Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bombastic Boasts

Why is boasting bad for business?

This post is part of the 10th Anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto which concluded that 'all markets are conversations'. Numerous bloggers volunteered to write about one of the 95 theses of the manifesto in the Cluetrain Plus 10 project. This one is about #24.
Bombastic boasts - "We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ" - do not constitute a position.
The above sounds like the description that a myriad of companies use in their annual report or as a synopsis in a job posting. So, what's wrong with this statement?

Here's a list:
  1. Wrong pronoun: people don't care about the company; we care about ourselves and our community.
  2. Wrong purpose: people don't care about stuff or things; we care about satisfying a need.
  3. Wrong tone; people don't like 'preeminent' braggarts; we prefer authenticity and transparency.
  4. Wrong role; people don't like outsiders telling them what to think; we prefer participants.
  5. Wrong tense; people don't like a future solution; we want it now.
Positioning is about creating and occupying a place in our minds that resonates with a need. It gives us something to talk about. Think automobiles and play the word association game.
  • Safety = Volvo
  • Driving Machine = BMW
  • European Luxury = Mercedes
  • Engines = Honda
  • Basic = Toyota
  • Small = Volkswagon
Each of these product lines owns a term in our minds. They are well-positioned. In fact the products have done that job so well that we tend to trust them to deliver on the promise behind the word. They have become brands.

The Bombastic Boast makes no promise or contract with us; it is a company-centric claim about being a seller of XYZ with no clue on what it is useful for or why we should care.

Positioning puts a stake in the ground. It defines the market a product serves as well as those it does not. No product should attempt to satisfy everyone's needs. That is a recipe for ending up in the 'mushy middle' -- a place that sounds rationally attractive because it covers the largest group but in reality is a patch of quicksand that we tend to avoid.

So how should the makers of XYZ position themselves?

Successful positioning requires three elements - 1) a category, 2) an audience, and 3) a set of proof points.
  • Category provides context about the solution and the related need. We need a cubby hole to put a product in because we think classification scheme first, example second.
  • Audience specifies for whom the solution is best suited. We want to know that others like us use the product because there is safety in numbers and we trust the wisdom of the crowd.
  • Proof points give credibility and a reason to consider the product. We want the facts to rationalize our emotional decisions.

Positioning works by satisfying our needs on our terms. We'll talk about that.Tweet Bite

Boasting about yourself rarely accomplishes anything more than self-gratification. Besides, we don't listen.

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