The Product Positioning Strategy From Perennial Seller

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Perennial Seller" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is product positioning? What are some things you need to consider to position your product in a way that keeps the demand high and the customers happy?

Put simply, product positioning is the process of framing and communicating how you want your target audience to think and feel about your product. According to Ryan Holiday, the author of Perennial Seller, there are two things you need to consider when designing your product positioning strategy: 1) your product’s genre and 2) its use case.

Let’s take a closer look at how to position your product in the market, according to Ryan Holiday.

Product Positioning Basics

Beyond creating a great product, you have to communicate it in a compelling way for the world. Audiences don’t know that something inside will change their lives. Someone has to tell them.

  • Taking time to do this is important. Don’t let it be an afterthought. Don’t choose a title because your kids like it.
  • Amazon requires managers launching new products to write a press release about it.
  • Tim Ferriss AB tests his book’s branding and chapter titles to see what resonates most with his audience.
  • Wealthfront changed its name from KaChing to better target its audience.

Your positioning is how people will introduce it to their friends. Make this as easy as possible to say – do the hard work for them. Don’t make them feel stupid saying it.


  • Harvey Weinstein to Errol Morris when promoting his film The Thin Blue Line: “Speak in short one-sentence answers and don’t go in with all the legalese. Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view. If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he’s Errol Morris.”
  • “What’s this movie about? It’s a mystery that traces an injustice. It’s scarier than Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s like In Cold Blood with humor.”

Tactics for Product Positioning

As you create your product positioning strategy, think about a combination of genre and use case.

Genres are important. You can’t violate all conventions at once to please everyone. People need to understand what category your work fits into.

  • Is this a coffee shop or a coworking space or a private club? It can’t be all three without alienating customers looking for just one.
  • Fictionalizing your Wall St experiences into a novel doesn’t give twice the audience (fiction lovers and business readers) – it might actually give half, since you’ve violated conventions of two spaces.

Then target a specific use case by filling the sentence: “This is a _____ that does _____ for _____ (target user).

  • This needs to be SPECIFIC. Write only in third person. Avoid “I believe.”
  • Bad answers: “for everyone.” “for fans of Malcolm Gladwell” (there is no convention where they get together).
  • Examples of good targeting:
    • Susan Cain wrote Quiet specifically for introverts, an underserved audience.
    • Ethnic targeting – Blue Collar Comedy Tour vs Three Amigos vs Original Kings of Comedy. Or Modern Family vs The Goldbergs vs Blackish vs Fresh off the boat.

Once you understand your genre and your use case, you know what you’re trying to accomplish. Then decisions become easier.

  • Jon Favreau built the film Iron Man around Robert Downey Jr. Once he made the casting decision, it became clear how to build the movie around that decision.

Keep reworking the positioning until it’s exciting. People are not going to switch over if their first impression is bad.

  • Bad impression: “This is just some random thing a random person made.”
  • Good impression: “Pick me – give up the others!”
  • Bad positioning: “A book about Stoic philosophy.”
  • Good positioning: “A book that uses the ancient formula of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to teach people how to not only overcome obstacles but thrive because of them.”

To simplify your language, distill your creation into three levels:

  • One sentence
  • One paragraph
  • One page

Start by targeting a niche to make them love your product, but don’t alienate people outside your niche.

  • Justin’s Peanut Butter started with creamy because they found that crunchy eaters were happy to eat creamy, but creamy eaters detested crunchy.
  • In Mastery, Robert Greene insisted on anecdotes of people in orthogonal trades (fighter pilot, robotics inventor, artist) and demographics. Every reader would find someone they could relate to in books – and recommend it to their friends they saw in the books too. Further, each master was a conduit into a new community to which the book could be promoted.

Define your core audience quantitatively. Who is buying the first 1000 copies of this thing? Who are your first ten thousand readers?

Positioning can occur in more than words – doing different things can also differentiate yourself.

  • Charity:water set up its org so it could position itself as deploying 100% of your donation for aid. (The administrative side is a separate org that is privately funded.)

Finally, remember why you’re doing this. “I’m making a ____ that does ____ for ____ because ____.” If you define your goal, you’ll make better decisions to achieve that goal.

  • Once you define your mission, you must forsake all other missions. Creation is so difficult that you need to avoid watering down your efforts with other projects.
  • Elon Musk wants to get a colony on Mars, and this makes pruning distractions easier.

Mindset of Positioning

If you worry about being too commercial or “selling out,” remember that this strategy is required to reach people to have the impact you want.

  • No artist is satisfied with no one viewing their work.
  • Don’t use the easy excuse of “I don’t care about any of this marketing or business stuff.” This gives you an excuse not to try to actually get readers, which will cause your project to fail.

Don’t compare yourself against people who aren’t aiming for the same thing.

  • Stop checking industry lists; don’t be distracted by the trends of other creators who are lost. The only comparison you can make is to yourself and what you are able to achieve.
  • Remember: you are aiming for lasting impact and relevance. 

After you know who to target, marketing becomes a matter of finding where those people are and reaching them.

The Product Positioning Strategy From Perennial Seller

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  • How to create enduring products with a loyal following
  • Why word of mouth is the only marketing channel that endures time
  • What to do after you've created a great work

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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