In my view, there are two types of product positioning and differentiation: Push and Pull. Both have benefits and drawbacks:
Push assumes that you understand the market and your customers well enough that you can come up with some positioning that sets you apart from the competition. You have a vision and hypothesis about why you’re different and better, and you push that message to the masses, without extensive customer validation.
Pull implies that your customers tell you what features, functions, positioning, and messaging that they find most compelling. You use these “pulled” items as the crux of your messaging and positioning versus a hypothesis about the messaging and positioning that will resonate with a customer. This is how the Customer Development guys would argue that you should develop your messaging and positioning.
(1) Push = product vision. Pull = listening to customers.
(2) April Dunford: “I don’t think that it’s one or the other and done properly the first scenario turns into the second.”
(3) Finding the right mix of vision and listening is hard. It varies over time, and getting it wrong can lead to failure.