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  • Manfredi Sassoli

Three layers for positioning

The value a company creates is proportional to the power of their positioning. 

Think about it:

Lastminute. com was a brilliant marketing idea, last minute deals. In reality they offered what everyone else did, just packaged it differently. They had success, but it didn't last. 

Booking. com offers more hotels than anyone, they are the best at what they do on a core product dimension. This has helped them do well and demand higher fees from customers (hoteliers). Competition however is not far behind: to many users Expedia is a valid alternative.

AirBnB makes you feel at home everywhere: it has people letting their homes anywhere in the world, creating a global network effect. Nobody else can offer this, nobody can solve the problem they solve. 

Basically there are three ways to position a company: 

1. Do what competitors do, but say it differently (just marketing)

2. Do what competitors aren't doing (marketing + product)

3. Do what competitors can't do (marketing + product + strategy) 

Number 1 can be very valuable, it can be the quickest way for marketing to add value, but in most cases it's like putting lipstick on a pig, you are not fooling customers and if you do it won't last. In most cases this can be simply called: bad marketing.

Number 3 is a best case scenario, we should all aim for that, but it's not often a viable option. Few companies can differentiate on a dimension that is both valuable to customers and close to impossible for competitors to imitate. I had the fortune to see this first hand when working at Apple where great products were created, design, packaging and the whole user experience were designed to make products feel special, and the message could then be reinforced by bold creative that would achieve breakthrough.

Number 2, is what most companies should aim to do. It requires collaboration between marketing and product to understand a problem, deliver a solution and comunicate it effectively. 

Too often I see companies building products and then thinking about how to market them - beware, if you don't give marketing the right ammunition and expect it to work effectively in a silo, it probably won't work. (Fortunately the PLG movement is a good step in the right direction of marketing and product integration).

The million dollar question is: how can marketers influence product decisions to foster the right kind of collaboration?

There can't be an absolute right answer for this. In my experience there are two things that really help:

  1. Establishing relative areas of strength for the product and marketing team

    1. Product: strategic, technical, understands what problem needs to be solved

    2. Marketing: commercial, understand what it products are easy to sell

  2. Bring to the table a set of unsuccessful case studies, where marketing was siloed from product, (and successful case studies of marketing + product collaboration)

If there is no dialogue, then I would recommend to manage expectations: if the job of marketers is to fool customers by creating artificial value, it will be hard to create value and impossible to hold it. We must try to avoid this at all costs.

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