Marketing Is Persuasion

I briefly considered studying psychiatry when I started college, but I gave it up. I loved studying how people work. I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick. Why people make the decisions they make. But I wasn’t interested in treating sick patients, or helping people work through deep seated emotional issues.

Becoming a doctor who didn’t care about helping people seemed like a Bad Move.

So I studied journalism instead. I’ve never worked as a journalist, but I’m still interested in how people work.

At the highest level, marketing is about persuasion. I recently finished Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It’s a great book about the art of convincing other people to accept your ideas.

Positioning isn’t about how you describe your product. It’s about how your audience thinks about your product. Positioning starts with creating a space for your idea in the mind of your audience.

But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.

Positioning is rarely about reinventing the wheel. It’s about making a connection in someone’s mind. Often, this connection already exists. Your job is to rewire how an audience thinks about you or your product.

You have to crawl in there with a message your prospect will accept. You have to understand how your audience thinks about your market.

In other words, what condition is your position in? Side note: now I want to watch the Big Lebowski.

The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different. But to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind. To retie the connections that already exist.

But it’s not just about your message. Timing is just as important. The right message to the right prospect at the wrong time won’t work. And timing isn’t always about being first to market.

If a competitor has beaten you to market, you won’t get anywhere by acting like that competitor. Act like yourself. What sets you or your product apart? What makes you special?

How do you go against a company with a position like IBM? Well, first you have to recognize it. Then you don’t do the thing that too many people in the computer field try to do. Act like IBM.

Or like Apple. When I think of Apple, I also think of not-Apple. I think of Microsoft. I remember when Microsoft tried to act like Apple. With the Zune. With the Windows Phone.

What other positions does Microsoft hold in my mind? Unreliable hardware, clunky software, XBOX, Mountain Dew, and Doritos. I’ve been a Mac user for almost a decade now. Being a Mac user almost requires you to have some measure of distaste for Microsoft.

But then the Surface came along.

Friends of mine have Surfaces. I’ve seen them, and played with them a bit. It’s a combination tablet and laptop, and it feels great to use. It’s changed Microsoft’s position in my mind.

I’m no longer thinking of Microsoft as an opposite to Apple, or how glad I am I went with the PS4 instead of the XBOX One this console generation. Now when I think of Microsoft, I think of the Surface.

That’s how you succeed. That’s how you go up against the IBMs and the Apples of the world. You create a new position in which you can be first, and Microsoft has done it with the Surface.

Strangely enough, the new iPads look an awful lot like the Surface.

“Look for the hole” in the prospect’s mind is one of the best strategies in the field of marketing. Creneaus don’t have to be exciting or dramatic or even have much of a customer benefit to be effective.

Succeeding is a matter of finding gaps in the market, and establishing a position that hasn’t been filled.

Yet it’s more important in advertising to let prospects know what creneau you want to fill than it is to communicate some product benefit.

Volkswagen positioned itself as the “small car” company with its “Think small.” campaign. A smaller car wasn’t a benefit. Volkwagen ignored its obvious benefits, and focused instead on something remarkable. There wasn’t a hole in the automobile market for well-designed, efficient German engineering.

But in a market dominated by larger and larger cars, Volkswagen built a position for a smaller car. For something different. Julian Koenig wrote the copy for the “Think small.” campaign in 1959. This is how Volkswagen established a position for the Beetle when American cars were each bigger and louder than the last.

“Volkswagen: we’re smaller than GE cars,” is true, but boring. Advertising copy can’t afford to be boring.“Think small.” is a minor change in tone that conveys an entirely different meaning.

Imagine you’re living in America in the 1960s, and you see one of these ads. Then you see another, and another. Suddenly, Volkswagen has persuaded you that cars don’t have to be huge, gas-guzzling monstrosities.

In other words, the Beetle now has a position in your mind.

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.


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