Poor Positioning: 3 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Obviously Awesome" by April Dunford. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is product positioning necessary? What about repositioning?

If you work in marketing yet still can’t define what “positioning” is, consultant and speaker April Dunford is here to tell you that you’re not alone. If you’re not sure what positioning is, you’re not likely to understand its importance—and you’re bound to make a few mistakes.

Let’s look at Dunford’s insights into poor positioning and three marketing mistakes to avoid.

Mistakes Companies Make in Positioning

Dunford argues that, because positioning is poorly understood and undervalued, people make three common marketing mistakes.

Mistake 1

Marketers think they don’t need to position products because their positioning is clear to them and seems as though it should be clear to anyone else. Alternatively, they are guilty of poor positioning because they position the product how they, as ideators, originally conceived the product—not how consumers, who have different needs and use cases, will perceive it. For instance, a marketer may think a new compact e-reader will be great for travelers, but, for consumers, the e-reader makes the most sense as a tool for presentations. 

(Shortform note: Marketers who succumb to this problem might benefit from developing greater empathy, the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective—in this case, the customer’s. You can give your marketing team the following exercise to build empathy: Ask them to think about the daily workplace experience of each of their colleagues and then write down what they think each colleague’s high and low points are, what bothers them, and what makes them happy. Then, have the team compare these notes to see if they’ve understood each other’s experience. Consider adapting this to be about the customer’s daily lived experience so employees improve their ability to empathize with the customer.)

Mistake 2

Even if the product changes in development, marketers can’t see the product as anything other than what they originally intended it to be, claims Dunford. Because they’re stuck on the original idea, they don’t reposition the product based on how it’s changed, and consumers consequently don’t understand it, or they think it’s a bad product. This is the second marketing mistake to avoid. For instance, if a compact e-reader has become bigger throughout development, a marketer might still position it as a travel e-reader, even though it won’t make sense to customers in that capacity because it’s too large. 

(Shortform note: It’s doubly important to reposition a product that’s changed over the course of development because developing new products can be costly, and you need to recoup the money you’ve spent on ideation, design, prototyping, engineering, and testing. Prototyping, for instance, can cost up to $10,000 per iteration, and engineering can come with a price tag of up to $40,000. If, after having spent all that money developing a product, you position it poorly, you’ll not only fail to make a profit—you might find yourself in the red.)

Mistake 3

Sometimes the market initially selected for a product changes, and marketers fail to adjust their positioning to ensure they continue appealing to consumers in that market. A market might change if consumers’ preferences change—the car market might change dramatically if consumers decide they only want electric cars, for instance.

(Shortform note: Marketers likely make this mistake because adapting to a new market—and being adaptable as a company in general—can be extremely difficult. One way to be more adaptable to market changes is by adopting agile project management, an approach frequently used by software companies. In agile project management, you complete projects over several steps during which you periodically test the software, ensure it’s still relevant, and adjust if it’s not.)

Poor Positioning: 3 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of April Dunford's "Obviously Awesome" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Obviously Awesome summary:

  • What "positioning" is and why it's so important for marketing
  • Three common (and avoidable) mistakes marketers make
  • A 12-step process that lets you position any product well

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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