If positioning is such a huge issue, then why are advertising methods so exchangeable among the companies? The Reason for this is the dark side of a successful model: learning by imitation.

Without learning by imitation, our children would have to start from scratch in every generation. They would have to make every single experience themselves, both the positive and negative. What they still would not have is a compressed crash course in generations of culture. Children take their clues from their parents, followers from the leaders. If you have become a leader of the market, you know how to be a success. So some pilfering is permitted. But how much of it?

Looking at the individual industrial sectors, you get the impression that the marketing specialists – take, for instance, those in the financial sector – sat at a round table and came to a mutual agreement about financial advertising. To be sure, the advertising is not precisely identical, yet it is all the same making. You always come across the same kinds of pictures, texts, issues. In practice, it is a very effective communication cartel, even though it has not been mutually agreed upon.

You do not believe me? We played the following game with prospective customers during more than 120 business meetings with new contacts.

Taking the 5 most expensive campaigns in the financial sector – those of Deutsche Bank, Allianz, Hypo Vereinsbank, Schwäbisch Hall, DWS –, we cut the printed texts into three segments.

Title, picture, sender and slogan.

The campaigns had a total value of 60 million Euros. We asked our new business partners (two thirds of whom came from the financial sector) to rearrange the advertisements in the correct order.

No more than eight people managed to do it. The number eight might easily just be the statistical error. After all, who says that the few correct answers were not just based on guess, rather than knowledge?

On the big markets, we are talking millions of dollars. There is an enormous amount of uncertainty. It is risky to endeavour your own way, with your own positioning. So it is obvious why so many followers (unlike the courageous challenger in our last article) just rely on imitation. They prefer to get the small profits of the communication cartel, rather than aiming for the huge profit against all the other players.

To quote John Galbrait: “It is easier to be wrong along with all the others than to be right all by yourself”.

SIX
(Translated by EG)

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