Part 7 – The “UNLIKE [the primary alternative]” element from the positioning statement

Spot the differenceThe Primary Competitor or Alternative

I’ve been looking at the positioning statement In this series of blogs.  This entry will focus on the UNLIKE [the primary alternative or competitor] element.

So just to recap here we’re constructing a natural language statement that captures a number of key strategic marketing positioning elements.  This particular element in the positioning statement above is where the ideal customer’s alternative to our product is defined.

First let’s see this element in the context of the complete positioning statement.

FOR [the ideal customer] WHO [has this specific pain or problem] OUR [product name] IS A[product category] THAT PROVIDES [this main benefit and reason to buy] UNLIKE [the primary alternative or competitor] OUR PRODUCT [has this unique selling proposition].

Whilst this sounds straightforward – “It’s just the number one competitor, right?”, it actually requires a fair bit of thought, analysis, and planning.  This element effectively recognises that the ideal client has a choice as to how they will go about solving their problem.  The primary alternative from the ideal client’s perspective is captured in this element.

Unlike and Our Product pairingIn my experience this element is nearly always paired with the OUR PRODUCT element that follows it in the positioning statement.  The combination allows the UNLIKE element to define the primary alternative or competitor and the following OUR PRODUCT element outlines the Unique Selling Proposition benefits that differentiates “our product” versus the primary alternative.

For example:

UNLIKE alternative approaches to managing risk OUR PRODUCT not only manages risk but also reduces your corporate governance budget by up to 15%.

This example assumes that the ideal client believes that they have a number of “alternative approaches to managing risk” we then go on to differentiate ourselves versus these alternative approaches.

I have seen and used many different approaches for this element and it is critical to understand who or what we need to be “better than”, or at least “different from” to convince the prospect to put their business with us.  The key question to ask here is:

What does my ideal client perceive as their primary alternative (to my product) to solve their pain, need or desire?

This is key question.  Many mistakes that I see in competitive marketing start by getting the perspective wrong here.  It is critical to think from the prospect’s perspective and not from one’s own organisation’s perspective.  Many marketing organisations typically think:

  • “who do we compete with here?”
  • “who has the largest market share?”
  • “who has a product that is most similar to ours?”
  • “who do the analysts think we compete with?”

Each of these approaches is internally-focussed and whilst answering them will certainly help with competitive marketing, the answer might not be that important to the ideal client.

Approaches that I’ve used or seen for this element include:

  • A key competitor
  • A key competitive product
  • A number of key competitors (it’s better to have a single defined alternative)
  • A key category of competitor
  • Other vendors’ approach in the same market category
  • An alternative approach to solving the problem
  • Inaction – i.e. doing nothing


  • UNLIKE ACME Corp…. (key competitor)
  • UNLIKE ACMEProTurbo… (key competitive product)
  • UNLIKE ACME Corp and XYZ Inc…. (multiple key competitors)
  • UNLIKE relational database vendors…. (a key category of competitor)
  • UNLIKE other cloud computing vendors…. (other vendors’ approach in the same market category)
  • UNLIKE using spreadsheets to manage data…. (an alternative approach)
  • UNLIKE outsourcing your data management needs…. (an alternative approach)
  • UNLIKE managing information manually as you’ve always done…. (inaction – doing nothing)

Real world example

(This section for those interested in the SOA and ESB market only…)  In this series I’ve used an example positioning statement from Microsoft’s go to market strategy for their ESB product.  Here I’ve used our REPAMA methodology to reverse-engineer the positioning statement for Microsoft’s ESB Guidance product from their outbound marketing communications, Microsoft apparently perceives the primary alternative to be:

UNLIKE traditional ESBs…

So Microsoft is using the “other vendors’ approach in the same market category” strategy listed above.  This suggests that Microsoft believes that their prospect’s primary alternative lies with other ESBs and also that there is something about Microsoft’s approach to the ESB category that sets it apart from “traditional” ESBs.

So being clear about the primary alternative or competitor is important as is thinking from the prospect’s perspective and not from the organisation’s.  That is the UNLIKE element covered and in the final blog entry in this series I’ll be looking at the “OUR PRODUCT [has this unique selling proposition] element.  <More information can be found in the Lustratus REPAMA Guide here>

Danny Goodall.

It should be borne in mind that Lustratus’ focus is on the high-tech software industry and whilst positioning as a concept will transfer to just about any business to business industry, many of the classifications we use assume that we’re dealing with a technical audience for infrastructure software.  So please bear that in mind for your own industry.

Whilst I couldn’t find any reference to restrictions on the use of the Spot The Difference caption used in this blog entry, I wanted to ensure I provided a link back to its original location.

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