Understand What Products Customers are Buying

To apply either positioning or USP correctly, look from the customers’ viewpoint. That is, what are they buying, not what are you selling.


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The whole process of positioning, a term coined by Al Ries and Jack Trout more than 25 years ago, requires that you understand what the customer is buying. Pre-dating positioning is Rosser Reeves’ Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is another way of describing the “what.” However, to apply either positioning or USP correctly, look from the customers’ viewpoint. That is, what are they buying, not what are you selling.

Well-positioned products or services take advantage of this understanding. You can’t effectively position your shop without a thorough understanding of what the customer can buy from you that they can’t buy elsewhere. Because, as Mr. Ries and Mr. Trout point out, you don’t position a product, you position the prospect or customer’s mind. Or, as Jeff Krawitz, a marketing professor at NYU, puts it, “The ultimate result of the total marketing effort is the position created in the target customer’s mind.” And, by the way, it is much easier to take advantage of ideas that are already in those minds than to try to change those minds. In other words, changing the positioning of a shop is a lot harder than leveraging the position it already holds.

So, it becomes critical for you to understand “what” from the customers’ perspective. Trying for the first time to understand the customers’ view of “what” may best be discovered by interviewing them.

I recommend the following one-on-one interview approach. While it can be done by a senior person from your company who is skilled at interviewing, it may be best done by an outside, professional firm. Sure, this is self-serving to me as a consultant. But the reality is the “truth” you need in this initial process is difficult to gather on your own for a couple of reasons: The customer is less likely to tell you the whole truth; and even if they do, you may know too much, and you are likely to say at some point to the customer, “yeah, but ... ,” and once you do that, the interview is over.

So, how should the survey go about discovering “what?” First, it’s important to survey three categories of customers: Those who buy from you today; those who used to buy from you and don’t anymore, but still buy similar services from another shop; and those who have never bought from you before, but appear to buy something similar.

By interviewing these three categories of customers, you can learn the real difference between you and your so-called competitors. Your current customers—at least those who are happy—usually can describe “what” they’re buying from you.

Your former customers left for a reason, right or wrong. What did they want to buy that they couldn’t buy from you? Did they find it? By talking with these former customers, you can gain a better understanding of how you are truly different from the other shops in the market.

Your “not yet” (or recently lost bids) customers are shopping elsewhere for a good reason: They want to buy something you don’t provide. Or, they buy from others for a bad reason; they want what you provide and don’t know you provide it.

If they don’t want what you provide, they are correct in not buying from you. If they don’t know what you provide, and if they did they would want to buy it, then the question is, “Why are they misinformed?” It could be because they have not seen or heard your message and simply don’t know about you. If this is the case, more advertising and promotion could lead to increased business for your shop. If, on the other hand, they have seen your advertising and promotion and have been misled by it to believe incorrectly about your capabilities, more advertising will have a negative effect on sales.

Aside from helping you to further understand your valuable difference in the market, this third, “not yet,” group can help you to know what, if anything, to do more or differently with your advertising and promotion spending. If most of the people who don’t buy from you don’t buy for the right reasons, more advertising won’t fix that.

The bottom line is, find out “what” from your customers’ perspective before you attempt to create your USP or positioning statement. n
For more information about low cost tools for interviewing, visit marketingtools.com.