If you're just joining in, I'm running a new Monday Marketing series on the topic of Positioning for Indie Authors, based on the book made famous decades ago by Al Ries and Jack Trout, the guys who wrote the book and I mean the book. They also coined the phrase Perception is everything and that's the crux of the concept of positioning.
In the first entry of this new series, I introduced the concept of how the prospective customer (aka the prospect) will filter information using their so-called "over-simplified mind." Then I went on last week to discuss how perception and product sales are related. In summary, it is better to be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in a big pond--so be first, be a leader, be the unique and special snowflake you were meant to be.
This week, I'm going to revisit the concept of "product ladders" first introduced in my Immutable Laws of Marketing series, where I adapted the famous Ries and Trout book to the Indie Publishing. The Law of the Ladder (Law 7) advised a strategy for a "tortoise" (rather than "hare") approach to climbing up the sales ranks--patiently taking one rung at a time and never stopping. The way to do this was hinged upon the idea of focus and positioning. Click through to read more about how to do just that.
In the "over-simplified mind," any new information is evaluated against what the person already knows. If the new information can be slotted into place with some other like-kind information, it will be absorbed and filed away. It might not even be noticed in the process. If the new information is unique, different and not "like" anything else the person already knows, they'll evaluate it for whether or not it "makes sense."
People habitually reject information that doesn't make sense--we all need to understand something before we absorb, internalize and use a piece of information. When it makes no sense, we discard it as nonsense, literally. The sensibility evaluation is made against the context of an existing mind full of information.
Here's a fun little test. Take two Rorschach drawings (those abstract ink blots used by psychiatrists to evaluation thought processes) and write "Picasso" on one and "MacMillan" on the other, then show them to people. Ironically, Rorschach himself pretty much guaranteed in his studies that people will "see" a masterful work of art in the one labelled "Picasso" because their mental context already knows that name is related to a famous artist. Since there were no famous artists (of that level) named "MacMillan," it's unlikely they'll recognize that ink blot for more than....well, an ink blot. We respond with our "gut instinct" to new information and categorize it against our existing context without even knowing we're doing it. This is why advertising works--our decisions are emotionally-based, not rational. We like something or we don't.
This context-based evaluation of new inputs is what every "over-simplified mind" will do, especially when encountering something like a sales pitch (someone wanting something from them). In 1956, Dr. George A. Miller wrote a paper The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two (one of the most-highly cited psychological studies ever written and as yet to be challenged!) That report stated the human mind cannot fathom more than seven (7) units at any given time. He asserted that this is why our 7-day week has worked so well and why 7-digit (or less) phone numbers seem to be common worldwide. He also noted that often, our minds will give preference to lists of 3 to 5 over longer lists because it's, well, simpler. Path of least resistance at work.
To cope with the explosions in product choice, consumers have learned to list and rank products and brands in their minds. These lists of ranked products and brands are called Product Ladders. Most consumers have a Product Ladder in their mind for each category of product they encounter or buy. Consumers don't know they're doing this; they're just doing it instinctively because it's easier to remember things that are organized this way. Some ladders have as many as 7 rungs, but more often, a consumer will make a product ladder in their mind with as few as 3 to 5 rungs--path of least resistance always wins in the spur of the moment decision-making process.
If you want to introduce a new category into a prospect's mind, you're going to have to carry the ladder into their minds yourself! If you position your new category "against" the competition, it'll be easier than simply "leaning" it against a wall thin air and hoping it doesn't fall over. Seriously, think about it.
Leaning "against" the competition comes down to the Law of Opposites. Be whatever your competition is not. Diet soda was first introduced as "sugar-free" - what it was not, that it had no sugar, not what it was, a low-calorie carbonated drink. Light beer brands still, to this day, advertise themselves for what they do not have (fewer calories than....) rather than trying to pitch their great taste or any other attribute.
As the Law of Opposites (Law 9) points out, your best way to "beat" the competition into the prospect's mind and occupy the space yourself is to stress how you are not the competition, how your attributes differ from theirs. Instead of carrying in your own ladder, just take possession of a rung on someone else's ladder--then climb it, over them if you must. Here's another example.
When 7-Up (a lemon-lime carbonated drink manufactured and distributed by the Pepsi Cola Company) was first introduced, instead of trying to describe what they were, they just declared a spot on the Coca-Cola product ladder by using the slogan 7-Up, the Uncola. That wasn't even a word! They just made it up to position themselves against Coca-Cola on Coke's own product ladder--the cola product category.
In those early years, Coke drinkers actually switched. The uncola idea was not inside the 7-Up can nor was it in Pepsi's advertising department. It was inside the minds of the Coca-Cola drinkers. Even when Coke came out with The Real Thing to put a stop to Pepsi's 7-Up invasion on their product ladder, they couldn't shake 7-Up off their back. To this day, Coca-Cola holds Rung #1 and Pepsi Cola #2--with Pepsi's 7-Up holding Rung #3 on Coke's ladder.
To find a unique position, ignore conventional logic and do not look for some creative phrasing inside your Muse nor look at your product for some magic slogan. Just look inside the mind of your prospects and find the product ladder they're already carting around--then grab a rung and never let go!
Tomorrow I'll be giving you an update on the whole PayPal Censorship of Smashwords firestorm that's been swirling. Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) met with the EFF on Friday. I hope to have news by tomorrow of what happened as a result. See you then!