mapping process and apply it to a design consultant service, we can see how a more compelling proposition emerges as we advance from the features of a designer to the business value they create.

  • Feature: Ability to prototype using Figma.
  • Benefit: Bring an idea to life quickly, in a testable format.
  • Value: Validating ideas before committing to development investment.

A key area of positioning April covers is context. If we are marketing to fellow designers, we can perhaps get away with listing our professional features. But in the context of another profession or domain, the benefit and value tell a much more straightforward story of why designers are a no-brainer investment for any organisation exploring product-market fit.

"Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about"

April Dunford - Obviously Awesome
For designers who typically shy away from marketing, April's approach is refreshingly user centred. The process presented in Obviously Awesome is one designers (particularly content designers) are well placed to facilitate using April's effectively structured plan.

Ultimately, all designers benefit when the products we design are positioned in a way that instantly connects with an audience. So if you think your organisation is missing a marketing trick, Obviously Awesome could be just the way to kick start the positioning process.
​Psst.. If you're a freelance designer curious about how to market yourself, I was invited to discuss the challenges of positioning and pricing as a design freelancer/contractor on the recent d.MBA podcast. You can give it a listen on YouTube or via the podcast platform of your choice via the d.MBA blog.

Tom Prior
Curator of Designers in Business

twitter.com/designersxbiz  |  [email protected]
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