What Is Product Positioning in Marketing—& Why Does It Matter?

What is product positioning in marketing? How important is it in selling your product?

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. She contends that most marketers don’t fully understand what positioning is or its vital importance to selling.

Keep reading to learn what positioning is and why it matters.

What Is Positioning?

The fact that most marketers don’t fully understand positioning or its importance is a huge disadvantage to any product. That’s because, without proper positioning, customers can’t understand why they should bother to buy it. So, what is product positioning in marketing? According to Dunford, positioning is providing the backdrop for the use of your product to your customer so they know what the product is, why it matters, and why they should buy it

(Shortform note: In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore agrees with Dunford on the fundamental importance of positioning in business but veers from her definition of positioning. He asserts that positioning isn’t something you do as a company—how you contextualize your product—but rather describes how the customer contextualizes the product. Yet while Moore is more explicit than Dunford about positioning being “in the eye of the customer,” it’s clear that Dunford understands that the customer’s opinion of your product matters more than your opinion of your product. We’ll see this later in this guide.)

You must provide this contextualizing backdrop because humans use context to make sense of the world in general—it’s how the human brain operates, writes Dunford. Here’s an example: When you enter an unoccupied office and see a mahogany desk and law degrees on the wall, you use that context to glean you’re in a lawyer’s office. Similarly, if you enter an office with a treadmill desk and high-tech gadgets, you guess from those clues you’re in the office of a tech start-up leader.  

(Shortform note: Dunford argues that the human brain naturally uses context to understand the world, and others have taken this idea even further, claiming that the brain can only operate through the use of contextual comparisons (for instance, understanding that a plant is a flower because it looks like other plants around it, which you know to be flowers). If the brain didn’t operate through the use of contextual comparisons, it wouldn’t be a brain—it would be some other type of system.)

Positioning isn’t merely helpful; it’s the bedrock of successful selling and marketing, contends Dunford. If you can’t position your product properly, no amount of money thrown at marketing and sales can sell it. This is because consumers can only appreciate and value a product when it’s set in the right context. For instance, if you try to sell a multitool as a kitchen accessory, people won’t see its value because you’re not setting it in a context that highlights its usefulness. But if you position a multitool as an accessory for a backpacking trip, consumers will see its value because the context makes clear how useful it is (it’s good for opening cans, cutting wood, and so on).

(Shortform note: Dunford argues that positioning is foundational to successful selling because humans can’t understand why they should buy a product if it’s not set in the right context. But positioning is also critical to selling for another reason: It lets you justify the cost of your product to consumers. If your product is more expensive than competitors for no apparent reason, consumers won’t buy it. However, if you position your product as a higher-quality or more exclusive product, consumers will understand why it costs more and will be more likely to buy.)

What Is Product Positioning in Marketing—& Why Does It Matter?

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books 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 creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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