BMW, Apple, Disney, Ritz Carlton, Coca Cola, Tylenol, COVERGIRL cosmetics, Head & Shoulders...
Behind every successful product, service, or brand lies a powerful concept. Products and services that win in the marketplace are successful in presenting an idea that combines a clear benefit with invisible consumer logic. Whether your business is big or small, new, or in some stage of maturity, you need a marketing concept.
What, exactly, is a marketing concept? In short, it is the mental picture of the benefit your target customers believe they will receive when they purchase your product or service.
The best description of "concept" I ever heard was in a speech by Larry Huston of Procter & Gamble in the '80s:
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: core-idea concepts and positioning (or marketing) concepts:
- A core idea concept simply describes the product or service being offered, and it is used to determine whether an idea is of interest to a potential buyer.
- A positioning concept attempts to sell the benefits of the product or service by tapping into a real customer belief and providing a relevant context for the idea.
Your business needs a positioning concept; otherwise, you'll look like your competitors. Or, even worse, your target audience or your competitors may be the ones who position you (and how they position you might not correspond to what you want to stand for).
Let's look at an example using a mock business that sells "My Farm" organic milk. The core idea for the farm's product is that the milk contains all the nutritional elements of any other milk, but it's natural and free of hormones.
OK, so that sounds like any product that is organic... and customers may or may not be interested in hearing about that. A positioning concept, on the other hand, could mention a specific benefit, such as the following: My Farm Milk is the milk you can feel good about serving your kids. Hmm, if I am a mom, I might want to find out about a product that makes me feel like a better mom.
If My Farm doesn't communicate a positioning concept, regular milk farmers might suggest that My Farm is the "expensive milk that isn't worth the extra price." As a marketer looking to maximize profits, which concept would you choose? My guess would be the concept that tells customers what's in it for them.
Creating your marketing concept requires some work. You need to understand three primary areas to develop an effective business positioning: content, language, and relevance (I call this "CLeAR" thinking to make it easier to remember):
- Content. You must first make sure that the content of your concept is communicating something meaningful. Does your business solve or mitigate a problem? Have you identified believable and meaningful reasons that support why your offering is beneficial? Are you filling a functional need (e.g., achieving whiter teeth) or an emotional need (e.g., feeling more comfortable smiling)?
- Language. The language of your concept must be appropriate for the target audience. Whether you are targeting high-tech business professionals or nervous new moms, you should be using their language. Companies often develop an idea and communicate in language that sounds like they are targeting their own company owners and senior management rather than those who might actually want their services. The language must be outwardly focused. Avoid using internal lingo.
- Relevant. Make your positioning concept relevant to your target and novel and unique among your competitors. For example, if you sell shampoo and you merely claim that customers' hair will be clean, the product won't be jumping off the shelves. In contrast, if you promise healthy, radiant hair, you've offered a benefit many might desire.
Once you've developed and qualified a winning concept, it must then be turned into a copy strategy. 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, and the copy strategy is the backbone of all of your communications—advertising, public relations, sales, promotion, website, selling line, social media communications, etc. The copy strategy executes a winning concept idea.
My own business, when I first started out, was called Consumer Reactions, and I was a moderator of qualitative research. Most of my business was consumer-focused, so my company's name made sense. When my husband's job took us to England, I stopped working. Upon our return to the US, I reopened my business, but I was smarter about it. I recognized a unique opportunity to help my clients provide better concept stimuli for their research. When I identified that niche, my company became The Rite Concept. My role became something much broader than moderator: "Concept Queen." That new positioning and communication was created after I saw a void in the market and realized that helping clients ideate, research, and develop concepts was much more unique and relevant to my target audience.
You can do it, too. You can find that niche that will help your business, product, or service grow much more rapidly. The time and effort you invest in developing your concept and communicating it well will make driving new sales much less difficult. And who doesn't want that?