Go negative by being positive!
Rethinking your marketing strategy
By Scott Francis
In politics, negative campaign ads are used a lot because they work. Often candidates are viewed as being pretty close so finding something negative that will make voters rule their opponents out can be a very effective technique. Our brains process information both consciously and subconsciously. When we pay attention to a message, we are engaged in active message processing. When we are distracted or not paying attention, we may still passively receive information. There is some evidence that negative messages may be more likely than positive ones to passively register. Negative ads “stick” for several reasons.
First, one of the most important contributors to their success may be the negativity bias. Negative information is often more memorable than positive. Just think how clearly you remember an insult. Political campaigns (especially local campaigns) usually are short in duration. When negative ads are dropped close to campaign time, there is often little time or ability from the candidate being attacked to respond. Marketing an ongoing business or brand, however, is different. Product forms may come and go but a good brand should be able to live forever.
Rather than run the risk of being considered a disrespectful mudslinger you can accomplish the same results of changing people’s preferences by going positive. How you do this and what you choose to talk about positively can have the same effect as a negative campaign but be viewed in a much more upbeat and friendly, brand-building way. To pick what you are going to talk about in your communications, consider your positioning versus your competition and what is really important to your customers.
In the airline industry having a safe flight is important to lots of people. By stressing safety, the number of mechanics on staff and the thousands of safety checks performed, an airline is being positive about an important consideration but is also casting doubt about their competitors’ ability or willingness to do the same thing. A positive image has been created for the advertiser and a negative image, or at least doubt about their capabilities, has been created for their competitors.
When Pepsi created the Pepsi Challenge, they defined the most important competitive reason for buying as being taste. None of Coke’s advantages as the market leader, including habit, image and long-standing quality seemed to matter. By being the one to make the challenge, the positive inference was that they tasted better and that Coke must not taste as good. They did not slam the taste of Coke; they simply said “Take the challenge.”
By going positive, you help narrow how your competitor is viewed by making customers think of them in primarily one way while your positive statement and approach creates an upbeat “Positive Halo effect” that is hard to argue about or counteract.
What is important to your customers? Don’t just repeat what they tell you because that is what everyone you compete with often reacts to. Consider what is important, but also what might change the basis of competition by redefining the reasons for buying. Once every airline is talking about safety, find another competitive advantage that matters and then deliver it and talk about it in a positive way.
By constantly changing the definition of what a good flight is, airlines can continue to separate themselves from competition. Southwest Airlines has done a good job selling value now that safety is largely a given. Alaska Airlines has changed the expectation of what a quality flight experience is all about.
What is important to your customers that you can be positive about while casting doubt on your competitors and positioning you in a positive light?
About the author: Scott Francis is the author of the book “Marketing is About making Money” and president of Topline Development LLC, a business consulting company that helps start-ups and growing companies identify and solve major strategic issues. To learn more about Topline Development LLC, contact Scott at Scott@ToplineDevelopment.com.