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Positioning is critical in the crowded diamond businessPositioning – how your product is perceived in the mind of your buyer – is critical for any marketing organization. Creating a positioning statement is an essential skill for marketers to master. In crowded markets, where the capacity of a buyer’s mind is already filled with competitors, another key concept is critical – de-positioning. I came across a great example recently, which I’m going to dissect to illustrate the concept.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, as I do, you know Tom Shane. Not personally, but from the radio. We all know Tom’s gravelly voice from the ads he’s voiced for over 20 years.

I can almost recite Shane Co.’s ads by heart, and apparently, I’m not alone. A recent post on Reddit, “You know you’re from the Bay Area when you’ve memorized what the Shane Company’s locations & store hours are,” inspired 228 comments from people who did.

Yesterday, driving home and listening to KFOG, I was struck by Shane Co.’s most recent spot. Done interview style, the ad starts out with Tom’s typical, homespun exposition on how diamonds should be bought, his personal relationship with buyers in Antwerp and Tel Aviv (a very simple device that tells you Shane Co. is both cosmopolitan and connected), and why he will get you the best deal around.

What stood out for me is how this spot does a great job of de-positioning the jeweler’s competitors. Here’s how the ad continues:

Ethan: Is that so different from other jewelers?

Tom: Totally different. Every year, our buyers examine hundreds of thousands of diamonds, one at a time.

Ethan: Whoa.

Tom: We pick only those diamonds that sparkle the most. Our rejects get sold to middle men, and wind up at other jewelers.

Ethan: Really?

Tom: What even they reject gets listed by online only sellers to be sold sight unseen.

This is clearly aimed at Shane Co’s competition, the other jewelers and online sellers. The jewelry market is a crowded one. There are over 80,000 jewelry stores in the United States, plus online retailers like Blue Nile. So Shane Co. needs to stand out, and de-positioning is a great technique. Let’s understand what de-positioning is. From my chapter on positioning and brand in The Professional Marketer:

To combat [a] crowding problem, sometimes a marketer needs to create a little room in the customer’s mind – elbow their way in, so to speak. This approach is called de-positioning and refers to efforts to change the identity of competing products, relative to the identity of your own product, in the collective minds of the target market.

The line “Our rejects get sold to middlemen, and wind up at other jewelers” tells you that the competition gets second-rate diamonds. The claim is almost impossible to verify, of course, but it positions Shane Co. as the purveyor of the best diamonds around. In so doing, other Bay Area jewelers are de-positioned by Tom into a second-rate category that he created.

Tom Shane recording a radio spot to de-position his competition.

Tom Shane in studio

Tom goes on to de-position online retailers as third-rate and unscrupulous: “What even they reject gets listed by online-only sellers to be sold sight unseen.” So you might be lured by a better price, but caveat emptor.

Very simple, and very effective. He’s our “friend in the diamond business,” as his motto tells us. (I actually had a friend in the diamond business, or I might have stopped by one of his stores to buy my wife’s ring.) Most men only buy one engagement ring, and know very little about diamonds. Tom’s ads aim to educate, and though biased, are one of the few sources of information. The spots are played just about every day on rock and pop radio stations that target the 18 to 35 year old demographic.

Though not related to positioning, one of my favorite lines in the spot is “We pick every diamond by hand.” I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that all diamonds are picked by hand. But I love that they call it out, because no one else does. I find many marketers are reluctant to call out features of their product or service that they consider obvious, and yet it’s an opportunity to communicate something desirable or beneficial to their customers.

I’m sure I’ll hear Tom’s ads for years to come. And I’m sure he’ll keep hammering away to secure his company’s position and elbow aside competitors. To paraphrase the famous De Beers ad campaign, while a diamond may last forever, market position may not. Especially if you use de-positioning.