Perils of positioning wars

A good article by Jay Rosen about media coverage of the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice in the US. The story is of two sides of activists doing battle with each other where the battle itself seems to become more important than the issue allegedly at stake. Here’s a snippet:

Reaching for her cliché gun Robin Toner can say “nothing less than a national political campaign had begun,” but she has no idea how it’s supposed to work, either. Everyone parades around as if this mobilization of opposing armies makes perfect political sense, when in fact “all the time and money spent on campaigns may have little influence on the outcome.”

Why does this go on? One reason is that activist groups, by opposing each other, use each other for mutual self-definition. They too don’t know how their e-mail blasts and TV ads are supposed to work. Like spammers, they just send the stuff out. What they know is that the other side will be sending e-mail blasts and running TV ads. Spam must meet spam.

I think there’s a moral here for marketers too. It’s very easy to get sucked into positioning wars in which the focus is on the perceived competitor. What results is that what you have to say gets squeezed out in favour of negating the opposition, and the customer’s needs and interests get forgotten. That mistake of defining ourselves by the other is a great way to stay in conflict with people, burn lots of energy, and end up disconnected from ourselves and the world.

UPDATE: I thought later an example would be good, rather than just a general homily. In the UK, I’d pick on the mobile (cell) phone companies, who seem perpetually engaged in putting forward ever-more complicated pricing plans. It looks like they are all playing against each other, leaving customers bewildered. At some level it works because I give up trying to compare all these deals and stay put – and I think it must create an opportunity for someone to break through.

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