Wednesday, August 8, 2012


When I initially broke Product Attributes down into three types, Physical, Performance and Negative, I was sure that Negative Attributes were not likely to be very influential among all the other elements in a Selling Proposition. I have recently become aware of a second function that makes me think we should look closer at the possible role they play. A well developed Negative Attribute can now become a powerful element in your Selling Proposition that sets you aside from your competition and TRIGGERS the purchase.

In the past, I have defined the Negative Attribute as a feature of the product that may be needed in order to overcome a potential negative. I said they are well known to most of us, No Preservatives, No Artificial Flavors, Won’t Leave Residue, Gluten Free, etc. My assumption was that they were only rarely needed and even then were expendable if the Selling Proposition was complex and already had an abundance of communication elements in it.  They don’t generally score very high when compared to all of the other communication elements yet curiously, consumers frequently insist on including them in the Selling Proposition. Why do they do that? Here is the answer.

For a long time, I have referred to what I call the operating state of humans. That state is “What’s wrong here?” By operating state, I am referring to their frame of mind. If you were just thinking to yourself “yes, but not me”, look more closely. This goes for you and I as well. We do it on a subconscious level constantly and jump into and out of it thousands of times daily. Its presence seems to vary on our mood or circumstance but I say it is always right there. I think it is a holdover from the days of the caveman when things went wrong on a frequent basis.

In the past, I recommended we be aware of this consumer behavior and avoid several things that will turn the consumer off simply by making it difficult to work through your Selling Proposition. Here is a short list:

-    Avoid a sentence with more than four words.
-    Avoid more than five key elements,
-    Communicate on an eighth grade level,
-    Make smooth transitions from element to element,
-    Avoid long words.
-    Avoid any word that may not be widely understood.
-    Avoid small type or anything else that may be difficult to see.
-    Make sure there is contrast in all graphics.

This list was built defensively. That is, with the attitude that one needed to be careful not to sabotage your own Selling Proposition. Now, there is a positively motivated action that I like much more.  A reason that offers an advantage over your competition.

Let’s assume you still check the above list to be sure you are not inadvertently turning the consumer off. What’s next is to find a negative attribute simply to satiate the operating state of your consumer. I believe if you do so they will lower their level of interest in finding an objective that will disqualify their purchase. This will be most effective on a product where you are relatively sure there are no Negatives in the consumers mind to overcome.

Let’s get creative for a moment. Let’s say you are selling an electric fan. It has in it a simple circuit breaker that is already required by law in case of a short.  Electric fans have been made this way for years. The consumer, on the other hand, has no fundamental fear of a short as they encounter the category.

The opportunity: The consumer approaches the category looking for a fan with little knowledge of how fans work. He scans several fans that boast similar performance features making the decision difficult. But when he encounters your Selling Proposition, it includes the words “Automatic short safety protector”. This line is intentionally worded similar to a “surge protector” that the world has come to accept as necessary. Now we have invented a Negative Attribute for our own use to set ourselves aside from our competition. Which one does he buy?

Continuing the thought, I have seen the line “gluten free” on food products that are completely inappropriate like preserves and juices. I suspect it was added by marketers who are hoping for a ride on that bandwagon.

The learning here is that in the endless quest to drive your competition crazy, three words at a time, take a look at the Negative Attribute. Your competition is likely unaware of this opportunity.


Keith Chambers

Keynote Marketing Speaker
Creative Marketing Consultant
(310) 473-0010

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