Effective communications must either amplify your competitive strengths or inoculate against your competitive weaknesses. When helping our clients build communications strategies that persuade by reason and motivate through emotion, one of the tools we employ is the “Six Rs of Strategic Communications” to help break through the clutter and ensure messages are guided by a proactive strategic approach.
by Andrew Cober
Senior Solutions Consultant
Whether its heading off a social media attack that has gone viral
or building a messaging approach to grab more of the market
share pie, effective communications must either amplify your
competitive strengths or inoculate against your competitive
weaknesses. In helping our clients build communications
strategies that persuade by reason and motivate through
emotion, one of the tools we employ is the “Six Rs of Strategic
Communications*” to help break through the communications
clutter and ensure messages are guided by a proactive strategic
We identify perceptual territory owned versus the advantage that
a competitor provides as the foundational framework for strategy
development. This illuminates the battlefield and guides market
place strategies, such as which one—or combination—of the “Six
Rs” will have the most significant impact on your bottom line.
When building communications through this strategic lens you are highlighting the positive
attributes, emotions, and values that you already know are strongly associated with your
brand, product or issue. Ronald Reagan’s campaign ad Morning in America (informed by
Wirthlin’s research) is a textbook example (noted by USA Today as one of the 25 most
memorable ads of all time). Morning in America focused exclusively on Reagan’s
strengths—strong leadership and building a more vibrant economy through individual
opportunity—that resonated with his core and helped lead to Mondale’s landslide defeat in
the General Election.
In this approach the strategy is to make stronger connections to your latent positives
that might not yet be top of mind with your stakeholders. The plastics industry
executed this approach with great success in the face of strong environmental
concerns about plastics leading to environmental degradation (led by Dr. Jim Hoskins).
In response the industry employed a communications campaign that drew attention to
the medical and quality of life benefits that plastics provides day in and day out. As a
result the industry was able to completely reverse public perception that the risks of
plastics outweighed the benefits.
Turn a competitive weakness into a strength. For example, the higher caloric and fat
content of whole milk is commonly viewed as a weakness. But recently, multiple
studies have linked the consumption of high fat dairy products with a significantly
reduced likelihood to become obese. Whether higher levels of fat in whole milk
products make us feel fuller, faster so we end up eating less, or bioactive substances in
the milk fat are altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it
for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies—whole milk can now tout its fat and
calorie content as a positive.
Strategies to Undermine
Here the tactic is to expose a competitor’s perceived strength as a weakness. This can
often be seen when products are under attack as posing health or safety risks, as
evidenced by third-party research. The company under attack may expose a bias or
less than ethical ties (follow the money) that can be communicated in a way that will
turn a perceived advantage of the opposition into a disadvantage.
Effective use of this strategy is rooted in diverting attention away from a competitor’s
perceived strength to their weakness. Taco Bell did this exceptionally well in its Breakfast
Defector campaign (by far my favorite ad of the past year). McDonald’s dominance in the
quick serve breakfast space was highlighted in the Taco Bell ad as a communist
dystopian wasteland of conformity.
Undermining a competitor’s strength by showing it doesn’t, in fact, exist is another
approach that can be employed. Take for example the issue of voter fraud that has
generated a great deal of interest (and angry voters) over the past few years. Voter fraud
is un-American to the core, it attacks one of our most sacred principles as a nation and
the concept itself infuriates not just voters, but lawmakers determined to stamp it out.
However, some of the wind came out of the sails of promoting voter fraud legislation when
opponents (the likes of Jon Stewart) pointed out that in Texas, for example, there had
been only two confirmed cases of voter fraud in the past decade.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ANDREW COBER
Andrew is a Senior Solutions Consultant who excels at
transforming client needs and objectives into tailored
research designs resulting in meaningful and actionable
insights that take root within an organization.
Andrew has led research efforts in brand, messaging and
communications strategy for leading corporations,
associations, and healthcare providers such as AARP,
PG&E, Scripps Health, Western Union, The National
Restaurant Association, American Petroleum Institute,
Western Digital, New Haven Health and Brigham and
* The “Six Rs” were first publically codified in 1995 by Reynolds and
Whitlark in a Journal of Advertising Research article, “Applying
Laddering Data to Communication Strategy and Advertising Practice”
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