What Tesla Can Teach Us About Positioning Our Products

by Sean Boyce
tesla store outside product positioning

Marketing for your product is powerful and critical for success, but it isn’t easy.

Finish this phrase — “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s….”.

Sorry for that, if it’s any consolation that jingle is now stuck in my head too. However, you get my point — marketing is powerful and what is marketing to a product business — product positioning.

Has your product business struggled with any of the following?

Differentiating your product.

People see your product as a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have.

Prospective customers don’t seem to be taking your product seriously.

If you have, you’re not alone. These are common challenges for product businesses in the area of product positioning.

A great example of a rags to riches product positioning story is the electric car.

For demonstration purposes, I’m going to pick on the first generation Honda Insight from 1999. This beauty (sarcasm) was every bit the spaceship looking thing people didn’t want to be caught dead in at the time. It was slow, impractical and lacked even the slightest bit of sex appeal. As you can imagine, the Insight didn’t sell very well and was eventually discontinued (largely for these reasons).

So where did the Insight go wrong?

Well, it wasn’t just the Insight, but really all attempts at bringing the electric vehicle to mass market around that time. The product positioning was all wrong. At the time, gas was cheap and fuel economy wasn’t a major concern for consumers. However, that didn’t stop the Insight and others from marketing around this ‘nice-to-have’ value proposition. The product positioning was way off.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why previous attempts at electric vehicles all had to look like spaceships. Never once in my life did someone tell me, “I really want a car that looks like it came from an alien planet”. Well this didn’t stop all electric vehicles at the time from competing in some form of a secret “ugliest car” competition. Yet again, another example of completely missing the market and positioning the product all wrong. There has always been strong evidence that people gravitate towards cars that people think are pleasing to look at. These cars were very much not that.

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However, this story has a happy ending. For anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock for the last decade, one company has changed pretty much everything we thought we knew about electric vehicles. The company in question is of course Tesla and their product positioning is rock solid.

What can we learn from Tesla that will help us better position our products for success?

Position your product in a way that captures attention in a big way

The electric car didn’t need to be slow, impractical and ugly. These were strategic decisions made early on in the development of the product. Tesla came along and decided to change all of that and lots of happy customers are glad that they did.

Pretty much since forever, people have cared greatly about performance. Whether it is the car in your driveway or the vacuum cleaner in your living room, a very common question people ask about a new product is — “how well does it perform?”.

The electric car has certain mechanical properties that can actually make it much faster than a gas powered vehicle. Tesla took advantage of this fact and positioned their product around it. Even pitting it against the most popular and powerful gas powered vehicles at the time in various races — and winning. As you can imagine, people started to pay attention.

They fixed countless other positioning mistakes made by the previous generation of electric vehicles. Namely, the cars Tesla produces are sexy and practical. They have tons of features you can only get in a Tesla. They’ve made it quite difficult on their competitors and they continue to do so to this day.

Take from these lessons and make sure your product gives people what they want. You have to start somewhere, but be ready to focus on the best your product has to offer in a way that makes your customer care — a lot.

Want to know how to increase the demand for your product through an exercise in positioning? Let’s talk it through, email me at sean@nxtstep.io or visit us on the web at NxtStep.

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