The following commandments do not come from a mountaintop. They come from many years of experience in categories from caskets to computers and everything in between.
Thou shalt realize that perception is reality.
The only reality that counts is what’s already in the prospect’s mind. It’s what “positioning” is about. Do not create something new and different, but manipulate what’s already in the mind and retie the connections that already exist. Retying those connections must result in a point of difference vs. your competitors.
Thou shalt not commit the “me-too’ mistake.
Many people believe that the basic issue in marketing is convincing the prospective client that they have a better product or service. They say, “We might not be first, but we’re going to be better.” That may be true, but if you’re late into a market space and have to do battle with large, well-established competitors, then me too just won’t cut it.
Regardless of a product’s objective quality, people perceive the first brand to enter their mind as superior. Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products. When you’re a me-too, you’re a second-class citizen.
Thou shalt be aware of what you are selling.
This may surprise you, but I have spent a good bit of my time over the years figuring out exactly what people are trying to sell. Defining the product category in a simple, understandable way is essential.
Companies large and small often have a tough time describing their product, especially if it’s a new category and a new technology. The biggest marketing successes came with basic, powerful explanations of the product being offered — customers knew what the companies were selling and how the products were really different.
Thou shalt realize that truth will not out.
The failure to understand that marketing is a battle of perceptions trips up thousands of would-be entrepreneurs every year.
Marketing people are preoccupied with research and “getting the facts.” They analyze the situation to make sure the truth is on their side. Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that the best product will ultimately win.
This is an illusion. There is no objective reality. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of customers or prospects.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s idea.
A me-too product is bad enough, and equally problematic is a me-too idea: Two companies cannot own the same concept in the customer’s mind.
When a competitor owns a word or position in the prospect’s mind, it is futile to attempt to own the same idea. For instance, Volvo has pre-empted the concept of “safety.” Many other automobile companies, including Mercedes-Benz and General Motors have tried to run marketing campaigns based on safety. Yet no one except Volvo has succeeded in getting into the prospect’s mind with a safety message.
Thou shalt not be impressed with your own success.
Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure. When people become successful, they tend to become less objective. They often substitute their own judgment for what the market wants.
The large company gives up some of the advantage of being large if it cannot stay focused on the marketing battle that takes place in the mind of the customer. Small companies are mentally closer to the front than big companies. That may be one reason for their rapid growth in past decades.
Thou shalt not try to be everything to everybody.
When you try to be all things to all people, you wind up in trouble. This kind of “all things” thinking leads to what is called “line extension,” or taking the brand name of a successful product (e.g., A1 Poultry Sauce). It sounds so logical. “We make A1, a great sauce that gets the dominant share of the steak business. But people are switching from beef to chicken, so let’s introduce a poultry product — and what better name to use then A1? That way people will know the poultry sauce comes from the makers of that great steak sauce, A1.”
But marketing is a battle of perception, not product. In the mind, A1 is not the brand name, but the sauce itself. “Would you pass me the A1 please?” asks the diner. Nobody replies: “A1 what?”
Needless to say, the A1 poultry launch was a dismal failure.
Thou shalt not live only by the numbers.
Big companies are in a bind. On the one hand, Wall Street is asking, “How much are your sales and profits going to grow next month, next quarter, next year?” When CEOs make brash predictions about earnings growth, it often leads to missed targets, battered stock, and even creative accounting. But worse than that, it leads to bad decisions.
As panic sets in, upper management falls into the line extension, or the everything-for-everybody trap to drive up the numbers. Rather than staying focused on being strong somewhere, they opt for being weak everywhere.
Thou must be willing to attack yourself.
Many a company has faced disruptive technologies: DEC, the desktop computer revolution; Xerox, the surge in laser printing; and Kodak, the digital camera.
Transforming a company when the underlying technology changes is not easy. Wall Street is upset because shareholder money starts to disappear in efforts that earn very little in return. Traditional customers are often alienated as the salesforce’s attention becomes diffused by new ventures. The internal folks become uncomfortable with all this change.
Leaders must find a way to move to that better idea or technology, even if it threatens their base business.
Thou must have top management involved.
In today’s rough-and-tumble world, marketing strategy is too critical to be left to middle-level management. After I make that “you’re in charge” speech to general managers or CEOs, they often tell me that they don’t want to undermine their employees. They want to give them the responsibility they were promised.
That’s all well and good for morale, but I encourage them to think the Navy way.
When a naval vessel has a problem, the ultimate responsibility is not that of the young officer who was in control when the accident occurred. The captain of the ship must answer to that board of inquiry.
In the business world, the CEO is the captain.
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