In my view, there are two types of product positioning and differentiation: Push and Pull. Both have benefits and drawbacks.
A Push positioning and differentiation strategy assumes that you understand the market and your customers well enough that you can come up with some positioning that sets you apart from the competition. You have a vision and hypothesis about why you’re different and better, and you push that message to the masses, without extensive customer validation.
Pros: To develop this kind of positioning, all one has to do is look at the competition’s literature and come up with positioning that seems sufficiently different from the alternatives. Potentially saves time because it can be done without speaking to customers. Maybe a good first step in developing a go-to-market strategy.
Cons: The competition may have it all wrong and have no idea about what customers really want, so trying to work around the competition’s messaging may be pointless, since they all have it wrong anyways-and you probably do too since you haven’t spoken to any customers!
A Pull positioning and differentiation strategy implies that your customers tell you what features, functions, positioning, and messaging that they find most compelling. You use these “pulled” items as the crux of your messaging and positioning versus a hypothesis about the messaging and positioning that will resonate with a customer. This is how the Customer Development guys would argue that you should develop your messaging and positioning.
Pros: You’re using positioning and messaging that has been validated by numerous potential customers in your target market. These are the reasons they see your solution as different…and who are you to argue with the people who have the money?
Cons: Requires extensive customer interactions to identify the things that customers feel are the differentiated features of your product. Easier said than done and may require several, iterative cycles of customer interaction.
What are your thoughts on Push vs. Pull? Are there certain markets or types of products where one strategy is superior to the other?