Posted by: kevinliebl | May 10, 2010

Over-Positioning – “It’s Both a Dessert Topping and a Floorwax!”

As a marketing executive for technology companies, I have spent a lot of time dealing with product positioning and messaging.  It is always an interesting exercise to attempt to combine the views of engineering, sales, marketing, the executive team and various corporate “visionaries” to come up with product positioning.  Companies will often treat the process as a funnel by taking all of the input, merging it together and then trying to keep everyone happy by taking a piece of each.  The result can often be an incoherent mess of buzz-words that ultimately communicates nothing useful at all.  We often joke about the “feature-rich”, “world-class”, “industry-leading” widgets that are creating a “market paradigm-shift”, blah, blah blah…  The video below is a humorous example.

Rule #1 – Keep the messaging simple and focused – avoid buzz-words.

Other times, there will be conflicting views within the company where two strong personalities will try to drive a product line in two different directions.  It may be two different (and often conflicting) value propositions, two different channels of distribution or simply two different product roadmaps. If you want to penetrate two markets with two different value propositions, then create two product lines.

Rule #2 – Products need to have a singular message.
They simply can’t be both a “floor wax” and a “dessert topping”.

It's a dessert topping, not it's a floor wax!

Shimmer Floor Wax

Click Here to Watch the Shimmer Floor Wax Commercial

While both of these videos are comedy parodies, there are plenty or real-world examples that are almost as dramatic.

The most important discussion to have is to determine “what market requirement are we trying to satisfy?”  While this sounds like a very simple task, you would be surprised how many sales and marketing executives cannot answer this simple question.  Typically, the product messaging and product lines themselves have become so complex by adding new features and enhancements, that the current offering is a blurred mess of functionality.  However, if you step away from the product and look at the customer requirement, you can focus the features on key requirements that customers will spend money on.

I always like to use the “cold-sweat” test.  Ask yourself the question – “What is it that is keeping your customer awake at night?”  What causes them to wake up in the middle of the night in a “cold-sweat”?  If you can solve that problem, then they will buy your product.  Create the right product/market alignment and your messaging will follow.  Describe how you solve the customer’s problem in: 1) Simple English without buzz-words; and 2) Keep it focused on a single message.

Are you trying to sell both a floor-wax and a dessert topping?  Maybe it is time to stop…


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  1. Kevin,

    Thanks for the excellent blog on product over positioning … This is exactly what i say to my team of Product Marketing, Product management and CTO.


  2. Good post. I think the cleaner the message the easier it is for people to relate the need to the product.

  3. Another great post, Kevin, and inspired videos to illustrate the point. (Turbo Encabulator was new to me.) As a writer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told someone’s “solution” is a “one-stop shop” and expected to cram at least 11 pounds of crap in a 10-pound sack. Focus, focus, focus!

  4. Thanks again Kevin, your shared insights are always spot on and exceptional!

  5. Interesting post and, as usual Kevin, great links. You manage to dig up very cool visuals! My whole approach to product messaging was turned on its head after reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Your post says strip it down, simply and focus. In other words, what’s the point and why does it matter? Everything else is just so much white noise.

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