If you want people to buy your product you need to position it in their minds as the best way to solve a problem they care about.

To get a product A gadget, a service, a company, an institution, or a person.

bought (or used), making it good is not enough; prospects must know about it and believe that it’s the best solution to their problem. Positioning is the process of shaping their minds such that they believe that. David Ogilvy defines positioning as “what the product does and who it is for.”

Positioning is brand building. A brand is what people perceive it to be, not what you want it to be. A good brand is a good moat because it guides customers to your product and it can’t be copied by your competitors (in contrast to product attributes). Some positionings might be:

  • iPhone: a premium smartphone
  • Big Mac: a predictable fast-food burger
  • Kellog’s: breakfast cereal
  • Lululemon: yoga clothes
  • Moleskine: bound notebooks
  • Coca-Cola: the standard soft drink
  • Google: how you search the Internet
  • DuckDuckGo: how you search the Internet if you’re concerned about privacy
  • Vitsoe’s 606: classic shelving system
  • Instagram: snapshot sharing
  • WhatsApp: message non-iPhone people

So how do you position a product in the mind of a prospect? Find a gap, focus your message, and stay the course. That is more art than science and it doesn’t make up for a bad product, but it’s worthwhile.

Find a gap

Changing what someone already believes is hard and unlikely to work. If you think Google when you need to search the Internet, you won’t care much about Bing saying they also search the Internet for you. Instead, find an open position in the mind of the prospect.

The easiest way to find an open position is to be first in something. Charles Lindbergh is the first person to fly solo over the Atlantic. If you can’t be first, make up a new category that you can be first in. Amelia Earhart was the third person to fly solo over the Atlantic, but she’s known as the first woman to do so. Categories can be created by narrowing existing ones. If someone else was first to introduce a smart watch, maybe you can be the first to introduce a smart watch for swimmers?

If you can’t be first or if you can’t invent a new category, position yourself against the competition. Car-rental company Avis went up against Hertz saying: “Avis is only No. 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try harder.” Pepsi positioned themselves against Coca-Cola by narrowing their target market to the “new generation”.

Make sure you leverage what’s already in your prospects’ minds. If someone can’t easily understand what problem you solve for them, you won’t get into their minds. The first automobile was positioned as a “horseless” carriage.

Some gaps are more valuable than others. Being the search engine for the Internet (Google) is more valuable than being the search engine for those concerned with privacy on the Internet (DuckDuckGo).

Focus your message

People are busy. They have kids to feed, bills to pay, people to see, drainpipes to clean, food to cook, and wine to enjoy. Learning about your gadget is not part of their plans. If, by some miracle, you get their attention, your message needs resonate immediately. It needs to be sharp, focused, and unambiguous. Base it on a single concept. Pick a good name. Stand for something. Make it sound good, even if you advertise in print. And in general, read what you write out loud.

Positioning is not a debate, it’s a seduction.

If you manage to do that for a problem people care about and your product lives up to your promises, you might get people to buy your product. And if you’re really good, they might tell their friends. That’s good.

Stay the course

Marketing takes time and repetition to have an effect; to make people trust you. Once you have, do not change your messaging, stay the course and stay consistent. This is boring for ad agencies, but good for business. David Ogilvy: “Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand.”

If you have a great positioning you will eventually saturate your market. You will be tempted, in pursuit of growth, to cash in on the brand and the trust you’ve built by extending your product line. You’ll get a short-term bump in sales from that, but it will muddle your messaging, confuse your prospects, make you vulnerable to competition, and harm your long-term sales. If you need growth, build a new brand for another product.

The fastest way to destroy the value of your brand is to betray people’s trust. Loyalty to a brand is like a loyalty in a marriage: get there first and don’t give them a reason to switch.