240: The Battle of Positioning, with April Dunford

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If we could convince our competitions to stop adapting and our customers to stop evolving we’d only ever have to position once.

April Dunford, CEO of Ambient Strategy, gives us a sneak peek for her upcoming talk at the Conquer Local conference! She goes over how to nail product positioning, when to reposition, and how to adapt positioning to the ever-changing marketing landscape. April shares two ways to think about positioning, from the perspective of the salesperson connecting with the SMB and from Saas companies to position themselves against their competitors. She provides insights on how to communicate what’s really special about a product/service and what a business can offer so they can standout in the crowd.

April Dunford is an executive consultant, speaker, and author who helps technology companies make complicated products easy for customers to understand and love. She is a globally recognized expert in Positioning and Market strategy. Previously, April has run marketing and sales teams at a series of successful technology startups and has launched 16 products into market.  She is also a board member, investor, and advisor to dozens of high-growth businesses and is the author of the upcoming book Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get it, Buy it, Love it.



George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local Podcast and we’re gonna talk all about how to nail product positioning, with the founder of Ambient Strategy, April Dunford. And April will be speaking at the upcoming Conquer Local Conference in San Diego, June 10th through 13th. Join us in a moment when we dig into all the things about marketing and product positioning with April, next. 

It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local Podcast and excited to bring you yet another speaker that is gonna be joining us at beautiful Hotel Coronado in San Diego, California. April Dunford is on the line. Hello, April.

April: Hello, how are you? It’s so great to be here.

George: I’m really good today. It’s a beautiful Canadian spring day and we are in…

April: Oh, my gosh. I’m in Canada too and it’s terrible. It’s freezing.

George: Sorry to hear that. Saskatoon has the good weather today. April, tell us about your company and a little bit about you and what we’re gonna hear from you at Conquer Local.

April: Sure. So, my background is I was a repeat Vice President of Marketing at a series of successful startups, seven of them, in fact. Six of those companies got acquired. So, I’ve worked at startups, I’ve worked at the bigger companies that bought us. And in the last couple of years, I’ve transitioned to more consulting work. And specifically, my area of specialization is positioning. And what I do is I work with companies and I help them figure out how to communicate what’s really special about their offerings so that they can stand out in the crowd from all of the copycat offerings that look exactly like them.


Sales and Marketing Are the House, Positioning Is the Foundation – Make It Strong

George: Well, you’ve hooked me. It’s a fantastic topic because as salespeople, that’s our audience on the Conquer Local Podcast, is local salespeople, getting in front of that customer and telling a compelling story and positioning the products and solutions that they have properly is core to their success.

April: It’s so core. The way I describe positioning is, if sales and marketing is the house, then positioning is the foundation that the house is built on. So, you can do all the fancy stuff you want with the house, but if the foundation is weak then the house is gonna fall over. So, we really need to get the positioning strong and straight before we start building marketing and sales tactics on top of that thing.

George: It’s a great analogy because homes are only as strong as their foundations. So, Ambient Strategy is your firm that you’re doing this consulting work. What would a typical client of yours look like?

April: For the most part, I work with technology companies. It’s kind of my background is tech. So, I work a lot with early-stage startups that are just getting started. A lot of them have complicated products, some of them have products that seem very simple but are actually quite complex, and some of them it’s the opposite. They have very complex offerings that are pretty simple once you get your head around them. So, most of the time I’m working with companies like that, but I have a smattering of clients kind of across… You know, I have some bigger companies I’m working with that they’ve done an acquisition or they’ve done something that really shifts the way they wanna position the company. And then I have some smaller companies that are outside of tech that work in super competitive industries and they wanna figure out a way to really make their secret sauce or the special thing they can do, really shine and make that obvious for their customers. So, that’s who I work with.


The Only Constant Is Change: Positioning Should Follow

George: Is positioning a thing that you do at the beginning? Is it a thing that you do a couple of times in your life cycle as a business? Tell me about positioning and when we need to be thinking about it.

April: I’ll tell you, it is a constant battle. I think it never ends. If our markets were stagnant, like, if we can convince all of our competitors to just stay the same and our customers to just stay the same and everything to stay the same, then we could just do positioning once and we wouldn’t have to change it. The problem is, is that we do positioning by looking at, this is our secret sauce because we win over our competitors in this way for these reasons. And then we’ll work on the positioning around that. But the problem is, your competitors change, the market landscape is changing, the attitudes and preferences of buyers change, sometimes in response to the changing landscape. But sometimes it’s things like the economy, or regulations change, or rules change, and all of a sudden everything’s different and then we have to come back and reposition. So, I’ve had companies, like, I had a startup that I worked at 20 years ago and went on to get acquired. And if you look at that product, the positioning is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago, hasn’t changed. And it still works. It’s a billion dollar business today. I’ve had other ones where we positioned it and the positioning was so good, we were so proud of ourselves. And six months later, a great big competitor moved into our market and whoops, nope, now it’s not good. Now we had to go back and change it and we repositioned it twice in a year. So, it really depends on the changes in your market and the changes the way your buyers think. But it is a thing that you need to do it and then you need to keep your eye on it because at any moment it could shift.

George: So, that’s really interesting. When I think about the local salespeople and our audience, and then I think about the businesses that they serve. Do you think there’s an opportunity for those local sales reps to bring some of your positioning into their conversations with those customers to say, “Your marketing is good, but we need to really be looking at your positioning.” Is it something that can be used that way as a tactic to help deliver local marketing solutions?

April: Well, I think there’s two ways to think about it. So, one is, if your business is delivering marketing solutions, absolutely, the customers need to have strong positioning and you need to help them with strong positioning because the output of your marketing effort is only gonna be as good as the positioning that underpins it. So, even though you might be doing beautiful marketing and executing on that perfectly, if the positioning underneath it is weak, then it’s not gonna be successful even though you executed it perfectly. So, that’s one way that I think is important. The other thing is that you as a services-based business and you’re out trying to sell these services to people, how are you differentiating from all the other businesses that sell similar services? And that comes down to positioning as well, which is really, you know, what do we do that’s different and better than the other folks our customers could buy from? And are we making that clear when our salespeople are going in and pitching to clients? 


Obviously Awesome Tips to Follow

George: Boy, you know what I think is needed is a book on how you could help people with product positioning. What do you think of that idea?

April: It’s funny you say that because I have one of those. Yeah. So, no. This book is a bit of a labor of love. It’s been a couple of years, I’ve been working through a methodology. So, one of the very frustrating things for me as a marketer across my whole career is that there was never an accepted methodology for doing positioning. And this drove me bananas. And so, as an executive moving through company after company, I developed my own methodology and then, later on, I started teaching that methodology. Like, I was doing a regular class at university, I worked with a couple of startup incubators, and I was doing workshops and classes. And so eventually I got this methodology that I feel works very well. And then switching into consulting, I was then testing it out on my clients. And so now I have this methodology which is like step one, do this. Step two, do that. Step three, do that. It was a difficult thing to come up with, and I decided I should document this thing and put it down on a book. And then if anybody wants to know how to do it, here you are for the price of a couple of coffees, you can buy the eBook of this thing and it’ll teach you everything you need to know that took me decades to figure out.

George: So, the title of the book is “Obviously Awesome.”

April: It’s “Obviously Awesome.”

George: And you’re going to be bringing it to Conquer Local.

April: I am. I am. Yeah. So the book is called “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It.” Yeah. And it’s in preorders now and it’ll be out May 14th, I think, we start shipping actual books. So, yeah. I’m pretty excited about it.

George: Now, that’s excellent. We are going to put the link and the website URL inside the documentation for this episode so people can find that information there. I encourage you to pick up the book. Let’s talk about Conquer Local and what people can expect from your presentation that you’re gonna give.

April: Yeah. So, what I wanna do in the presentation is give people a little bit of a flavor of my thinking around positioning and I’m gonna give them an overview of the methodology. So, the presentation sort of starts with this is how you would figure out whether or not your positioning is weak, which is sort of the first thing you need to do. And then if you do decide the positioning is not as strong as it could be, here are the steps you would actually go through to fix it. And then I’m gonna give a handful of examples of, you know, companies where the positioning was weak, how we worked through changing it, and what it looked like afterwards, and then what the impact of that was on their business. So, that’s the talk.

George: Well, I’m really looking forward to it. And we appreciate having you on the podcast today. I am a big believer in positioning, that it can help salespeople in telling that important value story to their prospects.

April: For sure.



George: And I’m looking forward to learning more about your take on positioning when we see each other at Conquer Local. In fact, it’s a great place for an ad right now to say, if you haven’t got your tickets, please get them at conquerlocal.com, and you’ll be able to see April on the big stage, deliver her message around product positioning. Thanks for joining us, April. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

April: Thank you. I’m so excited. Can’t wait.

George: Well, I kind of led April down the path of where I was hoping she would go and that was, you’re never done positioning your product and you’re never done pivoting because everything is changing. The market is changing, conditions are changing, competitors are changing, and maybe you’re coming up with new ways to present your product or service. And that’s all in that positioning. I’m a big believer in it. We call it the talk track, or the story, or the vignette. It’s called a number of different things, but it is a key tenant to marketing. It’s interesting that April wasn’t really able to find a methodology until she built her own and she definitely has the pedigree working in those various organizations. She didn’t cover it in the episode, but in our research, we found she’d launched 16 new products throughout her career. So, she definitely understands product positioning. The book, “Obviously Awesome,” and you could tell she’s got a ton of energy. We’re looking forward to seeing April on the big stage at Conquer Local, June 10th through 13th.

We’re always looking for your feedback, and your comments, and your suggestions. You can leave them at LinkedIn/georgeleith. And we’re checking that thing on an ongoing basis. Thanks to Dave, and Todd, and Brent, who all left us comments here in the last couple of weeks about the podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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