Marketing By Subtraction

After my posts on presentation tips, I had a couple of people ask me what I would like to see in a presentation.  While I’m kind of difficult to nail down when it comes to the things I’d like to see companies showing me when they get up to pitch something, there is one thing I absolutely would love to see go away in 2013.  I’m getting very tired of seeing marketing based solely on differential marketing.  In other words, your entire marketing message is “We’re Not Those Guys.”

I’ve seen a lot of material recently that follows this methodology.  There might be a cursory mention of features or discussion of capabilities, but even that usually gets framed as in the manner of pointing out what the other products don’t do.  Presentations, marketing guides, and even commercials do this quite a bit.  The biggest example that I’ve seen recently is this commercial by Samsung:

Note that while I use an iPhone, I really don’t take sides in the smartphone marketing battle.  People use what works for them.  However, Samsung has decided to make a marketing campaign that is short on features and long on “gotchas.”  This whole ad is focused on pointing out the difference in features between the two devices.  However, it does by way of concentrating on how the iPhone is bad or lacking rather than spending time talking about what their device has instead.  When the ad is over, I wonder if people are ready to buy Samsung’s product because it has awesome features or because it’s not an iPhone (or in this case, not something used by “those people”).

Could you imagine how this would play out if other mundane items were marketed in a similar manner?  Think about going into a grocery store and seeing ads for apples that say things like “Better taste than oranges!” or “No need to peel like other fruits!”  How about a pet store using marketing such as, “Buy a cat! Less mess than dogs!” or “Take home the superior four legged friend!  Dogs are 10 times friendlier than cats!”

We don’t market other items quite the same way we do in tech.  Even car manufacturers have finally moved away from solely marketing based of differentiation with competitors.  You don’t see as many commercials focused on brand-vs-brand arguments.  Instead, you see a list of features presented in tabular format or something similar.  Even though the feature sets are usually cherry-picked to support the producer of the marketing, there is at least the illusion of balance.

I think it’s time that companies start spending their budgets on telling us what their product does and spend much less time on telling me how they are different than their competitors.  Yes, I know that we will never really be able to eliminate competitive marketing.  There are just some things you can’t get away from.  However, buyers are much more interested in the features of what you’re selling.  If you spend your entire presentation telling me how your widget is better or faster or cheaper than the other company, the potential customer will walk away and be thinking about the other product.  Some might even be tempted to go try out the other product to see if your assertions are true.  In either case, you’ve shifted the discussion from something you control to something you can’t.  If your customers are spending the majority of their time talking about something that isn’t your product, you aren’t doing it right.  It takes a tremendous amount of faith to put your product’s capabilities out there and let the stand on their own.  If you’ve built it right or designed it as well as possible you shouldn’t be worried.  Instead, take that leap of faith and let me decide what works best for me.  After all, you don’t want me to be left with the impression that the only thing unique about your product is that your aren’t your competitors.

7 thoughts on “Marketing By Subtraction

  1. Some campains are completely built on slamming competitors. Not that long ago in my country there was a law that prohibited mentioning of competing products and compare them. Some ads had to rely on subtle hints (and – those referring to generic items put aside – were more funny IMO), there were some trials even between telcom operators because “picture of a phone in this context resembles typical usage provided by [insert telco name]”, all were dismissed though. They dropped that law couple years ago and now you can mention specific competing product. Not commonly used though.

    BTW do you get “generic washing powders” and “ordinary shampoos” too? One manufactorer even made branded products and advertised them as As Seen In Every TV Ad!

  2. I think the ad is more critical of the fanatical iPhone user, rather than the actual iPhone itself. It’s taking the mick out of those people who see the need to maintain their image by wasting hours of their life queueing up to willingly hand over whatever price tag want Apple slap on the latest iDevice. It’s that type of loyal Apple (and I hate to use the word…) fanboy that they’re not going to convert to buying anything else so why not poke a bit of fun at them?

    The ad does show features as well though, Beam using NFC and Photo Sharing are both demoed and the size of the screen is obvious throughout. If you try and highlight features every time, you can end up like the current Apple marketing campaign, appearing to try and pass off 5+ year old tech like noise cancelling microphones as ‘new’.

    Using your car analogy, there was an interesting observation of advertising for companies like Mercedes and BMW. They don’t expect to convince you to go out and spend £50k on a car with a 10 second advert, what they’re actually trying to do is convince you that you made the right decision after you already bought one i.e avoiding buyers remorse or any ‘grass is greener’ thoughts.

    There’s definitely a difference between advertising for mundane purchasing decisions like your daily/weekly shopping vs more considered decisions like technology and cars.

  3. Couple of points. Firstly, I agree on the previous comment on the Samsung advert. It’s not about the product, it’s about the buyer and it says loud and clear “do you want to be an Apple sheep or make your own choice?”. Doesn’t matter if that is a fair view and it doesn’t matter if it makes YOU go out and buy Samsung…it only matters if it increases their market share by whatever magic figure they dreamt up in the exec meeting.

    Secondly, I do agree on the overall theme of differential marketing being stale and its starting to become unacceptable in some cases.. Not sure what it’s like in the US but UK politics is full of this kind of crap. Just watch a Parliament session to see the finger pointing that goes on. It gets worse at election time. You never hear a party talk honestly about itself. You only hear the dirt from the opposition.

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