How to make your company Obviously Awesome (and sell more): Book review

If you’re wondering why you have a great product but lacklustre sales, you likely have a positioning problem. If communications means writing a strong message and marketing means getting your message out there, positioning means making sure your message is presented in a way that the right buyers will love.

The last bit there – presenting a message in a way the right buyers will love – is the main point of product positioning expert April Dunford’s book Obviously Awesome: How to nail product positioning so buyers get it, buy it, love it.

Source: Amazon

Hyper-practical, easy to understand for any business owner, and chock full of examples, Obviously Awesome is a must-read for business leaders who want to find customers who buy quickly, often, and don’t ask for discounts.

In this review, Dunford has given PulseBlueprint the rights to share some of the practical tips from the book on how to position your products – for free – to help business owners.

What is product positioning in marketing?

[Screenshot of the 5 principles of product positioning. Source: Obviously Awesome]
[Screenshot of the 5 principles of product positioning. Source: Obviously Awesome]

In the introduction, Dunford states that “Positioning is the act of deliberately defining how you are the best at something that a defined market cares a lot about”.

Thankfully, the book is not just a think piece, going on about the importance of positioning with little else (something many business speakers do, so this is immediately refreshing).

Moving into what I soon understand are the “commandments” of good product positioning, Dunford explains the 5 principles:

The rest of the book explains the five commandments in depth and then explains a 10-step framework any business owner or executive can follow to better position their products.

Throughout, she shared examples of companies, showing how positioning turned companies around from the brink of disaster. In one case, she showed how a shift in positioning took Janna Systems from near failure against a market leader to an acquisition by that leader for $1.7 billion dollars (with a “B”!) a few years later.

How are product positioning and branding related?

[The three types of product positioning. Source: Obviously Awesome]
[The three types of product positioning. Source: Obviously Awesome]

This book, with practical frameworks, examples, and ad-hoc tips from Dunford’s experience, seems to fill the missing spot in the path from branding to sales.

The path begins with knowing who you are as a business. World Famous: How to create a kick-ass brand hits that nail right on the head. Author David Tyreman is a well-known brand marketer who helped build global lifestyle brands like Ralph Lauren. In the book there are a series of mini-tasks and big projects to help you get to your kick-ass identity.

Once you know who you are, you need to know what to say in order to make the world realize the value of your ideas. That’s where Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die comes into play. Authors Chip and Dan Heath distilled creativity into its basic elements and offer a framework, called the SUCCES framework, that entrepreneurs can follow to consistently produce “sticky” ideas.

Obviously Awesome is the third and final step, helping entrepreneurs know who needs to hear your message and and how to communicate it to them. This doesn’t refer to using tactics such as Facebook ads versus Google ads. Instead, it’s knowing what kind of person really needs what you have to offer and what kind of message (wording, reference points, and style) they need to hear in order to know your product is, well, obviously awesome.

How is product positioning done?

[Screenshot of the product positioning canvas steps. Source: Obviously Awesome]
[Screenshot of the product positioning canvas steps. Source: Obviously Awesome]

The interesting part about Dunford’s writing style is that she gives you a ton of info in a unique way: you think you know the answer, but then you turn the page and realize there’s more to know. Far from feeling depressed about it, though, the fun examples and short sections (with skimmable headlines) make reading easy.

As the book progresses, Dunford goes in-depth on the core process of the refined “product positioning canvas” (in the book she offers a free template for download).

The canvas is the end result of your positioning exercise and sets you up to really nail your product positioning. It also empowers you to share this out with your team (now, or in the future) and acts as a source of truth to always refer back to.

Without this source of truth, warns Dunford, you risk moving too far away from your core positioning by accident, with ideas on ideas.

How can business owners learn more about positioning?

While a useful book to teach how to do product positioning, the book itself is also a lesson for entrepreneurs.

Getting to the point as quick as necessary

Dunford is a talkative writer. As such, the book had many additional thoughts that didn’t seem immediately relevant to “this is how you do product positioning”.

However, there’s a lesson to be learned here: few people truly know what product positioning is, so the book needed some lively “conversation” to keep the reader engaged.

Take that as a lesson for communicating with your prospects. You know far more than prospects about your solution and, in some cases even, their business problems… But find ways to keep the conversation light.

Walk them through the ideas and engage them in the discovery process with stories instead of coming guns blazing about how you will solve the problem. Show, don’t tell.

Be careful of your blind spots

Dunford consults and speaks worldwide on product positioning. She created incredible successes, both as an employee and as a consultant. So it makes sense when she gives the advice to hire an outside facilitator to help with product positioning. After all, that’s what she does.

The problem is that’s the only course of action she offered for facilitating positioning discussions. The reality, though, is that not everyone can afford high-quality outside facilitators. Further, there aren’t that many out there, as Dunford explained thoroughly in the introduction. With that, it seemed a blind spot to recommend hiring an outside facilitator without offering guidelines on what to look for. Or, for that matter, explaining what a great one brings to the table so that companies could do their best to emulate those traits if they can’t afford outside help.

The lesson for business owners, though, is to watch your blind spots when sharing your expertise. We all have them. It’s part of the human condition, and all you can do is your best to have them covered by your team and your own checks.

Get(ting to) Obviously Awesome

Dunford implies a bold statement in her book: that a shift in how you position yourself and your products is the difference between struggles and success. It can be tough to imagine something as simple as saying “CRM for investment bankers” versus “a CRM”, to take an example from the book, will change the future of your business from struggling to billion-dollar-exit.

But in Dunford’s long career, she’s seen and built successes to stand behind her claim. And then she distilled the successes down to a framework; one that she went out, tested, and refined over time. It seems the advice is well-worn and passes the ‘sniff-test’.

The book ends with a call-to-action to engage April as a consultant, workshop host, or keynote speaker; a fair ask since, after all, she’s the expert on the topic. Normally, I don’t appreciate a sales pitch at the end of something I already paid for (though I’ll willingly hear one if you gave me content for free). In this case, I’m realizing there’s an exception: you can market to me all you want if you solve my problems.

Photo via Unsplash

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