Winning the Customer, Part VII0
By Frank J. Rich
The opportunity in our uniqueness is often the “fanaticism in orthodoxy.” We naturally look for others to relate to well before joining with them or their initiatives. We are more likely to trust a policeman’s urging to protect ourselves in taking cover, than a passerby that offers the same. In both polite and heated discussions over differing opinions, we are inclined to position the opposition in a poor light in comparison to ourselves. The tactic is even clearer today as the nation divides over the iconoclastic model of governing that our new president prefers. Effusive overstatements result—positioning the opposition as grossly negligent. It would appear, after the dust settles, that neither side is without sin. So it goes, when seeking advantage is the only goal.
We warn combatants in the game of commerce: “If one does not establish a position in the marketplace, the competition will willingly supply it.” Effective positioning is the sine qua non of market distinction. We have it either, by our own making, or another’s.
Presenting the enemy for comparison is no scrim or fog to obscure one’s own weaknesses. Rather, it is to establish a rivalry that more clearly distinguishes one from another. Achieving a preference for one’s brand is money in the bank. Whether by “who we are,” “what we sell,” “how we satisfy the customer’s wants, needs, and habits,” and “what we deliver,” positioning is the ne plus ultra of this market math, and creating a rival (for comparison) one of its very effective methodologies.
The discriminating mechanism in humans, largely the work of the prefrontal cortex, relies on two separate networks that inform value judgments (risk vs. reward), and cognitive control that provides a check on ultimate behavior. We may like to eat all of a tasty dessert, but choose not to when considering its potential effect on us.
Goods and service providers seek to create an “in-group,” what we might call customers. Customers find “themselves” in your products, services, or approach, and quickly form mutual bonds that build long-term relationships. Your products may appeal to them on several layers, such as design or peer excitement. They may also satisfy an important need. However, when there is seemingly little advantage to offer, it may be useful to create a physical enemy.
Many small businesses decry the advantages of “big box stores.” They have great inventory, variety, and attractive pricing. They also have poorly trained people, customer indifference, and an impersonal feel, as the turnstile at checkout is in stark contrast to a small business with similar products. The fact is that any small business can find an enemy to position for its disadvantages and easily compete by honing its own unique approach. When we join in liking a product, service, or provider, we form huge biases for those in the group and against outsiders. The enemy can be a belief system, such as “organic,” “sustainable” product, or a model that warms customers, such as a “no-questions-asked” money back guarantee. The purpose in this approach is not to spear the competition, but to associate certain models of likeness with customers while putting distance between you.
Apple Computer was first “the computer for the rest of us,” which created a strongly bigoted following (against giant Microsoft) among youthful, computer literate types. To prove that we can reinvent ourselves to satisfy the needs of customers, Apple refocused on unique, qualifying design and user-friendly products to outdistance the competition. They were qualifying you, the consumer. It led them to become the most valuable company in the world. It could happen to you.