Startup Strategy

We Explored 3 Product Positioning and Branding Failures. Here’s What NOT to Do.

March 6, 2020

Imagine you have a great idea for a product: It’s a cross between a document collaboration solution and an internal wiki. Oh, and you can also use it as a place to collect your tasks!

The product is built, some folks are using it with great success, and you’re ready to really get it in front of people. The right people. Now is the time for you to focus on product positioning.

But what exactly is product positioning?

Shopify’s definition: “Product positioning is a form of marketing that presents the benefits of your product to a particular target audience. Through market research and focus groups, marketers can determine which audience to target based on favorable responses to the product.”

In B2B SaaS, product positioning is the market fit part of finding product-market fit (the first step before ensuring product-market-price fit).

There are so many ways to do product positioning right, but let’s look at three ways product positioning can go totally upside-down.

Failure #1: Not thinking about positioning at all, or thinking about it as a small to-do

The first step to solving a problem is knowing there’s a problem, right?

When you’re first building your product, you’re thinking of all of the technical hurdles to overcome, UX details to include to delight users, and maybe even how to build product virality.

What you’re probably not thinking about is how you’re positioning your product. And if that’s the case, it’s not just a problem that goes away. What happens is that you are inherently positioning your product in a way you don’t intend.

Let’s talk about unintentional positioning vs. intentional positioning in relation to a new product—maybe it’s even an MVP. With intentional positioning, your new product is suddenly the best, niche tool to get this one, very specific job done. With unintentional positioning, your product is just not robust enough to solve an entire problem someone faces.

Consider this: Instead of just positioning your product, you might want to create a whole new category. Yes, it sounds daunting. But if you’re creating a new B2B SaaS product, odds are you’re filling a brand-new need you see in the market—or a unique mixture of needs. Your product isn’t just better, it’s fundamentally different.

Category creators focus on the problem they solve first, and the solution they provide second. Think Salesforce’s messaging around “NO SOFTWARE” or Gainsight championing (maybe even creating) the role of Customer Success.

Sold? Start with these two books:

Failure #2: Not telling your audience exactly what your company does

Doesn’t it seem like all product marketing sites look the same these days? And worse, doesn’t it seem like everyone is hiding what they actually do?

It’s commonplace to see marketing landing pages with vague copy like, “making people work better,” “accelerating your pipeline” or even “connecting everything.”

Cool. But what do you actually do?

As a marketer, I understand the impulse to attach your marketing message to the bigger picture, especially if you’ve decided to go the route of creating a category. But often, people are coming to your website to figure out what your product can actually, functionally do for them. Be kind. Be clear.

Along with clear and consistent messaging, another failure of brand and positioning happens when a company makes lofty promises, but the product doesn’t deliver. This issue most often reflects an internal misalignment with marketing and product. Marketing shoots for the stars and creates messaging that’s too aspirational. Product is an MVP that just can’t deliver on it yet. The result is a jarring customer experience.

Failure #3: Not talking with your users

What if I told you there’s a secret place where you can find exactly the pain points your product should solve for—and the exact words to use to explain what those are?

It exists! And it’s as simple as getting inside your users’ brains.

The best product positioning copy takes the exact phrases from user interviews to explain their product’s solution. Use their words—their problems—and you’ll attract similar people looking for you to solve their problems, too.

You can amplify this user community you’re tapping into for content marketing, too. Getting folks in your user base (or intended user base) to write blog posts, answer interview questions or be guests on your podcast are ways to immediately resonate with your market and eventually position your product as their ideal solution.

As a bonus, frequent user interviews will also keep you in tune with what’s happening in your market, and they’ll give you a crystal ball to see product trends before the market shifts underneath you.

Product positioning FTW

People have more choices than ever in the tools they decide to use—at home but also at work. And so B2B brand and product positioning will only continue to become more important with the rise of the End User Era.

The good news is that companies like Notion (the amazing product idea we mentioned at the very beginning of this post) are using product positioning to win.

Check out our recent BUILD podcast episode with Camille Ricketts, Head of Marketing at Notion.

OpenView, the expansion stage venture firm, helps build software companies into market leaders. Through our Expansion Platform, we help companies hire the best talent, acquire and retain the right customers and partner with industry leaders so they can dominate their markets. Our focus on the expansion stage makes us uniquely suited to provide truly tailored operational support to our portfolio companies. Learn more about OpenView at