Positioning and Digital PR: Winning the Battle of the Mind

The principle of positioning and Digital PR work together to create an optimized content ecosystem. I call this the Content Distribution Ecosystem. This refers to the process of creating and sustaining influence through content campaigns on the digital web.

Before setting on a course of distributing a press release or posting a new blog, it’s important to think about your strategy. Why does the content have value, and what does the thematic context of the press release, blog post, video, etc. have to do with your strategy and positioning?

Sometimes in the rush to be on the cutting edge in our marketing efforts today, we forget that successful businesses are built on a long-term vision centered around a consistent interaction between business Objectives (What you want to achieve) and Strategies (How you will meet your objectives).

The tendency today is to go straight to Tactics — content methods you will use to promote the business — before solidifying the Objectives and Strategies are set. One good example of this rush to tactics is the number of companies who jump quickly into posting on social media — thinking this will shortcut the route to gaining customers — before establishing why these channels have value to their business.

Typically, these companies tend to believe they can shortcut the route to success by using social media to “Yell and Sell,” built around the idea that “if we build it (a Facebook page), they will come.” It won’t work. Case in point: How many one-year old Facebook business pages are there with less than 20 followers and only a few early posts?

Forget Yell and Sell

In 1978, Al Ries and Jack Trout published a groundbreaking book that helps us understand why these companies fail. The book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind proposed what was then a radical new approach to marketing. At that time, the culture of  Yell and Sell had become highly ingrained in business. Ries and Trout turned heads with the premise that companies don’t position products, people do.

Up until that time, the focus of brand marketing (and positioning) for most companies had been to tell the customer what to think about their brand or product. This approach assumed that a consumer was going to simply take the company’s word about the brand (“We’re the best tasting beer in the world”) as true and act on it. And, oddly enough, many companies still market themselves in this way — especially on social media. The problem with this approach? It doesn’t work, especially in today’s over communicated world.

This seems obvious when you think about it. But it’s amazing how much marketing still goes on today driven by the belief that we can tell a customer how to think and what to believe. For example, how many websites or press releases do you see with the word “Leading company” in the body copy? “BobCo is the leading widget maker in the world.” Hold on a minute, you might say. I buy my widgets from FredCo, so, to me, BobCo is not the “leading widget maker in the world.”

This is a perfect example of ignoring the principle of positioning. That companies don’t tell the customer who the “leading company is. It’s the other way around.

Positioning Defined

Ries and Trout drill down on this topic in a discussion about the marketer’s battle for the mind. Put simply, marketing is really nothing more than a battle for a customer’s share of mind. And in that consumer’s mind, there are pegs on which we hang beliefs about the company (positive or negative): Trustworthy; Reliable; Cool; Cutting-edge, Expensive, Faulty, Failing, etc. The greater the share of mind a brand has — on a large scale basis — the higher the chance that customers will agree with the company when they profess to be a leader. Companies that come to mind include Apple, Zappos, Amazon.

A step in the right direction in BobCo becoming the leading widget maker in the world is for the company to get my business first, and this won’t be easy because FredCo already has my share of mind when it comes to widgets. In order for BobCo to get my business, several things have to take place.

First, I need to become aware of BobCo. Awareness marketing can happen a number of ways, including Word of Mouth, Public Relations, Advertising. If I’ve never heard of you, you have zero share of mind with me and you’re not the leading anything in the world. Even worse, if I have heard of you but have a negative perception, you’re definitely not the leader. And if that’s the case (I’ve heard of you, but have a negative perception) and you claim to be the Leader, you actually have spent marketing dollars to hurt your brand image.

Positioning: How Do I Start?

You have to influence my perception of you, and over time, that consistent influence can result in change. A good place to start in changing the level of influence for a brand in a customer’s mind is by researching your market, your customer, and your desired customer  — benchmarking how, in general, people perceive your brand (or industry), and building your messaging strategies from the consumer’s point of view about your company, not your point of view. Google Surveys is an inexpensive and easy way to start doing this kind of research. You can also use tools like SEMRush, BuzzSumo and CustomScoop.

Digital Public Relations is a tool you can use to work on shifting your image. I define digital public relations as creating and sustaining an influential presence on the digital web. A great way to go about pursuing a digital public relations effort is to use the Content Distribution Ecosystem approach to digital PR.

In today’s socially connected world, brands have a great opportunity to build awareness and increase share of mind through social marketing. Facebook, for example, has an extremely deep and robust advertising and promotions interface, one that is extremely targetable and cost efficient. For less than $10 per week, you can start to advertise or boost your Facebook posts to a targeted audience. But remember, don’t sell right off the bat. Consider boosting posts from your page that are informative and educational, building share of mind equity with your customer as a go to and knowledgeable resource.

Positioning is not easy, and there are no shortcuts. If it was, everyone would be a “Leader” in their own category. But even though it’s not easy, it can be done. So get started by defining or honing your business objectives and strategies and go from there. And don’t forget to keep the principle of positioning in mind as you move through the process of setting your strategy and goals.

Once you become recognized as The Leader in your category with this measured approach to positioning and digital PR, you’ll be glad you took the time to focus on the positioning aspect of content marketing. You’ll spend less money on Yell and Sell, and that’s money you can take to the bank!

Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, Inc., a digital PR consultancy based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications, Inc. specializes in Digital PR strategy and tactics, with a focus on integrated content campaigns. This approach to Digital PR is known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content.

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