The art of polarization

I just finished “Positioning” by Al Ries & Jack Trout (the authors of one of my favorite marketing books, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing“).  A bit outdated but still an extremely important book.

Originally, I planned on covering the important concepts like I did in the post on “Grapevine,” but I decided to share one of the more memorable examples from the book instead:

Sometimes you can want too much.  You can want to own a position that’s too broad… This, of course, is the everybody trap, and one example is a famous campaign for a beer called Rheingold.  This brewery wanted to preempt New York City’s working class… So they produced some marvelous commercials featuring Italians drinking Rheingold, Blacks drinking Rheingold, Irish drinking Rheingold, Jews drinking Rheingold, and so on.

Well, rather than appeal to everybody, they ended up appealing to nobody.  The reason was simple.  Prejudice being a basic human commodity, the fact that one ethnic group drank Rheingold sure didn’t impress another ethnic group.  In fact, all the campaign did was alienate every ethnic group in New York.

Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for failure.  You have to decide who you will not market to.  In fact, it can be extremely beneficial (and profitable) to actively exclude other groups.  You will polarize the crowd — most will dislike you, but the rest will become your diehard fans.  In a world where most businesses have castrated themselves with “safe” and “politically correct,” you will stand above the mediocre.

If no one is discontent and the response to your product is tepid, you screwed up.

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Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living and Recession Proof Graduate. His work has been featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour, Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. Previously, he was the Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss. Currently, he is the Head of Video at Book In A Box. He lives with his wife and daughter in Austin, Texas.

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