Stand Out from the Competition by Stepping Back

Now that you have successfully developed an innovative new product or service, how do you stimulate market demand? Your customers are overwhelmed with the number of product and service choices that exist in the market today and the volume of marketing messages that bombard them. It is estimated that the average American is exposed to hundreds of advertisements a day and this number is only growing. The only way to stand out from the competition is to step back and establish a clear and credible point of distinction.

Most marketers know that the process of uniquely positioning an offering is the key to driving profitable growth.  However, positioning is not about what you do to your company’s products or services, but what you do in the mind of the customer.[1] To effectively position an offering, you must begin by understanding how your company’s brand is currently perceived by the customer and what windows of opportunity exist that your brand can fill.  One of the primary challenges to doing this correctly is discerning what metrics should be used to measure the brand’s current position as well as those of competitor brands.  Another difficulty that causes problems in positioning is that most companies do not know what customer needs they should use to create differentiated value propositions.

So, what is the best way to do this?  Fortunately, we know that customers hire products and services to get jobs done and that they measure success in getting these jobs done by specific metrics or desired outcomes.By uncovering the functional and emotional jobs customers are trying to get done and learning which desired outcomes are important to them–but not well satisfied–marketers can find the “holes” or opportunities in the market. If their products or services address these needs well (or at least better than the competition), then marketers will be able to develop a unique and valued position for their offering that successfully resonates with the customer. They will own that position.

Microsoft’s release of its new Windows Phone 7 operating system is an interesting case study in positioning.  They are clearly trying to reverse market share losses sustained over the past few years by establishing their new offering as the “always delightful” solution that helps users get tasks done quickly and get “back to life.”If these are unmet desired outcomes customers have when using their phone,then this is a solid foundation upon which to spend more than $100 million on a new advertising campaign to make that position known.

Will customers buy in to this claim and help Microsoft climb back as a mobile technology leader?  The problem is that Microsoft’s reputation is not in congruence with creating products that are quick and delightful to use.  In fact, they are often derided for how complicated and technology-focused their products are compared to their more userdesign-focused competitors.  So, customers will have doubts Microsoft can deliver on their promisegiven their current positioning.  I believe this will be a hard bridge for them to cross.  As a result, I don’t think they will have much success winning back the market share they lost to Apple and Google in the smartphone war.


[1] Ries, Al and Trout, Jack, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,McGraw-Hill, 2001, page 2.

About Zac Lyons

Zac Lyons serves as a Strategy Advisor for Strategyn Consulting and helps clients apply outcome-driven innovation theory to their marketing and new product development efforts. His clients include Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, H&R Block, Toronto Dominion, and other firms in the information, technology, and financial services industries.
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