Behind every successful product, service, or brand is a powerful concept. It is really that simple. Products and services that win in the marketplace are successful in presenting an idea that combines a clear benefit with invisible consumer logic. Whether the business is big or small, just started or in some stage of maturity, it needs a marketing concept. Surprisingly, many marketers struggle with creating a unique and ownable concept — it is much more difficult than most think.
So what exactly is a marketing concept? It is the mental picture of the benefit the target audience/buyers believe they will receive when they purchase the product or service. As Larry Huston of Procter & Gamble has described it, “A true measure of a [positioning] concept is its simplicity. When presenting the concept to the consumer, [we] must provide a clean, easily defensible, clearly articulated, emotionally satisfying, thoroughly convincing, superior answer to the deceptively simple question, ‘Why should I purchase from you?’”
Two fundamental types of concepts exist. One is a core idea concept, which simply describes the product or service being offered and is used to determine whether an idea is of interest to a potential buyer. The other is a positioning (or marketing) concept, which attempts to sell the benefits of the product or service and must tap into a real customer belief and provide a relevant context for the idea.
Every business, brand, product or service needs a positioning concept or it will look like every other business in the competitive set — or, even worse, its target audience or competitor might set the position to something other than what the business owner wants it to stand for.
An example used in my book (with Apple’s permission) is the MacBook Air. The core idea for the Air is that it is thin and lightweight and has all sorts of nifty add-ons for storage and processing power. That sounds good; now we understand what the product is all about and we’ve gotten a laundry list of features that may or may not be relevant to a buyer. In contrast, the positioning concept sells a benefit — fundamentally, the new shape and size of the MacBook Air makes it “ultraportable” and not a space hog in your briefcase. The use of “ultra” suggests superiority versus other Mac and PC options. Being portable is a consumer benefit, while being thin and light are just features of the new product. In the positioning concept, theses features are used to support the consumer benefit. Consumers buy benefits, not features. Note that the positioning concept only selectively uses the useful product features — not all of them — to support the benefit.
Creating the marketing concept requires some work on the part of the business owner. First is to understand the three primary areas needed to develop an effective business positioning: Content, language and relevance (“CLeAR” thinking).
- Content: First, make sure to communicate something meaningful in the content of the concept. Does the business solve a problem or overcome an existing negative? Are there believable and meaningful reasons that what the business is offering is beneficial? Does it fill a functional need (whiter teeth with a toothpaste) or an emotional need (feeling more comfortable smiling)?
- Language: The language must be appropriate for the target audience — whether targeting a high-tech business professional or a nervous, new mom, use their language. Companies often develop an idea and communicate language that sounds like they are targeting the internal company owners and senior management rather than anyone who might actually want the service. The language must be outwardly focused, not be internal lingo.
- Relevant: Make the concept relevant to the target — novel and unique in the competitive set. In selling a shampoo, the mere claim that hair will be clean will not lead to the product jumping off the shelf. In contrast, the promise of healthy, radiant hair offers something that might be aspirational to many.
Once the business has developed and qualified a winning concept, it must be then turned into a communications strategy, often called a positioning statement. Contrary to what some believe, a concept is not a selling line such as “Hallmark, when you care enough to send the very best” or “Disney, where dreams come true.” The marketing concept identifies the winning approach, the copy strategy, as the backbone of all communications — advertising, PR, sales, promotion, website, selling line, social media communications, etc. — and the communications strategy is used to execute a winning concept idea.
Going back to the MacBook Air example, the positioning concept is first of four critical elements of the communications strategy (the benefit and the reason to believe). The other aspects incorporated include the target audience, the brand character and the purpose of the communications. Here’s what the MacBook Air strategy might look like:
- Communications will convince business people who travel a lot that smart professionals use the MacBook Air because it is the ultrathin, ultraportable choice for a personal computer. Only MacBook Air is encased in less than an inch of sleek, sturdy, anodized aluminum and weighs just three pounds, so it is the thinnest, lightest choice available.
- Apple’s brand character: Innovative, Simplicity, People-driven design, Passionate connection with its customer.
My own business is another example. When I first started, my company was called Consumer Reactions and I was a moderator of qualitative research. Most of my business was consumer-focused, so the company name made sense. I later recognized a unique opportunity to help my clients provide better concept stimuli for their research, and, having identified that niche, reopened my company as The Rite Concept. I was now something much broader than a moderator — I was now known as “The Concept Queen.” This new company name was created to reflect my new positioning as a company that does not merely do qualitative research but helps clients ideate, research and develop concepts. The new positioning and the name change created marketplace uniqueness in a somewhat cluttered target audience.
Companies large and small can find the niche that will help their business, product or service grow much more rapidly. The time and effort focused on developing the concept and communicating it well will make new sales much more effortless.
Martha Guidry is the principal of The Rite Concept and author of Marketing Concepts that Win! She presents at national conferences, writes articles, and blogs on ConceptTalk.com in addition to her consulting and research practice.