Product Positioning: How to Challenge in Competitive Markets

Learn the intricacies of product positioning in manufacturing with expert insights from Harvey Lee, product marketer and positioning expert.

Picture of Lawrence Chapman Lawrence Chapman

Published: 27 Nov 2023

10 minutes read

Product Positioning: How to Challenge in Competitive Markets - Axon Garside


As a manufacturing marketer, you need to execute product positioning to perfection. It defines how your product is perceived in the market, influences consumer choices, and can give you a vital advantage over your market rivals.

With competition in the manufacturing industry fierce, this poses unique challenges, and effective positioning becomes crucial for differentiation and success. It’s a universal concept that extends across various industries and is pivotal in shaping brand identity and customer perceptions.

To illustrate its importance, and show how manufacturers can use content marketing to support their efforts, we welcomed Harvey Lee, a distinguished product marketer and positioning expert, to the Make & Market podcast.

During his illustrious career, Harvey has gained a wealth of experience, working with the likes of Virgin, Microsoft, Kaspersky, Avast and Seiko Epson.

But it’s his time at Microsoft that’s helped him establish himself as a true expert in the field. Harvey helped the company launch the first  Xbox console in a fiercely competitive video games industry, showcasing how strategic product positioning can help you stand out, even in the most cutthroat markets.


How does Content Marketing Support Product Positioning?

A well-executed content marketing strategy plays a pivotal role in positioning and enhancing your manufacturing company’s product to your target market in the following ways:


Clarifying Unique Value Propositions

Creating engaging content that resonates with your audience helps to better relay your unique value proposition. Through compelling narratives, informative articles, and eye-catching visuals, you can convey how your offering sets itself apart in a crowded market.


Educating the Target Audience

Ultimately, the endgame of your campaign is to educate your target audience about the features, specifications, and benefits of your products. Through well-researched and in-depth content, your audience will gain a better understanding of your product all while establishing your company’s position as an authoritative source in the industry.


Showcasing Product Applications

Through case studies, demonstration videos, and success stories, you can showcase your product benefits in real-world scenarios. This not only demonstrates the practical utility but also reinforces the product's positioning within specific industries or applications.


Highlighting Innovation and Technological Advancements

Products that aren’t continually improved quickly lose their place in the market. If you make regular modifications to your products, then you need to tell the world.

Whether that’s through blog posts, whitepapers, or video content, showcasing the latest developments reinforces the perception of your company as a cutting-edge player in the market.


Addressing Pain Points and Challenges

Content marketing helps to address common pain points or challenges faced by your target audience.

Addressing these issues and positioning your products as effective solutions will establish your company as a problem-solving partner while enhancing the overall value of your offerings.


Creating a Consistent Brand Narrative

Through storytelling and consistent messaging, content marketing can shape a compelling brand narrative. This narrative should align with the intended product positioning, to create a consistent and memorable brand image in the minds of your audience.


SEO Optimisation for Discoverability

Strategic content creation, containing relevant keywords and industry-specific terms, plays a big part in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). By including these keywords and terms in your content, you improve your chances of appearing higher in search engine results. It also enhances the overall discoverability of your company's products when your potential customers are actively seeking related solutions.


Building Thought Leadership

Thought leadership content positions your company as an industry expert. This not only elevates your company's standing within the sector but also reinforces the credibility of your products. By being at the forefront of industry discussions, your company becomes a go-to for the expertise and the latest updates in innovation in your niche.


Aligning with Market Trends

When planning your content strategy, you need to factor in emerging market trends and industry developments that could potentially come up, and always be willing to adapt your plan, accordingly. This ensures that your product positioning remains relevant and responsive to the evolving needs and expectations of the target audience.


Fostering Customer Engagement

Interactive content, such as webinars, surveys, and social media discussions, fosters direct engagement with your audience. This engagement not only builds relationships but also provides valuable insights into customer preferences and perceptions, allowing for adjustments in your product positioning (and content strategy) if necessary.

Your content marketing campaign should be dynamic and play an active role in shaping your product positioning strategy.

By leveraging the power of storytelling, education, and strategic communication, manufacturing firms can carve out a distinctive and compelling space for their products in competitive markets.


How Microsoft Used Content Marketing for Product Positioning

The success story of the marketing campaign for Halo 2, the sequel to one of Xbox’s flagship games, is a result of a masterclass content marketing campaign known as "I Love Bees."



Harvey Lee shed light on how Microsoft used this brilliant content marketing campaign for the launch of Halo 2, highlighting the strategic approach behind this campaign, and its profound impact on product positioning.

“There’s a great case study called “I Love Bees”, which was a content campaign used to build up the excitement for Halo 2. It was a sequel to a very successful game, so the release was highly anticipated. It used content and treasure hunts and all sorts of really interesting thoughtful engagement practices around content.

“The audience had to identify certain things in the storyline and find easter eggs. It was a hands-on piece of engagement, delivered through content, which mobilised an audience that built up an enormous amount of engagement up into the actual release of the game. It set a real benchmark in its day and I still think it stands the test of 20 years later.”

The “I Love Bees” campaign went beyond traditional advertising. Instead of relying solely on conventional promotional tactics, the campaign engaged the audience in a series of immersive experiences.

This case study serves as a testament to the power of content marketing in shaping product positioning. It showcases how, in a saturated market, a well-planned content campaign can elevate a product beyond its functional attributes, turning it into a cultural phenomenon that resonates with audiences long after its initial release.

As manufacturing companies explore content marketing strategies, the "I Love Bees" campaign has stood the test of time. It’s a perfect example which highlights how successful product positioning can be achieved through thoughtful and riveting content experiences.


Challenges When Positioning Products in Manufacturing - and How to Overcome Them

In manufacturing, translating your product positioning efforts into clear messaging poses a challenge. Harvey Lee highlights a common misstep — the assumption that positioning can easily be translated into your copy. However, given the complex nature of some products, crafting a compelling narrative is a challenge.

To address this, Lee advocates for a robust messaging guide, which is a tested roadmap to ensure there’s alignment between what needs to be said (messaging) and how it's said (copy). In developing this guide, you need to undergo several rounds of learning, testing, and refining the messaging guide to simplify how complex technicalities can be articulated in layman's terms.

“People fall into the trap of thinking messaging is copy. Messaging is what we want to say, whereas copy is how we say it. It’s two different stages. Depending on the channel in which we're trying to articulate that, whether it's in a sales pitch, or whether it's through open market communications, I think making sure the jump from positioning to articulation is one of the biggest mistakes companies make.

“Even if they get crisp and tight positioning, and, and it's been validated in some way, there's always a huge risk, especially in manufacturing, where the jump from position to articulation doesn't make it.”

Once the messaging guide is set, the focus shifts to the content and copywriting teams. This challenge becomes an opportunity. Manufacturers can leverage content marketing techniques to effectively bridge the gap. The key is to communicate the value proposition of their products.

Content marketing serves as the bridge, allowing manufacturers to position their products as not just valuable but as the Most Valuable Product (MVP) in their markets. By strategically using stories, metaphors, and other engaging elements, manufacturers can articulate their message which resonates with their audience.

The strategic use of content marketing techniques, as suggested by Harvey, becomes crucial in drawing attention to the value of product selections. It goes beyond mere promotion, transforming into a narrative that captivates, educates, and convinces the audience of the unparalleled benefits of the product.


How to Measure the Success of Product Positioning in Manufacturing

Drawing from his wealth of experience, Harvey Lee suggests a pragmatic approach to gauge the effectiveness of your product positioning. He emphasises that the real litmus test unfolds in the market, echoing the sentiment that while research and testing are invaluable, it’s pale in comparison to the ultimate metric — conversion rates in your sales pitch.


The Ultimate Metric: Your Conversion Rates

According to Lee, the pivotal question is whether your customer conversions saw a tangible increase after the introduction of your new positioning. He suggests this is the key metric to success.

“The ultimate test of whether it’s working is conversion rates in the sales pitch. I.e did your customer conversions increase after you’ve introduced your new positioning? That’s the ultimate metric.

“You want to be able to say “This was our conversion rate, with sales team A”, and then after you’ve refreshed your positioning, and introduced a new sales pitch deck, you need to see whether your conversion rate increases by X amount of dollars, pounds, or euros. That's the ultimate guide.”


The Relationship Between Your Product Positioning and Sales Pitch Deck

Lee underscores the relationship between your product positioning and the sales pitch deck. Mere changes in positioning, without a corresponding adjustment in your sales pitch deck, will yield minimal impact.

Making sure both of these elements are aligned is crucial for successfully articulating your new positioning to potential customers.

If your conversion rate remains static despite changes, it could indicate either the copy is getting the main message across of your new positioning in the sales pitch deck or a misalignment of the positioning itself. In such cases, you should review and revise both aspects as soon as possible.


A Tactical Approach: Iterative Testing for You

Harvey suggests a prudent, low-risk approach to refining your product positioning by testing it with a select group of your customers. This provides you with the opportunity to gather valuable and insightful feedback so you can make adjustments until an optimised positioning is achieved.

“The best way to test it is through the sales pitch process. If you're going to change your positioning or refresh it,  I'd recommend trying it out on half a dozen customers first, getting some feedback, making it a sort of low-level iterative process, and keep iterating until you hit the jackpot and you can say, “Okay, this is as well optimised as it can be”, and then roll it out to the whole market.

“There are other ways that you can measure [the success of your product position], but in the B2B space and technical terms, if you're an organisation selling to other organisations, ultimately it comes down to sales conversions.”

This underscores sales conversions as the litmus test for your product positioning success as mentioned earlier. The dynamic interplay between your positioning, sales pitch deck, and ongoing testing forms the strategic blueprint for achieving optimal results in your competitive market landscape.


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How to Avoid Being Repositioned by Your Target Audience

As Microsoft geared up for the Xbox launch, it faced the formidable task of entering a gaming industry overshadowed by giants such as Sony and Nintendo, and it held its own. But it wasn’t without its struggles, with Lee shedding light on how Xbox's debut title, 'Halo,' inadvertently led gamers to reshape their perception of the console.

“For every two consoles sold, one would sell with a copy of Halo. It was an all-out action game, and although we had some great games, there wasn't another game from a sales point of view that touched it.

“After a year or two, the whole platform, not just the console, got repositioned by our customers. Even though positioning is all about intent, unless your positioning rings true and you deliver on it, you run the risk of being positioned differently.

“There was a perception that Xbox was about shooter games because that was what made up the majority of the portfolio. So, the key lesson is, no matter what your market intent, unless you deliver on that intent explicitly and consistently, you run the risk of being repositioned, either out of consideration or in the eyes of the target audience.”


Apply Lessons from Gaming to Refine Your Manufacturing Product Positioning

The lessons shared by Harvey extend beyond the video game industry; they’re equally applicable to your challenges in product positioning within manufacturing. For manufacturers, clarity and consistency are paramount to ensure your product is positioned as intended and resonates with your target audience.

Just as the gaming industry grapples with articulating a product's positioning in a fiercely competitive market, you face similar hurdles in manufacturing and must recognise that your audience's perception is shaped not only by your initial intent but also by the ongoing experience with your product.

The takeaways from Harvey reinforce that, in manufacturing, positioning isn't a one-time proclamation but an ongoing commitment.

In manufacturing, where products are complex, the leap from strategic positioning to effective articulation is a significant challenge. The parallels with the video game industry underscore the risk of falling short in this jump, where your intended message may not resonate due to technical nuances and the complexity of conveying your product's value.

The core message for you is clear: the journey from defining strategic positioning to conveying it through articulate messaging is a nuanced process. It demands a comprehensive and iterative approach, ensuring that your intended positioning is not lost in translation.

By learning from the lesson from the video game industry, you can fortify your position in competitive markets, ensuring that your product is received by your target audience with the intended clarity and consistency.

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