April Dunford and Obviously Awesome.
Scared to learn how positioning can make your instructional products awesome? You should be – it’s not what you thought!
You know your product is awesome – but does anyone else? If the answer is no, then you need to forget everything you thought you knew about positioning. That’s according to April Dunford. Sound scary? You bet. But it’s not about following trends or comparing yourself to the competition to attract the widest customer base. Fortunately, April Dunford in her new book, Obviously Awesome shows you how. In a step by step process, April demonstrates how to find your “secret sauce” and sell it. So, everyone else will get to know your product is Obviously Awesome.
How I Found April Dunford
I found April Dunford first on Twitter. And it was posts like this one on entrepreneurship and market segmentation that caught my attention. Since then I’ve followed April and have always enjoyed her sense of humour. And her no-nonsense way of describing positioning.
When she posted on her blog that the “positioning statement sucks” and a 5 step exercise to do positioning instead, I was already interested.
Positioning and Instructional Design
Positioning is an important part of product management but is often glossed over or tacked on at the end. As instructional designers, we can relate. Often people think of training as the last step in business processes. But the reality is that positioning (and training) is an integral part of the design. It’s not an afterthought.
For example, in the tech industry (where we have many clients), the “positioning statement” is the norm. It’s a standard formula used to structure the “who/what/why” of a product or service. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come across authentically. Often, it’s a bit formulaic or glib. So, when April Dunford’s book, arrived and raised serious questions about positioning statements, I was intrigued.
A Synopsis of Obviously Awesome by April Dunford
Obviously Awesome starts by explaining positioning – and that the context is important.
“If you’re a baker making bread, you’re a baker. If you make the best bread in the world, you’re not an artist, but if you bake the bread in the gallery, you’re an artist. So, the context makes the difference.” Marina Abramovic quote from Obviously Awesome.
Next, the book describes the five (plus 1) components of effective positioning. April Dunford then walks the reader through a ten-step process to uncover your positioning, which takes up the majority of the book.
The book is very well written. It provides the process and how to apply it. And real-life examples throughout the book explain April Dunford’s positioning process clearly. The use of quotes reinforces important aspects Obviously Awesome is communicating to the reader. The humdrum topic of positioning is humdrum no more.
My Context When Reading April Dunford’s book
The Obviously Awesome process for product positioning is targeted mainly for start-up technology companies. But it seemed flexible and adaptable to many different applications. One of the goals I had when reading April Dunford’s book was to see how the framework might apply outside of the tech industry.
I wanted to know if other product companies could apply the framework to position their products? Does it matter if you are making bamboo shoes or enterprise software? Most importantly for me, could it apply to instructional products?
When reading April Dunford’s book, I thought about a variety of contexts to consider.
At Spark + Co, we help organizations who have knowledge or skills and we turn that into a course for them. Sometimes this is for an extra revenue stream, or to change behaviour. Or, it can be a companion to support the use of a core product they sell. Could April Dunford’s positioning process apply in this context too?
Applying April Dunford’s Positioning Process to Instructional Products
At Spark + Co., one of the services we offer is to develop custom instructional products, or courses. These are often sold, or provided, by our clients, to their customers. For example, one of our clients had a school program offered for free. For several years, facilitators would lead sessions in the classroom with students. Since the schools couldn’t afford to pay the cost, our client each year would secure grants to pay the facilitators. But the model was not sustainable, or scalable. So, we helped our client get a “capacity-building grant” to support the development of a new business model.
In our work with them, we changed their business model in a few ways. Firstly, we un-bundled the program materials from the facilitation skills. Our client now sells facilitation skills training to anyone who works with youth. Secondly, this training is now online. And offered through a blended model with some on-demand eLearning, and some live, or virtual instruction. Thirdly, they also sell the program materials to schools or community groups. These are distributed electronically. Finally, they now also offer an extra module for those who want to become a certified facilitator.
In developing our courses, we take a product approach. Rather than just develop a training course. Instead, we develop an instructional product. But what does that mean? Well, for example, we work with our clients to identify
- a target market
- pricing, and
- marketing campaigns
This product approach means we need to guide our clients through product-market fit activities, and then develop the course (instructional product) itself.
Below we’ve taken the steps in the April Dunford process and applied them to our instructional product context.
Competitive Alternatives in the April Dunford Process
Often our clients struggle to identify the problem it is they are solving with their product. Too much of the time they focus on the content of their course. Asking April’s question “What would your customer use if your solution didn’t exist?” is a great exercise for our clients to undertake when creating an instructional product.
In the example of revamping a school program, what are the competitive alternatives? In this case, instructors would use public workshops or professional seminars. Or they might not use anything and muddle through themselves without any training.
At Spark + Co., we often use a ‘feature comparison’ with the competition. This is to tease out the unique combination of attributes that our clients’ solutions provide. April’s emphasis on focusing on the objective facts and attributes is helpful. Rather than what we perceive are valuable attributes
“Your own opinion of your own strengths is irrelevant without proof”, April Dunford, Obviously Awesome
A great question April asks is “Do your competitors’ products require training and your product doesn’t?” In our case, we change it a little and ask the following question. “Is there a feature of your product where training would help it become a unique attribute in the mind of your customers?” Or we could ask “Does your training product get people to a higher level of skill? Or in a shorter time, than your competitors’ offering?”
In our example, one of the unique attributes is the facilitation skills are now transferable across programs. Currently, this is unique. As well, the program focuses on developing a connection with youth and can be used in groups or one-on-one situations. And across many topic areas.
For our clients, we often remind them to think beyond the content in their course. In training, we refer to it as the ‘what’s in it for me (the trainee)’. It’s a distinction we need to make. It’s not what they are going to learn, it’s what they will do with the knowledge that is important. Or how others will perceive them with this new learning or certification.
Identifying how the instructional product can add value to their customer is key. For customer education (e.g. to support a core product) the value is often lower support costs. Or increased customer utility of the product, and an increase in brand value of the product. A great training course should enhance the product in the eyes of our clients’ customers.
Whereas for a stand-alone instructional product (which is core to the organization’s offering), the value can be in generating revenue. Or opening up new markets, and conveying increased market leadership.
Our approach to training is very focused on adding value to the end-user. And adding value to our clients’ product. Teasing out the value to the end-user can significantly help in developing an instructional product.
In our example, classroom teachers can use it to help with classroom management. Often a significant challenge in their daily teaching. With other professions, it can make their work more rewarding. And it also can make them more employable.
While facilitation skills support youth workers in rural and remote communities. Who are currently underserved. So now, being online, it’s very convenient to take the course. And the course is offered more frequently, giving participants more choice.
Who Cares A Lot?
In this step, April Dunford’s process is very insightful. Using the best-fit customer, rather than all customers, also applies to an instructional product. We always encourage our clients to develop a persona to identify their ideal customer. While there’s a tendency to want to appeal to a broad range, a narrow fit is more likely to “land”.
In our example, people in mission-driven organizations working with youth, who are in rural or remote communities, care a lot.
Market Category (Frame of Reference)
This is the step in the April Dunford process, that I’ve found to be the hardest to identify for instructional products. And in many ways, it depends on the specifics of the course. As well as the current positioning of our client. Yet, April’s section on Market Category is going to be the most important as we think about the instructional products we develop.
In our example, we decided on youth facilitation skills, as the market category. Do you agree? Or would you suggest something else? We’d love to get your thoughts.
Relevant Trends – the Last Step in the April Dunford Process
With some of our clients, it’s clear that there is urgency supporting the roll-out of an instructional product. But for many, it’s not clear, and for some the urgency the client feels, isn’t felt by their potential customer.
In our youth facilitation skills example, relevant trends that help support the roll-out of the program
- are the increase in remote working, and
- the Covid-19 pandemic and how social distancing has created an increasing trend towards online courses.
In Summary – April Dunford and Obviously Awesome
April Dunford’s book Obviously Awesome is certainly that! It takes a traditional marketing topic and provides a new perspective on positioning and how to do it right. Not only that but April Dunford does it in a clear, fun, and engaging way. This is an easy read but packed with lots of thoughtful insight that can be practically applied. And it applies in a variety of sectors.
At Spark + Co., we are using the Obviously Awesome process that April Dunford has created. They are helping improve the instructional products and eLearning courses we create. If you’re not convinced to go and buy the book yet then here’s a great talk by April Dunford to further whet your appetite.