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A recently understood segment of marketing is the immense power behind the product category. Often, many businesses build their entire marketing strategy around a particular brand and its better qualities within a currently known product category, only to have it all go down the drain in the end.

Remember the “New Coke”? In the 80's, Pepsi conducted taste tests called “The Pepsi Challenge.” Coke, on the sidelines, also heard from their own research that a newer, better tasting brand would beat Pepsi.

Only 77 days later, according to Coke's former marketing vice-president Sergio Zyman in his book “The End of Marketing As We Know It,” not only were they forced to reintroduce the older version as “Classic Coke” but they also had to eventually wipe the New Coke out. Better is not always better.

Jack Trout and Al Ries, the fathers of positioning and my greatest marketing mentors, have literally developed the product category concept into a science. In their provocative book “Postioning: The Battle For Your Mind,” they made what I believe to be the most powerful notion ever conceived: “Marketing is not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions.” My business mentor used to also tell me: “Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself.”

Both are remarkably true. For instance, a survey was once conducted among the passengers of an airline company. And to the question, “If your food trays were dirty, would you assume that the airline also does poor maintenance on its engines,” the answer was, as illogical as it sounds, “yes” for an overwhelming majority! Thus, marketing is truly all about perception.

The greater portion of my early consulting career was focused on doctors, cosmetic surgery and medical practices. I often asked doctors this question: “Look at the leaders in your specific field — are they famous because they're busy, or are they busy because they're famous?”

For example, a particular hair transplant doctor is one of the first surgeons in Canada to perform hair transplant surgery and was instrumental in its initial popularization. In addition to the fact that he maintains a portfolio of celebrity patients, this doctor is still widely recognized among the public to be the best surgeon — and that, whether he is indeed the best or not. He even uses outdated techniques in a field that has progressed considerably!

However, superiority in cosmetic surgery is a matter of artistic ability and not of seniority let alone fame. But you see, when people perceive that you are the best, the leader in your particular category or industry, it is much more powerful than actually being the best in the first place. In other words, perceived truth is definitely far more powerful than truth itself.

If you have a product that you perceive as being the best, it may not be a shared perception among your target market. However, whether your product is better than your competition or not, if it's the leader in it's field or category, people will automatically assume that it's the best. It's human nature.

For example, people will often say: “They must be the best, because they're the leaders!” People have the natural tendency to gravitate towards the leader of a given category and automatically conclude that the leader is indeed the best — even if that may not be true. For example, Coke outsells Pepsi, even though in taste tests Pepsi seems to be the better tasting brand.

Now, all of this is fine and dandy but you're probably wondering at this point how you can accomplish this. Before I show you how to do that, let me give you an example from Ries and Trout, from their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” (It's a book that I highly, highly recommend.)

If I asked you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight, and if you're not a history buff, more than likely you will be stumped. Of course, most people know that Lindbergh was the first person to fly over the Atlantic. Being the first, he comes to mind immediately.

Rather than ask you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic, if I repositioned that same person — that is, if I asked you the same question but rephrased in another way — by asking you, “Who was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?” of course, it's Amelia Earhart.

This is the power of self-appointment.

One of my favorite marketing gurus is Dan Kennedy, author of the best-sellers “No B.S. Business Success” and “No B.S. Sales Success.” He stresses that “You don't need someone else's permission to become successful.”

When it comes to marketing, he is absolutely right. Many people try to compete and may even get the first commandment down pat, but where they often fail is in creating top-of-mind awareness by drowning their image in a currently known category. They try to be better than everyone.

Everybody knows who is the first in some category or another, but rarely do people remember who's second or third. And one of the biggest errors most businesspeople commit is in attempting to market themselves as a better firm, with a better product or service, at better rates.

Let me share with you a secret that might shock you — if I haven't done it already: Nobody cares. Nobody cares if you're the best. Nobody! Even when people say they have chosen a firm over another because they have a better product, they only think they do and were initially attracted to that particular company for other reasons — probably at a subconscious level.

Look at it this way: if they do in fact make a choice based on a firm's superior qualities, they will not stay with that firm for long, for they will quickly jump at the next “best” thing that comes along. Again, human nature dictates.

People want the newest, the latest, the fastest, the freshest, the brightest, etc. They want the leading product or service in any given field. They want the best! And when I say that they want the best, I don't necessarily mean the “best” but what people perceive as being the “best.”

So, what do you do in order to produce this effect? If there's no category you can be first in, create one! As Dan Kennedy said, you don't need other people's permission to do that. Creating your own category is powerful since it is impossible for others to copy you. In other words, don't compare. Create!

Be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way — such as by offering an ordinary product but with a unique twist. You can also customize a general product or service for a specific market. Look at your background, your business model or your clients, and ask yourself:

  • Is there a common thread or something that stands out?
  • Is there something that's really different than anyone else?
  • Can I reposition myself to look unique, original or different?
  • If not, are there any special awards I or my products have won?
  • Are there any unique references or endorsements I can obtain from celebrities, particularly endorsements my competitors can't have?
  • Do I or my company possess any unique accreditation, certifications or memberships in specific groups that no one else has?
  • If so, then why, as specifically as possible, did I (or can I) get them?

You might be a travel consultant selling business trips exclusively to financial institutions and brokers — you're biggest clientele. Market yourself as “the first to serve the financially inclined,” “the leader in business trips for bankers,” “we take the risk out of traveling for those who deal with it everyday,” “the financier's travel agent,” or “the first traveling agent for the smart investor.”

Don't be the best in some category. Be the first in one!

Before we go to the next commandment, I must share with you a small tip that is relevant to the two first commandments. Do you an elevator pitch or speech? And if so, does it create instant, top-of-mind awareness?

An elevator speech is what you say when you introduce yourself, and it usually includes a sentence or two, no more than 30 words, that states clearly and concisely who you are and what you do. But refrain from bland, hackneyed introductions. Be different with your elevator speech as well.

How do you do that? Think benefits. What makes you different? Why should your clients hire you? Why should they buy from you? Why should they listen to you? And better still, why should they remember you at all?

When you introduce yourself to people, do give your name and tell people what you do? If you do, please take this advice: You must stop it right now! I know, I know. You're probably thinking, “What? He wants me to stop telling people what I do? But how will they know who I am let alone remember me?”

Before we go further, let me explain what I mean.
In my seminars, I teach something I call the “Ketchup Principle.” Let's say you've just met a salesperson. He gives you a stellar sales presentation. He is dressed absolutely impeccably. His spiel was stunning. He conducted a first class meeting with you. In short, everything was perfect.

But all throughout the encounter, you couldn't stop but notice that he had a little spot on his tie — a little ketchup stain, if you will. Two weeks later however, if I were to ask you: “What do you remember most about your meeting with this sales professional?” More than likely, the first thing that would pop into your mind is — you guessed it — the ketchup stain!

As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” That statement is not only true but it also applies even to the simplest of things, such as names, taglines and introductions. How often have you met people only to forget their names only moments later?

So, the bottom-line is to stick in the minds of the people you've just met. Again, your introduction is not meant to persuade this potential client right on the spot to do business with you (or refer others to do business with you). The trick is to have you in your prospects' consciousness at all times.

Therefore, when you introduce yourself to others, use your unique name, your tagline, your unique category, and the benefits your provide — and not just your name and what you do. For instance, don't say: “Hello, my name is Mike Fortin and I do consulting work” or “I am a marketing consultant.” Rather, say: “My name is Mike Fortin, the ‘Success Doctor' — I help turn businesses into powerful magnets.” (By the way, that's my elevator speech!)

Not only will it arouse interest but it will also make your name stick in their minds, which is what you really want. That person will either remember you when needing what you have to offer, refer you to others when the opportunity presents itself, or talk about you openly especially when others bring up the subject. That's the power of turning words into “mind glue!”

Here are other examples. If you're a computer consultant specializing in network solutions, don't say, “I'm Elaine Wilson, I'm a computer consultant” or “I specialize in local area networks.” Instead, say, “My name is Elaine Wilson of Network Magic, I help relieve computer network headaches.”

Don't say, “Hello, my name is Jack Vidoli; I'm a management consultant specializing in accounting.” Rather, say, “My name is Jack Vidoli of A Knack with Knumbers, I help cut a firm's expenses of time, effort and money in half by simplifying their accounting systems.” See the difference?

Don't forget to put yourself in a whole different category. It's important to not only being the leader in a category but being the leader in the mind. So use it in all your communications, especially when giving your elevator speech. If you're not the first in some category, be the first in one you've created.

Michel Fortin

Chief Experience Officer at Supportibles, Inc.
A copywriter and consultant for close to 30 years, Michel was instrumental in selling millions worth of products and services. His most notable success is a salesletter that sold over a million dollars online on launch day. Today, Michel is a best-selling author, in-demand public speaker, and highly sought-after marketing consultant. Get his free report, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," at Supportibles.com.

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