CAMPAIGNS: Brand Positioning - Immersion finds model of success

Does the term "haptic technology mean anything to you? Chances are, it doesn't. Put simply, "haptic has to do with incorporating the sense of touch into computer technology. Immersion has 140 patents in tactile technology, and is involved in haptic applications for everything from joysticks to luxury cars. Haptic technology can even enable medical students to practice surgery without ever going near a patient. The challenge for A&R Partners has been to help the company develop a coherent internal vision that will enable it to communicate with the media, analysts, and consumers.

Strategy

When it first began working with Immersion, A&R worked on messaging that would fit with the company's two major areas - computer mouse and gaming technology. But Immersion acquired other companies that expanded its remit across medical imaging and automotive. A&R's strategy shifted to finding a way to take this expanding organization's sprawling technology mix, and break it down into manageable pieces for each market.

"It's taking something that's big, amorphous, and overpowering, and breaking it down into bite-size chunks, explains Mark Rawlins, a partner at A&R Partners. "We break it into little pieces, and then give them back the methodology so they can adjust it."

Bob Angus, also an A&R partner, explains it this way: "It's all about context setting, and helping them understand their role in the marketplace - helping the company see what it is going to look like in context of the market."

Tactics

A&R set out to create visual models to illustrate Immersion's place in the market. When the firm began working on the account, a parallel message and positioning set - one at the tactical level and one at the strategic level - served the company well. But as the acquisitions changed the company's focus, it became less meaningful.

Other traditional models didn't work either, because they weren't targeted enough. "Normally, we look at market and technology differentiators to create a protected position between our clients and the competition, explains Rawlins. "This wouldn't work with Immersion because they were too broad."

The answer was to look at the market as a three-dimensional model, which was the process that led the firm to the final model (see picture). The model shows how each of the company's sectors fall into each category, and the attending goals for each one.

The firm's next step was to take all the major products and put them into groups that reflect the value proposition of each. Joysticks, gaming systems, and computer mouse technology all fell into the value proposition of enhancing lifestyle. Medical imaging and flight simulation fell into the category of enhancing life and safety.

With these visual and messaging tools, the team conducted deep messaging training of senior execs, and began related discussions with market analysts to get feedback on the approach. Upon completion of the model drafting, A&R was asked to present the plan to the board of directors, which immediately bought into the idea. "It assisted them in laying out plans for the future, and gave them insight they didn't have, says Rawlins. "The point is to take the internal view and mesh it with the external view to find out what everyone is saying."

Results

The models provided the messaging tools necessary to help the company communicate to a broader audience. Rawlins claims the company has received no pushback from analysts on its new model, and one of the most obvious ways the program is proving its value is through the automotive technology.

The new BMW 7-series includes Immersion technology in its iDrive system, a controller located in the front seat that allows the driver to do things like change radio stations and adjust air temperature. When the San Jose Mercury News ran a recent story on the technology as a safety feature, it focused on Immersion as the technology provider. Articles on CNET and in PC Magazine have also focused on the BMW's features.

Future

A&R's work with Immersion continues, focusing on introducing the company's tech innovations to a wider audience.

Client: Immersion (San Jose, CA)
PR Team: A&R Partners (San Mateo, CA)
Campaign: Messaging through growth
Time Frame: 1999-ongoing
Budget: $24,500-$25,000 per messaging campaign

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