Positioning Your Product: What is Relevant to Your Customers?

Update 1/8/2012: Times reports a study that found frequent use of tanning beds affects brain activity.

Medical researchers, dermatologists and FDA have been worried about the dangers  of frequent tanning salon visits. FDA estimates that people who begin using indoor tanning before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75%.

To these stakeholders, which one of the two side-effects of indoor tanning would be the worst case scenario and hence worth putting their de-marketing dollars behind?

  1. Getting skin cancer
  2. Getting wrinkles

It would appear it is skin cancer message.

Now consider the target customer segment – young women who are not satisfied with their appearance, want to look attractive and “hire tanning salons to improve their skin tone”. Which one of the above two outcome would connect with them?

In the research published in the recent issue of Archives of Dermatology, researchers found that,

They’re not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive

It is not a surprise that to the segment that hired the product to make them attractive, a message that the product does not really do the job well will connect better*. This might sound like hindsight bias but the study’s hypothesis included appearance focused messaging and the experiment verified the hypothesis.

Positioning is finding out what is relevant to your customers and what job they are hiring for and applying for it. This is something easy to overlook when we see products as a portfolio of features, results of our superior innovation and R&D and not as means to deliver benefits to our customers.

Even the biggest names in marketing (P&G)  have tripped up on this. In her book Soap Opera, WSJ reporter Alicia Swasey wrote about P&G’s  failure with their pain reliever Encaprin (Have you heard of it?), an innovative drug that was easy on the stomach.

P&G chose to highlight easy on the stomach message, but to its customers pain relief was more important than stomach comfort. P&G pulled the drug after poor performance.

It does not matter what message you think is important to your customers. The message has to be validated with your customers.

Do you know what is relevant to your customers?
Do you practice customer driven product development?

*Footnote: In the tanning salon case, there is availability bias among the young women. They see wrinkled skins around them more often and may assign higher likelihood and weight than they do to skin cancer.