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Stop Putting 10 Pounds Of Copy Into A 5-Pound Page

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by Jim Gilmartin

The Conditional Positioning Principle: The less absolutely a brand is defined, the more customers, especially older customers, will define the brand in terms of their unique self-image, personality characteristics and individualized perceptions of need and desire.

Baby Boomers are more resistant to absolutism. Absolute positioning (putting ten pounds of copy into a five-pound page), aims to push the product and generate uniform perceptions of a brand while Conditional Positioning allows individual diverse perceptions/interpretations of a brand. It is a powerful marketing tool based upon research about how people respond to absolute statements vs. conditional statements.

The younger minds tend to see reality in simpler terms than aging minds do, and they tend to see things in terms of absolute states or conditions: either something is or it is not. In contrast, Baby Boomers typically tend to have greater appreciation for the finer definition that nuance and subtlety give a matter. This bias results from a combination of experience, imagination and age-related changes in how the brain processes information. The older the person the higher the likelihood the person will show greater resistance to absolute product positioning than a younger person is likely to reflect.

Psychologist Ellen Langer has conducted many studies concerning the stimulation of imagination for defining objects. She has found that the more absolutely someone defines an object for others, the less creatively they will perceive it. In marketing, the takeaway is: to get customers to put their imaginations to work to define a product a brand’s positioning should be more about the customer than the product. The message should reflect the company’s product/service as a gateway to meaningful experiences.

Langer’s work in the study of the role of creative thinking holds important lessons for marketers, especially those striving for a larger share of Baby Boomer markets. When offering a product or service, knowing how to employ the customer’s imagination to engender positive responses is the psychological equivalent of how a judo master works.

The judo master leverages the strength of his adversary to achieve his purposes. Using Conditional Positioning (less can be more), the marketer allows the prospect to interpret the message based upon her/his history of individual experiences likely imagining richer positive attributes about the product/service than can be portrayed in any ad following the principles of Absolute Positioning(tell ’em everything).

Moreover, the Baby Boomer’s more mature personality typically has a greater capacity for applying his or her imagination to product definition than existed earlier in life because greater experience gives the older person more images in memory to which they can key their imaginations. Adopting a Conditional Positioning approach can provide marketers the ability to move from net fishing to fly fishing. From creating ads that attempt to push all the features of a product or service to try to meeting everyone’s needs and wants, to pulling the customer into the ad using their own imagination.

Cognitive research has shown that the human brain will finish incomplete pictures or fill in missing information based on personal experiences. That is part of the power of Conditional Positioning. A conditionally positioned brand projects human values rather than product or company claimed characteristics, leaving consumers to infer product or company characteristics from the values projected.

Conditional Positioning also respects customer autonomy. It projects willingness to let customers largely define your message. But, it also makes it possible for more customers to connect with the message because they, not the copywriter, determine what the message says. This approach presents your brand in a customer-centric manner, rather than with a product-centric focus.

Finally, Conditional Positioning focuses less on demographically defined types of customers and more on types of customer motivational factors, especially as various levels of psychological and sociological maturity influence them. Through Conditional Positioning you make the messaging and imagery focused on the consumer and their needs, not on your brand and its features. Conditional Positioning deserves greater attention from marketers because Baby Boomers generally depend more on themselves to determine the value of a brand than on values espoused by a copywriter.

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