> Zebra feature on energy optimization at Cost Plus World Market. (click to view)

Ultra-Positioning in PR

by Jim McMahon

Better focused positioning, expanded branding, increased market share, more qualified leads and reduced cost of marketing – these are some of the benefits that Ultra-Positioning™, when used with feature story PR, can bring to industrial and high-tech companies.

Within the last several years, PR has moved to center stage as a marketing tool. For industrial and high-tech companies, the most effective form of PR is feature stories. If a company is not getting consistent feature stories running in its target market publications then its marketing effort is running at sub-level, and it is letting its market share and leads go to the competition.

In today’s competitive environment, industrial and high-tech companies need a powerful feature story print PR effort to drive their marketing machine. Twenty to thirty feature stories running per year, 75 to 80 pages of dedicated feature editorial, along with one or two cover stories, is what it takes to entrench a company’s positioning in its markets and create the long-term stability needed to ensure viability. Instead of losing market share, the company will be taking market share from its competitors faster than they can replace it.

Sound speculative? It is not. A growing number of large and small industrial and high-tech companies worldwide have discovered this and are successfully doing it right now. It is working.

Competitive Analysis
What lies behind Ultra-Positioning is the concept of competitive analysis. Competitive analysis is the system of thoroughly examining, analyzing, viewing, compartmentalizing, and to a marked degree influencing forces competitive to one's company, products and services.

Competitive analysis employs an in-depth inspection of competitive forces to improve positioning, allowing a company to better focus its positioning relative to competition and more effectively gain market share in targeted markets. When applied to public relations, the results are tremendous.

For industrial and high-tech companies, competitive analysis streamlines and intensifies PR activities, increases the potential for market share in core and secondary markets, and makes overall marketing far more cost effective.

But the subject of competitive analysis is seldom well implemented into the marketing fabric of industrial and high-tech companies, much to their detriment.

It is popular, yet foolish, for many companies to expound that competition is something they need not consider. Various reasons are given such as, “No one has a product line like ours to warrant being considered competition.” or, “We just concentrate on doing our job, we really don’t care what anyone else is doing.” or, “We are the market leader, the others can’t touch us.” These are statements typically originating from misinformed executives. From a competitive analysis viewpoint, these statements reflect a perception of unreality towards the markets they are attempting to approach and an underestimation of the magnitude of the competitive forces in those markets.

No company, industrial, high-tech or other, can be successful if it is not perceiving and dealing with the reality of competition. Much of the marketing difficulty faced by industrial and high-tech companies stems from a deficiency in controlling competitive advances.

Yet companies, rather than looking at the reality of a competitive problem, misdiagnose it, and attempt arbitrary, opinionated and largely useless marketing and sales “remedies” based on little or no empirical data. The ability to resolve the complex problems of competitive issues requires a set of analytic tools not found in MBA college curriculums or in marketing texts from bookstores.

Not many industrial and high-tech companies have a clear understanding of what competitive analysis might encompass. At best, such companies, even the big ones, do a short-sighted look into their competitors’ offerings. And, their PR firms and ad agencies have historically offered little insight.

In competitive analysis, everything critical to the competition’s marketing potential is isolated. This includes their product and service offerings, acceptability and desirability of their products and services by their target markets, their stated positioning versus their actual market-perceived positioning including sub-market categories, and a comparative of competitor strengths and weaknesses.

Competitive analysis is instrumental, actually critical, to the development of a truly workable competitive positioning which will subsequently be used as the fundamental driving concept in all of a company’s marketing and PR efforts. Yet, we see a widespread epidemic of bad competitive positioning found liberally amongst industrial an high-tech companies of all sizes. Most notable is the lack of adequate differentiation between competitor positions within the same markets, and the high volume of clearly weak, easily usurped positions being put forth.

Companies have a tendency to either overextend or undervalue their market positions. This represents a critical weakness in their marketing and leaves them open for having their positioning reduced or even usurped by a competitor. Competitive analysis reveals the components of a company’s (and a company’s competitors) weak positioning and provides a reality on the company’s actual market position, which frequently is different from what a company believes or says that it is. An actual positioning for a company is what the aggregate of the market considers that it is, not what a company believes it should be. Thorough competitive analysis will show this up, sometimes much to the surprise of corporate executives. 

Once the purported and real positionings for both the company and its competitors have been isolated, a company can then see, with reality, viable positioning options which it likely would not have seen prior. It can now modify its existing position for greater marketing leverage and become more differentiated from its competitor’s positions. The positioning that the company desired to have for some time, but had failed to make materialize in the market, may be an option that the company wants to continue, but now with the reality that it can actually be achieved within the minds of its market constituency. The positioning clarification will also reveal opportunities for the diminishing or usurpation of a competitor’s positioning. Whether exercised or not, this is a desirable position to be in regarding competition.

There are a number of criteria which determine the strength of a competitive positioning. For example, if a company’s positioning can be easily usurped by a competitor, it is a poor positioning. A positioning too similar to a competitor’s is a weak positioning. The ability to diminish the position of a competitor by reducing the value of the competitor’s category is a valid quality in a strong positioning. A positioning which can re-assign the position of a competitor to a different market category is a strong feature in a competitive positioning. And, of course, it is a given that a strong positioning should embody and strengthen the core attributes of the company and brand, and should convey that they are a leader in the category in some aspect.

A competitive positioning must not only establish the strength of a company or brand, it also must create or advance its market category, be difficult to usurp and must allow a significant degree of influence over the positions of competitors. Only then can it be considered a strong positioning. When a company’s positioning has embodied these characteristics we call it an Ultra-Positioning. But unfortunately, few industrial and high-tech companies ever approach this high level of positioning strength.

Feature Story PR
After the most optimum positioning (ideally an Ultra-Positioning) is determined, it is then intertwined throughout a company’s marketing campaign, including PR efforts, and specifically into the fabric of feature stories. A powerful positioning woven throughout a series of well-written feature stories provides an incredibly powerful marketing tool that will effectively shift market opinion en masse in the company’s direction, while eroding its competition’s position in the market. There is no faster way to shift the attitudes of an industrial or high-tech market segment than with a strong positioning broadly promoted through trade publications with feature stories.

In a slow market, when many manufacturers cut back on their marketing, a well executed feature story PR effort presents an ideal opportunity for companies to cost-efficiently accelerate their market share usurpation process – taking away market share from their competitors. It is amazing that industrial and high-tech companies who have fought so hard to build market share in an up market, will reduce their marketing efforts by 50% to 75% as a reaction to a slackened economy. The few companies that maintain their marketing in tough times then come in and snatch part of that hard earned market share away from their competitors. These companies then emerge with more market share after a downturn than before, without having increased their marketing budget. Those that do increase their marketing in a slow market accelerate the market share usurpation process even faster, and by the way, more cost-efficiently than in an up market.  Simply put, marketing dollars spend in a tough market, when spent wisely, deliver more market share return on investment per dollar spent than when the market is expanding and competition is more active.

Marketing is a game of efficiencies. You are continually assessing what the most efficient systems are to reach an audience and achieve a certain effect with that audience. Feature story PR, with refined positioning based on competitive analysis, is an exceedingly efficient method of modifying audience viewpoint, entrenching positioning, expanding branding and generating leads. But to look at feature story PR only from the perspective of generating leads, as some companies do, would be selling it grossly short of its full purpose and capability.

Feature story PR is a very unique and one-of-a-kind tool in an industrial or high-tech company’s marketing arsenal. It gives a tremendous depth of marketing penetration by using the tacit endorsement of industry opinion leaders, which is one of the most efficient tools for getting your audiences to listen to what you have to say (a critical factor in cutting through the continually escalating message clutter in industrial and high-tech markets). What products, services or companies are others using or buying?  “Others” being those persons or companies that the reader considers are important or influential. This is word-of-mouth expanded out exponentially, marketwide. There is no faster way to change attitudes in a market than to have industry authorities influence that market from an altitude standpoint.

Whether they overtly endorse your company or not, if a prominent and respected individual or company is in the same magazine feature story along with you, your company is perceived by readers as being within their league. Presto! – instant positioning acceleration for your company and brand. And additionally, simply because the feature story is running in a magazine, the reader believes that the editor and the magazine have also given your company a stamp of approval. Trade publications are generally well respected for their editor’s knowledgeable perspective of the industry, and therefore if a story appears in a respected trade magazine it is considered to have gone through quite a review process as to its credulity, which happens to be true with most leading trade publications. So there is a double tacit endorsement that occurs when a feature story is run in a trade publication. Now, do this 20 times over with a series of well-written feature stories throughout the course of a year, and your company positioning and branding will become quite well entrenched. Not to mention, your competition will also be losing some of its market share, and that market share will be going to you.  Sounds too simple doesn’t it?  Well, I am afraid it happens to be true.

Product releases and news releases provide only a shadow of the positioning and branding benefits that can be achieved with feature stories. Years of empirical testing with both features and releases have shown that features are at least 20 times more effective at positioning, branding and lead generation than the ubiquitous product and news releases. And when it comes to rearranging your competitor’s market share, news and product releases are only minimally effective, with feature stories being the statistically superior marketing tool of choice for this task. However, features are not the easiest marketing pieces to put together, so they are usually not so often employed by industrial and high-tech companies. Instead, the much easier to create product and news releases are generally used, resulting in a greatly diminished marketing effect.  

Within a company, engineers, sales managers and others sometimes prepare feature stories. If these stories do not contain the right positioning, one that is based upon sound competitive analysis and subsequent positioning analysis, their success will be limited, they will not much diminish the influence of their competition, and they will not deliver significant market share. For industrial and high-tech companies, competitive analysis, competitive positioning and the resultant Ultra-Positioning provide a surefire platform to build successful feature story PR and marketing campaigns.

*Ultra-Positioning is a trademark of Zebra Communications.