Drayton, one of the things I wanted to speak to you about today is Market Positioning. How does a company go about looking at their market position and making sure they get that right?
Drayton Bird: The most important question in marketing, and also often the most ignored, is why should somebody choose you? Very few people I see give enough thought to this, because they’re so busy talking about themselves, and feeling pleased with themselves, and using lots of jargon, and going to meetings and so on, but essentially, unless you’ve got something that people want more than an alternative, you’re in trouble.
A good example of the importance of positioning is American Express. I should explain to you that, in my view, what you are and what you do can’t be disentangled from your positioning in the same way that your personality cannot be disentangled from you and my rather obnoxious personality cannot be disentangled from me.
When American Express really took off, it was because they managed to come up with a positioning that nobody else had. This positioning was to do with the nature of what they offered. Years later, after I finished, because I used to handle American Express around the world, years later, I went to speak to Visa, Visa University which is a thing they run somewhere in Birmingham, and I said, “My god, it’s strange to talk to you lot because I spent years of my life trying to kill you.”
I talked to them about positioning, so American Express’s positioning was expressed in the first line of the letter that built American Express. There was a letter which began with the words “Quite frankly, the American Express Card is not for everyone, and not everyone who applies is accepted.” More or less those words. Visa alternatively said, “Visa is everywhere you want to be.”
One was universal; everyone can have it. You didn’t have to pay a fee to get it. American Express you have to pay a fee to get it. Furthermore, Visa would lend you money as they still do, at extortionate rates of interest. American Express would not. You had to pay your bill at the end of every month, so at a totally different position that built a brand. The difference could be expressed by saying that some people like to belong to the crowd and some people like to stand out.
That was what American Express was all about. That’s what positioning is all about. In other words, to look at it from a practical point of view, when you’ve decided what you want to be and you’ve determined that you can do something or offer something that nobody else can, then you have to think of your positioning, your personality if you like. People do business with people they like.
I was writing a report today for a Russian company, oddly enough, in the credit card business. I was commenting on the way that people just ignore these things now. You’ve got to start with something that nobody else has got. What they’ve got is they’re the most expensive credit card on earth, that’s pretty clear. That sort of thing works.
When I was much younger, my first job as a creative director back in the sixties, there was an ad that ran for very successfully and the headline was “The world’s most expensive razor”. There are always going to be some people who want you, your personality, and what you’re like. It’s a big battle.
Grant Leboff: How does a company start to understand how they can position themselves against the competition? Because we live in a world now where there is so much choice in most markets if you’re sitting there in your marketing department, you want to try and start to create a different position, where is the starting point on that?
Drayton Bird: Research. The best people are very good at research. If I had to say there was anything wrong with me, we don’t have time to go into all the things that are wrong with me, but I don’t research as hard as I should. David Ogilvy used to research anything he went into. He’d look at all of the advertising for the previous 20 years.
His most famous advertisement, which had the headline “At sixty miles an hour the loudest noise from this new Rolls-Royce come from the electric clock”, was actually stolen. That headline was stolen from another car, the name of which escapes me, which had run advertisements 20 years earlier in America.
What David did was he took that proposition and he expressed it better. Because somebody once said that talent steals, genius improves. So he improved!
I have been fortunate enough to have, as a domestic partner but also as a working partner, a lady who does more research than anyone I have ever seen in my life, which is why I think she’s better than I am, because I’m a lazy sod.
So, you start by doing research and find you are competing, so you’ve got to find out, “Who am I competing with?” The next thing you’ve got to find out is, “Okay, how can I find out something that people might want within this range of services that we’re competing with that nobody is offering?”
You’ve got to work hard on that.
Grant Leboff: It’s doing the research and then, obviously, finding the point of difference and then finding the way to express it.
Drayton Bird:Finding the point of difference, finding out whether it matters to people, and then testing ways to express it.
A friend of mine used to work for the man who built up … Good god in heaven, now I’ve forgotten who it was. One of the big cosmetic companies in America and I asked him what it was like. He said it was a terrible job. They used to carry people out with bleeding ulcers every six months; it was so demanding. I said what did he do that was unusual? He said before he launched a product, he would test different prices in different markets.
I’m running a test at the moment online for somebody. The first results are appalling, and I know why the first results are appalling. He wants to charge too much money for it. I also know that if we slash the price, it’ll do well. You’ve got to test. Test your hypothesis. One of the great problems and one of the great sadnesses today about marketers is that they have unparalleled opportunities to test because of the internet but they don’t do it. They don’t do it.
Marketers now and marketers ever since I’ve been in this business, which is over half a century … Terrifying thought. Couldn’t you find something better to do, Drayton, in those fifty years? Talk about a one-trick pony. One of the great things I’ve noticed right from the start is people are much more interested in running stuff that they like, thinking, “Oh well, that’s nice. Let’s have a new slogan.”
One of my favorites is Toyota. I go to America a lot and on my way to where my eldest daughter lives, there is always a big billboard for Toyota, and I derive great fun from seeing how they change the line at the end of it. For a long time it was “The car in front is a Toyota”. Total bollocks. What if the car in front is a Ford? Then it became “The party’s just beginning”. I wrote a piece in one of the things I write said, “What are they doing, running a brothel?” The fun’s just beginning. Something like that.
People do stuff that pleases themselves, and it’s very easy to do stuff that pleases yourself, but you’re not asked to please yourself. You’re asked to please other people, therefore you have to try and understand other people. The best marketers spend their time studying the customer because that’s where the money comes from. Not thinking of a great new line or a re-design.
I remember a few years ago, AOL announced with a great fanfare they were re-designing their logo. Who gives a shit? You think ordinary people are sitting there and saying, “Wow, look at AOL’s new logo. I better switch away.” Nonsense.
I could go on about what marketers do wrong for several days.
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