In “Predatory Thinking,” Dave Trott states the most important thing about marketing:
Because marketing, like war, is a zero-sum game. If you want something you have to take it from someone else. In order for someone to win, someone has to lose. Adam Morgan described it as “like a knife-fight in a phone box.”
Positioning is the art of defining how your business prospects feel and think about your competitors and your industry, and then identifying how you can beat those competitors by fulfilling needs they are specifically not meeting.
"Fight fire with fire" is the old cliché. But as the late Howard Gossage used to say, "That's silly. You fight fire with water." - Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind
The first step in a marketing or advertising plan, then, is to identify what the fire is, and if you have any water. And if not, how you can get it.
Because for you to win, somebody has to lose.
So, which of your competitors are going to lose, if you win? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. If you don’t know, you don’t have a plan, and you won’t succeed.
“But I don’t have any competitors,” you might say, “my product is new. It defines a new market.”
Your prospects will be spending time and/or money on your product and not spending it somewhere else, if you succeed. So where is that time or money coming from? That’s your competition.
Are you making a new app that defines a new market? Great. Where will the time and attention required to download and use it come from?
Are you marketing a new appliance for which there is no precedent? Great. Where will the money come from, which your prospects will use to buy your appliance?
More likely, though, you have a competitor that is currently marketing a similar product. But perhaps yours is “better”.
Well, that’s not enough.
"The first brand into the brain, on the average, gets twice the long-term market share of the No. 2 brand and twice again as much as the No. 3 brand." - Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind
If someone else does what you do, you’re probably already sunk. Unless you can effectively position yourself against that existing brand. Remember, as Claude C. Hopkins said, “People don't quit habits without a reason."
Your position is that reason.
So, how do you define your position? Use their existence in your prospect’s mind to your advantage.
When Steve Jobs picked a fight with Sun Microsystems when he was marketing NeXT*, it effectively positioned NeXT as a competitor to Sun, even though Sun was a much, much bigger and more successful company.
Remember when Ted Chaough from Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough tells the press he’s Don Draper’s biggest competitor in early seasons of Mad Men? He effectively positioned himself as a peer of Don’s even though he wasn’t even on the map. And it worked.
If you do the same with your product, you will position yourself against your competitor and raise yourself to their level, if successful.
“But doesn’t this paint a target on my back?” you might ask. Of course it does.
Marketing is a like a knife-fight in a phone box, remember. The key is to win.
In Part 2, we'll talk about how to do just that.
*In “Becoming Steve Jobs” the authors write about NeXT’s promotional video that pitted a programmer on a NeXT workstation against a programmer on a Sun Microsystems machine, to see who could complete a task faster. The NeXT programmer finished in time to play some games on his NeXT workstation. In the minds of their prospects they made themselves peers of Sun, even though they weren’t in the same league.