To be successful today, you must touch base with reality. And the only reality that counts is what’s already in the prospect’s minds.
To be creative, to create something that doesn’t already exist in the mind, is becoming more and more difficult. If not impossible.
The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.
Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise.
The per-capita consumption of advertising in America today (1996) is $376.62 a year. (That compares with $16.87 in the rest of the world.)
If you spend $1 million a year on advertising, you are bombarding the average consumer with less than a half cent of advertising, spread over 365 days to a consumer already exposed to $376.61 ½ worth of other advertising.?
In our overcommunicated society, to talk about the ‘impact’ of your advertising is to seriously overstate the potential effectiveness of your message. Advertising is not a sledgehammer. It’s more like a light fog, a very light fog that envelops your prospects.
The mind, as a defense against the volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information offered it. In general, the mind accepts only that which matches prior knowledge or experience.
The only defense a person has in our overcommunicated society is an oversimplified mind.
The average mind is already a dripping sponge that can only soak up more information at the expense of what’s already there. Yet we continue to pour more information into that supersaturated sponge and are disappointed when our messages fail to get through.
Advertising, of course, is only the tip of the communication iceberg. We communicate with each other in a wide variety of bewildering ways. And in a geometrically increasing volume.
The medium may not be the message, but it does seriously affect the message. Instead of a transmission system, the medium acts like a filter. Only a tiny fraction of the original material ends up in the mind of the receiver.
Furthermore, what we receive is influenced by the nature of our overcommunicated society. ‘Glittering generalities’ have become a way of life in our overcommunicated society. We oversimplify because that’s the only way to cope.
The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message.
In communication, as in architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.
In our overcommunicated society, the paradox is that nothing is more important than communication. With communication going for you, anything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible. No matter how talented and ambitious you may be.
The chaos in the marketplace is a reflection of the fact that advertising just doesn’t work the way it used to. But old traditional ways of doing things die hard. ‘There’s no reason why advertising can’t do the job,’ say the defenders of the status quo, ‘as long as the product is good, the plan is sound, and the commercials are creative.’
But they overlook one big, loud reason. The marketplace itself. The noise level is far too high.
Messages prepared in the old, traditional ways have no hope of being successful in today’s overcommunicated society.
To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strength’s and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.
That’s why if you have a truly new product, it’s often better to tell the prospect what the product is not, rather than what it is.
The first automobile, for example, was called a ‘horseless’ carriage, a name which allowed the public to position the concept against the existing mode of transportation.
Words like ‘off-track’ betting, ‘lead-free’ gasoline, and ‘sugar-free’ soda are all examples of how new concepts can best be positioned against the old.
To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product.
Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind.
You won’t find an ‘uncola’ idea inside a 7-Up can. You find it inside the cola drinker’s head.
When you use a recognized authority to give your product or service credibility, you are tapping a fundamental aspect of human nature. There’s security in not having to trust your own judgment.
The dark side of this tendency to defer to authority was explored by Allen Funt, creator of Candid Camera. ‘The worst thing, and I see it over and over,’ said Mr. Funt, ‘is how easily people can be led by one kind of authority or even the most minimal signs of authority.’
‘We put up a sign on the road, Delaware Closed Today,’ reported Mr. Funt. ‘Motorists didn’t question it. Instead they asked, ‘Is Jersey open?’
As general semanticists have been saying for decades, words don’t contain meanings. The meanings are not in the words. They are in the people using the words.
Like a sugar bowl which is empty until someone fills it with sugar, a word has no meaning until someone uses it and fills it with meaning.
Words are triggers. They trigger the meanings which are buried in the mind.
Most people are ‘unsane.’ They’re not completely sane and they’re not completely insane. They’re somewhere in between.
Alfred Korzybski, who developed the concept of general semantics, explains that insane people try to make the world of reality fit what is in their heads.
The sane person constantly analyzes the world of reality and then changes what’s inside his or her head to fit the facts.
That’s an awful lot of trouble for most people. Besides, how many people want to constantly change their opinions to fit the facts?
It’s a whole lot easier to change the facts to fit your opionions.
Unsane people make up their minds and then find the facts to ‘verify’ their opinion. Or even more commonly, they accept the opinion of the nearest ‘expert,’ and then they don’t have to bother with the facts at all.
So you see the power of the psychologically right name. The mind makes the world of reality fit the name. A Mustang looks sportier, racier, and faster than if the same car had been called the Turtle.
Only an obvious idea will work today. The overwhelming volume of communication prevents anything else from succeeding.
But the obvious isn’t always so obvious. ‘Boss’ Kettering had a sign which he place on the wall of the General Motors Research Building in Dayton: ‘This problem when solved will be simple.’
Often the solution to a problem is so simple that thousands of people have looked at it without seeing it. When an idea is clever or complicated, however, we should be suspicious. It probably won’t work because it’s not simple enough.