great positioning

Your innovative product is clearly better, or faster, or cheaper, or easier to implement.

So why do your prospects hate hearing about it?

A recently-published paper suggests that “leading with facts” – especially when those facts challenge previously-held beliefs – causes our prospects’ brains to instinctively fight those facts.

The paper, summarized in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sheds new light on the “Backfire Effect,” the maddening tendency we all have to “double down” on our existing belief systems when presented with conflicting information.

Previous research has suggested that our brains organize facts into networks, and then abstract those networks into patterns that our brains use to evaluate new information. When facts don’t seem to fit our previously established patterns, the backfire effect causes our brains to go to war to protect its prior work – we fight the facts, instead of challenging the patterns and stereotypes we hold.

Sometimes, this is very useful. We learn as children that many mushrooms are poisonous. So when a stranger presents us with a mushroom and says, “go ahead, eat it…it’s safe!” we pause and consider before we take a bite. By being cautious and rejecting the new information, we make the right decision, and we stay alive.

Other times, as when we face a new environment with new rules, our fact networks and patterns can cause us to be too conservative, or to repeat destructive decisions or behaviors. If we remain unwilling to eat mushrooms, we may never get to taste a truffle.

In the new paper, cognitive scientist Gregory Trevors and his team explain why our brains go to war to protect our beliefs. Their findings suggest that the backfire effect may be caused by our drive to protect our identity. Since we want to act consistently with our belief systems, they found that we tend to be particularly prone to discrediting facts that call into question our sense of who we are, including our prior decisions and actions.

So what does this all have to do with positioning B2B technology?


Positioning, at its heart, is the presentation of your product in a manner designed to reduce buyer resistance, and generate excitement.

By telling a compelling story with the prospective buyer at the center, by linking motivation to forces that are out of the buyer’s control, by calling on emotions and supporting with facts rather than the other way around, great positioning co-opts the backfire effect. It employs facts, but doesn’t lead with them. It pre-orders the facts into a pattern more likely to be perceived to be consistent with previously-held beliefs. It reinforces and celebrates the buyer’s notions of identity.

So if you sense that your prospects don’t “get it,” maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether your positioning “gets them.”








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