In the first several entries of this series, I discussed the "over-simplified mind" and the relationship between our products and our customer's perception of them. Then I moved onto the discussion of a French expression, cherchez le creneau or finding and filling a "hole" (creneau) in the market.
Today we'll look at what to do when there don't seem to be any creneaus left to fill and you can't think of one to create. There's always a Third Alternative (as my favorite proactive "can do" man from the 1980s, Stephen R. Covey, calls it). Click through the jump break for more.
Reposition the Competition
When you look for a creneau (a hole or unmet need in the marketplace) that you can fill or one you can create and then fill, you might find that all of the holes have been filled in by your competition. Before you throw your hands up in the air in frustration, know that there is always a Third Alternative, a solution where you can "win" but no one has to "lose."
As a customer, you might see this as "creating something from nothing." In reality, you're just repositioning your competition inside the prospect's mind to make room for your new position to take hold. Perception may be everything but you can change the perception of another person, "shift their paradigm by refocusing their lens" (as Covey likes to phrase it) and make them see a whole new "truth." Covey talks about this in terms of leadership and principle-centered living. Ries and Trout are using this same psychological "truth" to approach marketing. After all, marketing is all about psychology, isn't it?
Some old but true examples that are still holding their "invented" market share today:
Tylenol (in Europe, this is Paracetamol) repositioned aspirin by being a non-aspirin pain killer "for the millions of people who shouldn't take aspirin." Tylenol makers McNeill implied there was something wrong with aspirin for "millions" of people. Before McNeill introduced acetaminophen (which they wisely renamed Tylenol), aspirin was the standard non-prescription pain killer. It's hard to believe today, given the ibuprofens and other "fens" of the analgesic market that Tylenol was the first non-aspirin analgesic.
Scope mouthwash repositioned Listerine (which had been around since the World War I era) by referring to Listerine's "medicine breath" effect. To be fair, Listerine came back with a fierce, winning hand as "The taste you'll hate. Twice a day." Scope still holds the #2 market share but their repositioning of Listerine resulted in destroying all of the smaller competitors from the 1950s and 1960s. Half a century later, Scope is still #2.
For years, Wise potato chips only had to worry about Frito-Lay's competition. Then Proctor & Gamble (the pharmaceutical company) created this new-fangled chip called Pringles. Perfectly flat and uniformly shaped, P&G played into the "wave of the future" and Wise was...well, wise. They read the ingredients of the Wise potato chips: potatoes, vegetable oil, salt. Then they read the ingredients of Pringles potato chips: dehydrated potatoes, mono- and diglycerides, ascorbic acid, butylated hydroxy-anisole. Yeah, you can hard pronounce those words, let alone figure out what they are--other than chemicals. And hey, P&G is a chemical (drug) company so it made sense.
In fact, besides crushing 18% of P&G's market share, Wise's campaign so successfully repositioned Pringles in the consumers' minds as an artificially-constructed object, the 1970s found people complaining about the stuff not even digesting inside their bodies! There was quite the scandal and Pringles had to come out with a completely new campaign of "all-natural ingredients."
P&G heeded the lesson and today, they've positioned Pringles as a low-fat, low-calorie snack. Enter the 100-calorie Pringles lunch pack: "DRIED POTATOES, VEGETABLE OIL (CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: CORN OIL, COTTONSEED OIL, AND/OR SUNFLOWER OIL), WHEAT STARCH, MALTODEXTRIN, RICE FLOUR, SALT AND DEXTROSE. CONTAINS WHEAT INGREDIENTS
Not perfectly "natural" but darn close! Less like a chemical forumula and more like an actual food. Wise no longer holds the #1 position in the potato chip market either. Frito-Lay does (so maybe all of the battling and in-fighting hurt both Wise and P&G). In fact, when attempting to reposition your competition, don't forget to pay attention to the #3 guy. The Law of Division might be their knife at your back!
Repositioning, Not Mud-Slinging or Name-Calling
As the list above illustrates, it might be "wise" to think carefully about how far you want to take this battle for the mind. As Covey's Third Alternative discusses, you're looking for a win/win, not a win/lose. When you make your competition lose, you might just inspire them to reposition you in return (as Pringles did with Wise).
Mentioning a competitive product by name is not only in poor taste but it is a bad strategy. By mentioning the competition's name at all--even if you're trying to put them down--you're giving them free publicity and endorsing their position in the prospect's mind rather than taking their position.
Instead, focus on attributes, not products or names. Separate the person (or book title) from the problem. Apply the Law of Attributes and Law of Opposites to make a new product ladder that replaces your competition's ladder in the prospect's mind and plan for the Law of Duality to hold true in the long term. You can take their position in the customer's mind by displacement. You do that by making the customer think about something else not by reminding the customer of the competition's name. Start and finish by positioning your own name and leave the competition out of it completely. Out of sight, out of mind - which is the whole point of positioning ((grin))
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, an idea made famous by science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein. I don't actually know if he was the very first person to use that acronym, but he made it famous by using it in his books in the 60s and 70s. It became a catch phrase, explaining why you only got ahead in the world if you worked hard and played fair.
In today's market of make-money-fast schemes and scams, it's hard to believe in TANSTAAFL but truly, you can't get a free ride on a product ladder or a free position in the prospect's mind. There is only so much space inside a prospect's mind. You need to work hard and play fair to claim some of it. If it's already too crowded, never forget that the customer's natural tendency is to simplify, not complicate their head space. Choose simple, direct and easy-to-understand messages and you'll get through the noise. The Law of Unpredictability reminds us that it's not a sprint, but a marathon and your goal isn't to sell the customer the book in the first 3 seconds. Your goal is to claim their mind--permanently. Then they'll choose to buy your products because you are the one providing what they need and want. It'll be their idea not your sales pitch. This is the beauty of positioning. The customer sells himself.
It's All in a Name
Choosing a name for your product--or a title for your book--is a key step in branding yourself as a Company you can keep. A well-known name in publishing is well-known because it stands for something, it holds or "owns" a position in the prospects minds and it continues to deliver content that matches that position. A really well-known name sits on the top rung of a sharply-defined product ladder--one they may have created in the first place!
The bigger the name, the sharper the definition of the ladder--and the more rungs beneath them as others try to claim some position in their proven successful market. Forex, Stephen King is a name everyone in the world knows and associates with horror stories. And advice on writing. He's also screenwritten many adaptations of his own books. He's the "king" of horror.
James Patterson is an author known in the USA and UK as a thriller writer and the name Alex Cross (Patterson's leading character in his series of books) is automatically associated with Patterson. A mistake Patterson has made recently is trying to do a "line extension" under his own name. He's trying to break into the YA market with mysteries for children. He should be writing under a pen name to avoid diluting his established name brand.
Of course, he probably has a publicist and publisher telling him otherwise and I'm not an expert ((grin)) I will, however, predict his YA foray fails to take hold the way his adult thriller sales have done. He might even suffer in his thriller positioning by diluting his brand, confusing his position in some customers' minds. Hopefully, Patterson's thriller position will remain firm despite his YA position failing to take hold against the Twilight and other tween sensations.
To create a new product ladder (like Patterson's YA book line), create a new brand, a new concept, a new name. One name cannot stand for two distinctly different things in the prospect's mind. This is why cross-genre writers are only successful when exploiting that wonderful tool publishers invented decades ago: the pen name. Choose a new name for each pen you weild.
Don't underestimate the value of anonymity. When you're anonymous, you can choose your name or book title or brand identity yourself. You can be anyone or anything you like. You have complete control over where your future position might be located--at the top or bottom rung of a ladder. Don't squander your anonymity, either. Conserve it until you're ready to spring, fully-formed, onto the market and then spend your energy to "arrive" in a big way. Be a complete, fully-rounded position on the top rung of a newly-formed ladder.
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will take a look at Amazon Kindle's "Book Extras" by Shelfari and other ways to allow customers to "annotate" your book, thus doing your marketing for you!