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Chapter 2: positioning and branding your product
Last updated2 Feb 2022
For your SaaS startup to grow, you need to develop a strong sense of what your product offers (positioning) and to communicate it in a way that differentiates it from all other available products (branding).
Defining these two elements is not easy, but it starts with getting to know your customers.
Position, position, position
In the simplest terms, product positioning is the act of explaining what problem(s) your service/product is going to solve. For example: helping teams become more efficient and avoid bottlenecks when communicating with each other (Basecamp), helping website or app owners understand their users, identify issues, and find opportunities for growth (Hotjar).
A strong positioning statement doesn’t just place your product in the minds of your users: it also allows you to define your target audience, differentiate yourself from the competition, and make sure that everything you do is ‘on brand’.
Ryan Singer, Product Strategist at Basecamp, explains it by comparing Snickers and Milky Way chocolate bars:
Think about your product’s position in terms of a location on a map. Any decision you make, for example choosing whether or not to build a new feature or integration, will make you move on this map, placing you closer or further from where your competitors are located.
"When you know your position, you can say “no”. When you don’t know, you say “yes” out of fear. You build a feature because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t. That’s not a strong place to be competitively and it’s not a coherent place to be in terms of your product design."
Use Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) to position your brand
When you work on positioning, it’s useful to think about why your customers (current or prospective) might need to buy and use your product. A really effective way to investigate your customers’ concrete needs, and the context that might drive them to a purchase, is using the Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework.
"A Job-to-be-Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she evolves herself through searching for, buying, and using a product. It begins when the customer becomes aware of the possibility to evolve. It continues as long as the desired progress is sought. It ends when the consumer realizes new capabilities and behaves differently, or abandons the idea of evolving."
JTBD-style interviews are structured interviews that help you retrace your customers’ steps backwards from the point of purchasing (if you don’t have customers yet, you can still use the framework with your target audience). Get in touch with them and agree to have a quick interview, during which you will be asking questions such as:
When did you first realize you had a problem/opportunity and needed help?
How did you go about looking for a solution?
What solutions did you try, or not try, and why?
What were your expectations about the product/service you purchased?
Branding and naming
There are good and bad names, but no name is going to magically make your business flourish.
There are a few standard guidelines for naming your product at the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage. You should choose a brand name that:
is easy to pronounce and write down
is short enough to remember
is not used by competitors and/or corporations (do a quick trademark search!)
is not offensive in other languages
can be used to secure a .com domain (if you can’t get the exact domain name, you can always add verbs to it like get[name], try[name], etc.)
One thing you may want to remember is that, if your first brand name doesn’t work, you will have time to revisit it (you can even use a brand name generator tool to get extra ideas) after you have an established product/market fit and a more long-term vision.
"Our startup Enhancv has product-market fit and is currently profitable, yet the name has become too restrictive: being solely focused on CVs, it doesn’t reflect the ‘beyond-the-CV’ aspects of the product; it also doesn’t sound right for the US market, where they use ‘resumes’ instead. So it worked for us at the beginning, but because it no longer reflects our current product and our long-term vision, we are in the process of renaming and rebranding the company"
Use emotions to connect with your customers
When marketing your SaaS, you must be able to capture people’s attention in a few seconds and get them interested and wanting to know more. Branding that resonates with your customers’ needs, aspirations, and emotions helps you create a connection with them and build loyalty over time.
You’re probably used to seeing positive, benefit-oriented imagery and copy that highlight the pleasure to be gained from a product, but don’t be afraid to try a different approach to see what works best for you. In 2016, Basecamp tripled their prices and changed their visuals to a cartoon of a customer with her hair on fire being chased by emails and notifications. It’s not your standard happy and reassuring messaging, so why did it work?
"People were coming to us because they were like “Give me some order, I’m losing my mind”. So we showed them that. We showed them a person with their hair on fire… and that connected better than the best, happiest emotion we could have used."
To create an even stronger connection in the minds of your users, ‘speak your customer’s language’ by utilising the words and phrases they themselves used during their JTBD interviews with you; also try to showcase your product in action with screenshots, screencasts, and videos whenever you can. Help your audience visualize how your product is going to work for them in practical terms, how it will ease their specific pain points and lead them to believable wins. When we launched our newest tool, Incoming Feedback, we made sure to show both what it would look like for users on a website, and what our customers would see in their dashboard:
Choose effective customer testimonials
Social proof and testimonials are everywhere, but the most effective describe real scenarios and situations, and talk about the problem(s) your product/service solved. There are different ways to gather testimonials, from transcribing conversations you have with your customers and quote directly from them, to sending surveys that ask questions like:
What changed for you after you got our product?
How does our product help you get your jobs done?
How would you feel if you couldn’t use it anymore?
If you are strapped for time, you can ask your customers to leave reviews on third-party websites (TrustRadius, AlternativeTo, GetApp, Capterra, G2Crowd, etc.) instead by sending them a direct link. This will also help you with SEO and conversions, as users might end up on your website because they are unhappy with their current solution and are turning to third-party review websites while looking for an alternative.
The problem with testimonials is that they often feel staged and lack credibility. As you ask the questions above, add an element of reality by guiding your customers to highlight the elements of doubt and/or concern they had before they made the purchase. This is a process called ‘reverse testimonial’, which focuses on doubt and skepticism as opposed to praise.
To define your product positioning, you must be able to visualise the specific contexts and circumstances where using it will make a difference for your customers.
Pick a brand name that’s easy to remember, write, and pronounce.
Showcase your product in action with images and videos. Use emotional messaging, including the actual language people use to describe their problems/pain points, to ensure potential buyers connect with it.
Use testimonials that address your customers’ objections and allow them to visualize how your products will help them.
Positioning Your Startup Is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It, First Round Review
Position, Position, Position, Signal vs. Noise
A Script To Kickstart Your Jobs-To-Be-Done Interviews, JTBD.info
Video & Audio
Why Marketing Storytelling Matters Now More than Ever, Michael Troiano and Louis Grenier
SaaStock on Tour, Paris: From Zero to Brand: Where to Take Your SaaS Business, Marie-Hortense Varin, Liam Boogar, Matthieu Vaxelaire, and Jonathan Anguelov
XAwards: Marketing and Positioning Panel, David Darmanin and Ryan Singer
The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, Clayton M. Christensen
Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Manor
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel
When Coffee and Kale Compete, Alan Klement
The Brain Audit: Why Customers Buy (and Why They Don’t), Sean D’Souza
Value Proposition Design, Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith
Hotjar is Behavior Analytics software that makes it easy to go beyond traditional web analytics and understand what users are really doing on your site.