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"I Don't Understand How to Position My Product with a Strong Image."


Positioning: How to take Market Share by
Creating Fear and Doubt
by Dr. Gary Witt

Up against a dominant company or product? You can take market share from it with Perceptual Positioning.

  Buyers usually rank products and service vendors. One way to move up in ranking is to create fear and doubt about your competition. How? Find their weakness in the minds of buyers. It may be small, but it's there. Look for a problem it causes buyers. It may be physical or mental.

  Start your ads by hitting this problem. Create a fear response. Then offer your product: same high quality, but without the problems. Look for niches you can create, then claim the #1 position. Don't give up. Positioning takes time.

You've developed a new widget. What do you do? If you're like most businesses, you tell customers about the remarkable features of your widget. But is that the best strategy?

 Often it isn't. When you are fighting for market share, especially against a dominant company or product, a different strategy may lead to better results. That strategy is "perceptual positioning." It's a key part of a good Psychological Marketing Strategy.

  Ask the average person what kind of personal computer is the best, and most will respond "IBM." Ask about the best luxury car, most will say Mercedes or BMW. Ask about the best hospital, many will say Mayo or Johns Hopkins. These companies have created an image of high quality in the minds of consumers. Some images are so strong that even the use of the name with other products connotes quality, such as "The Cadillac of razors."

We all apply some sort of rough mental ranking to products. Most consumers will only rank two or three products, grouping all the others together at the bottom as also-rans (not a place you want to be!) People's perception of the best brands may have little to do with which are actually the best, or which sell the best.

Any brand which is ranked by buyers in the top few spots has a huge advantage, because people and business customers naturally want to buy the best they can afford. To rank higher, one effective type of Perceptual Positioning strategy uses an aggressive approach to dominant brands. For example, tea ads could attack coffee's higher caffeine content.

To gain the advantage of high rank, you must first climb the buyer's mental ladder -- replacing brands above you to do it. How? Here are two great examples of this type of perceptual positioning.

Listerine dominated the mouthwash market when Scope was introduced. The ads could have said, "Scope stops bad breath," a claim already used by Listerine. Instead, Scope focused not on the consumer problem which it cured, but on the problem its competitor created for Listerine buyers -- antiseptic smelling breath. Remember the slogan "medicine breath"? It made Scope a powerhouse, and destroyed two competing brands of mouthwash!

Smell was the one vulnerable spot Listerine had -- and the company ignored that weakness! Scope wisely positioned itself in the minds of consumers as the "sweet breath" mouthwash. Lesson: Look for a problem which your competitor's product or service causes the buyer, and attack it.

Tylenol used the same "perceptual positioning" strategy when it was an unknown pain killer in a marketplace dominated by Bayer aspirin. Tylenol didn't simply claim to "stop headache pain," since Bayer owned that position. Instead it found a small weakness -- many aspirin users complained about stomach irritation. Tylenol ads aroused buyers' fear of irritation and "hidden stomach bleeding" to take millions of dollars from Bayer.

Lesson: Think of your dominant competitor as a large castle. Rather than making a frontal attack (the "me, too" approach), look for the small door around back that's been left unguarded.

Here are some basic steps to develop a perceptual positioning strategy:

(1) Analyze your chief competitor's product for some "back door" vulnerability which your product doesn't have. It can be almost anything. A pizza maker attacked "store-bought" pizzas with an ad stating they contained "casein -- an ingredient in glue!"

 Stolichnaya Russian vodka ads emphasized its competitors' vodkas were manufactured in the U.S. By revealing its competitors' U.S. origins, Stoli made many consumers feel they were getting an inferior product -- just because it wasn't real Russian vodka -- like Stoli!

Most attack ads simply point out a fact consumers may have overlooked. ("Did you know that....?") Most take a concerned, matter-of-fact approach. Some of the most successful deliver the knock-out punch with humor. Remember the famous "Where's the Beef" ads used by Wendy's to position itself effectively against McDonalds? Wendy's used an old lady with a memorable voice who searched under hamburger buns and asked, "Where's the beef?" to convince consumers that Wendy's offered a better deal on its hamburgers.

(2) Look at these potential vulnerabilities of your competitor's product from the viewpoint of your target consumer. Ask yourself: "Could this problem create a ‘fear' in consumers which they would seek to ease by using an alternate brand?"

To knock a competing brand off the rung above you, don't just compare -- Take the Offensive. You're trying to take a competing brand's place on the ladder INSIDE the consumer's mind. You can't be "just as good." You've must find a way to seem "better" in the buyer's mind.

(3) Create marketing messages which begin by emphasizing the problem your competitor's product causes. Prilosec, the new kid on the block of stomach acid medicines, began by attacking category leader TAGAMET by reminding readers that the current crop of remedies often seem weak. But Prilosec is the answer to that problem! Find the problem caused by your competitor's product, remind readers about it, then (and only then) show them your product solves that problem.

 The problem may be physical, social, psychological, etc. People always care what others think about them, so a social approach is often effective. For example, Scope ads began with people talking about a Listerine user as "old medicine breath" behind his back.

 Your ads should make readers or viewers FEEL uncomfortable for using that product or service. You can create this feeling in consumers even if they never thought about the problem before, especially with a social problem. Many people never gave a thought to "medicine breath," or "ring around the collar," or smelly feet until repeated viewings of TV ads made them aware of it as a problem!

(4) After creating "fear and doubt" in the buyer's mind, reveal your product, which does everything its competitor does -- but without the problems. The end of every Scope ad basically said, "Our mouthwash stops bad breath -- and makes your breath smell Fresh!" Scope positioned itself in the minds of buyers as the Fresh Breath mouthwash -- and who wouldn't want fresh breath?

(5) Try to create your own niche in the consumer's mind. Nyquil became a leading brand in the cough syrup market by creating their own related niche called "night time cough syrups," then claiming the top spot. They're still on top.

(6) Keep at it. Emphasize the same message over and over, month after month, until your sales figures show you've moved up the ladder.

For the best results, find a weakness and keep hammering at it. Give your strategy time to work. Remember, you are creating a long-term image of your brand, as well as your competitor's.

 This was a brief look one of the many uses of a strong Perceptual Positioning strategy to create a lasting image and increase sales. The Marketing Psychology Group excels in helping companies develop the most effective positioning strategies for their brands, and their competition. We would be happy to show you how Positioning can help you.

(c) Gary Witt, 1998

For more information about this topic, check out "Positioning" by Al Ries and Jack Trout, 1981

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