The following is from a friend and author, who founded his service company more than 25 years ago. We both believe the best exchange in business is to deliver MORE THAN what customers expect! The original article will be re-blogged here in three separate parts. This installment is Part One.
— Ronald Joseph Kule
What About Product Positioning Part One:
The Key to Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations Success
“Let me begin with a story.
“In the winter of 1991, like many here in America, I sat glued to CNN’s coverage of the historic toppling of the statue of the infamous founder of the KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky, in the circle named for him near the Kremlin. Little did I know or suspect that 6 months later I would be delivering a seminar to 200 Russian businessmen in Moscow on the use of market research and surveys in developing positioning and branding strategies for advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns.
“As it turned out, there was a member of the Russian Government in the audience–a Lt. Colonel from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs–the Russian National police. He approached me after my talk, told me how much he had enjoyed it and asked if I would meet with his superior at the Ministry the following day. I looked at my wife, who was with me at the time. She gave me the ‘Hey, why not?’ smile and we agreed.
“And so, the next morning she and I and the Colonel stood in front of the Ministry Headquarters (a huge yellow and white cement structure) awaiting security clearance. Finally, uniformed guards came out. They ushered us down long, dark, cement corridors, up four flights of stairs (no elevator worked) and into the office of Colonel Stanislav Pylov, the Director of Personnel for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. This man was in charge of the welfare of a million Russian police. (They were all federal police in Russia.)
“We started with introductions and small talk while we nibbled on cookies and sipped a hardy Russian tea. Finally I said “Colonel Pylov, I came to Moscow with some other American businessmen to help open up a business college here. How can I help you?”
“He got right to the point. ‘We had 356 policeman killed in the line of duty last year. We must improve the public’s opinion of the police. Can the survey technology you use help us do that?’
“I said that it could. With that, Pylov broke into a huge smile and stood up. He said that this was the beginning of a new relationship between Russia and America and went to a closet and brought out a beautiful wooden clock and gave it to my wife. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. My imagination ran wild–World Peace; Reagan, Gorbachev, On-Target Research! [My friend’s company name]
“As it turned out, this was the beginning of a series of seminars and workshops I did for the Ministry over the next year on the use of surveys in public relations efforts. Bear in mind that these guys had a SERIOUS PR problem. They had been beating people over the head with night sticks as the primary communication line with the public for 70 years, and now wanted to improve their image. The first thing, of course, was a major program in personal communication by the police and it went from there.
“But that is not the point of the story.
“Because of this initial relationship with the Ministry, I made several trips to Russia in the ensuing years. On one occasion, a large group of Russian bankers invited me to speak on the use of market research and surveys in advertising and PR campaigns. And as a matter of pure coincidence, a day or two before I was to leave, USA TODAY ran a 16-page, color supplement that was essentially a large advertisement placed by a number of Russian businesses and banks soliciting (desperately needed) US deposits and investment dollars.
“As I read the ads, those placed by the banks astounded me. I don’t know how many millions of rubles the various companies shelled out for this ad, but it had to have been plenty. Just converting rubles to US dollars was, in itself, a Herculean task in those days to say nothing of actually coming up with the money. The crime was that someone had sold these companies this expensive ad space, and they did not have a clue how to advertise or position themselves–not a clue.
“This is not a sob story about how these poor Russian bankers got taken advantage of–it is a marketing point. Here was a golden opportunity for these Russian banks to position themselves in the minds of American businessmen in a manner that might attract hard currency deposits, and they did just the opposite.
“One bank, positioned itself as ‘The Youngest Central Bank in the former Soviet Union’. Excuse me, banks are not supposed to be young and (thus) inexperienced and even if they are, that is not something one would promote. Banks are supposed to be stable, secure, safe. This comes with longevity, consistency, permanency. This bank could just have well taken out an ad that said, ‘If you want to take a chance that we will still be here next month, open an account’.
“Another bank showed a picture of a lighthouse and positioned itself as a beacon in a storm of financial uncertainty. Well, the beacon part was not bad, clever in fact. But both the graphics and the copy focused on the storm of financial uncertainty. From the viewpoint of an American businessman, beacon or no, why would I even head into that storm, when the weather over here was quite pleasant, thank you?
“The reason businessmen from Western countries had interest in Russia in the early 90’s was OPPORTUNITY. Proper surveys would have found this, and a sharp bank which knew its market research would have found what image represented opportunity to this public and so positioned itself as the ‘Gateway to Russian Opportunity’, or the like. But this kind of market research was about as understandable as Martian to Russian bankers at that time.
“You see, a communications campaign without a positioning strategy is (to continue the metaphor) like a ship without a rudder. Moreover, this lack of understanding of how to position oneself is not the sole province of our new ‘comrades’ in marketing. Indeed, I am constantly amazed at the enormous sums of advertising and PR dollars poured into media campaigns by individuals and companies large and small here in America that have no positioning whatsoever. They are not as self-defeating as ‘The Newest Bank in the former Soviet Union’, but many lack any positioning strategy at all–the most crucial element of any communications campaign.
“I recently talked to a corporate marketing director of a huge international technology company. He had very little idea of the most basic positioning concepts, where they came from or how to use them.
“And so this situation begs the question: What is positioning? Where did it come from? And how do you ‘do’ it?…”
(NOTE: Please return soon. Part Two of this article will appear as a separate blog. The article is posted as a public service for medium-to-large businesses worldwide, from On-Target Research and Research Target Group [my company]. Information about our market research and positioning survey services is available through: firstname.lastname@example.org)
© 2014 by Ronald Joseph Kule. All Rights Reserved.