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Adjacent Conversations

It’s not necessarily the informed or the expert who will determine the future of a brand;

it could be everyone else

Roger Darashah

The more a person knows about a product, the more informed they are about its competitive positioning, it’s performance and its potential; the greater their knowledge of its design and workings, the less time a brand should spend engaging with them.  Yes, that’s right, . . . the less time.

What is behind the marketing heresy?  Marketing – and common – sense suggests that brands should be devoting all their energies to informed influencers.  Some of their time, I agree.  But brands who continue to neglect the ‘non experts’ and ‘uninformed’ do so at their peril.

The reality is that the more informed a person is on a subject, the more likely they are to be influenced by data, facts and figures, performance metrics and price comparisons . . . . ‘objective’ information, you could say. That’s the thing with experts, they (already) have an opinion on their chosen field, and a brand’s best chance of influencing them is to deliver optimal products.

A brand’s chance to influence them through more subjective arguments such as brand positioning, influencer engagement, storytelling is – in reality – fairly limited.  In many instances, an industry-specialist journalist is likely to know more about the market, the relevant products and their respective performances than the brand manager or the PR firm pitching them.  A new insurance package or current account offering will be entering a highly competitive (and regulated) market; comparative and performance data will be widely available, these are the criteria that specialist, personal finance journalists will use to assess the proposition.  While more subjective latitude will be provided in sectors such as food and beverage or corporate hospitality, for industries such as automobile and technology, for the specialist journalists, at least, it largely boils down to data.

Where does that leave the PR firm? Great, if all your clients are industry leading whose products speak for themselves.  In the event that your portfolio is actually less more ‘diversified’, what is your chance convincing the experts on about your client’s less-than-market-leading product?

The good news is that, when it comes to brand positioning, it’s no longer (just) about the experts.  In fact, there is a huge opportunity for brands to engage ‘the rest of the world’ and tell their story; provided they make themselves relevant.  And – in addition to visibility – there are numerous advantages to this approach.  Let me explain.

Taking the example of automobile loans, as illustrated by the diagram (left) – based on India print coverage Q1 ’18 – the vast majority of articles relating to auto loans include no reference to any bank.  That is to say, only 3% of the features, reviews, news briefs, cover stories, in depth analysis dedicated to car launches, previews and industry news, published in the first quarter this year relating to auto loans actually cited a bank.  That represents 1,379 pieces in general/mainline titles, 125 in new age media, and 50 in technology which have a high probability of being read by a consumer who currently or soon will have a requirement for motor insurance.  None of these will be specialist finance articles, granted; but this is the opportunity.  No bank is currently being referenced, the journalists writing are likely to be less informed (and more disposed towards) stories about motor insurance than their personal finance counterparts, provided that the bank in question can demonstrate relevance to the readership.

The benefits of this ‘adjacency’ approach are numerous; these opportunities currently remain virtually uncontested, they are far less confrontational than specialist pitches, and their number is potentially infinite. A trend certain to continue as specialist titles themselves consolidate to more generalist equivalents.

And it’s not restricted to finance; taking the subject to artificial intelligence (AI) and big data during the same timeframe, only 2% contained any reference to cyber security.  That means 98% (over 5,500) remain yet to be pitched by a vendor about an issue of direct relevance to readers. The proportions are identical looking at the subject of children’s education and child plan insurance; last quarter, over 1,000 stories were published on the former with absolutely no reference to the latter – despite the obvious relevance.

This is the essence of adjacency; such stories (or conversations on social media) won’t be about the product or service you are trying to promote.  They’ll be about the target audience – current and potential users – they key is to make the brand relevant to them.  This requires time, effort and dedication, convincing both the client and the journalist of the relevance; but the upside is potentially unlimited.

Focusing attention away from your informed, expert influencers may appear counter-intuitive as a media strategy; until you realise that this will actually enable you to reach the ‘98%’.

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