Mental maps and the importance of analogies

Kenneth TruemanGeneral, Marketing strategy0 Comments

Mental map

One of the first challenges when presenting a business or an idea to a prospective customer, employee, or business partner is helping that person ‘wrap their head around’ what exactly it is. Another way of thinking of this is as a mental map.

Usually this means that the person is looking to relate what they already know to whatever it is that is new. It is essentially a shortcut, since understanding and assimilating new information has a cost.

When it comes to marketing to consumers, for a certain generation at least, there was a tendency to compare one thing to another, to use an “analogy”. Specific makes and models of cars have often been a frequent basis of comparison to establish positioning in the minds of the buyer (though as the fortunes of automobile manufacturers have waxed and waned over the years, the choice of make or model as a basis of comparison has varied as well). To label something as the “Corvette” or the “Ferrari” of something is to give it qualities of performance. To label something as the “Cadillac” would mean that it had luxury characteristics, or was full-featured relative to a basic configuration.

Miller High Life used to be called the Champagne of beers. Unfortunately, the word “Champagne” is protected and so the Miller Brewing Company had to abandon that language in its official marketing.

In the 1992 movie The Player, there is a recurring Hollywood “gag” relative to pitching movie projects. Every proposed movie project is essentially the concept behind one movie, a known success, with a new spin to give it some originality. Godzilla meets Bambi. Pacific Rim meets The Horse Whisperer. You get the picture.

In the world of technology, there is a tendency to take the name of the hot company du jour and use it to build an analogy for a desired business model or company. Whereas 10+ years ago, companies wanted to be the “Google of …”, and 5-6 years ago they wanted to be the “Facebook of …”, nowadays the tendency when pitching a business idea is to present it as the “Uber of…” or the “AirBnB of …”, both of which are shortcuts for the “sharing economy” (which followed on the tails of social networks, Peer 2 Peer, micro-lending, and any number of others hot models that gave rise to a thousand VC-funded dreams).

Once you understand the need to create a mental map, you can adapt your pitch to your audience accordingly. By addressing early on your audience’s need to create such map, you can rapidly move them into a more active listening state, one where they build on what they know and instead begin to add to that understanding with the things that you want to communicate and actually care about—what makes your offering unique, the pain you can solve, the value you provide.


In the case of Digitera, we can, in theory, do pretty much everything as it relates to marketing. However, in a world of mental maps, being able to do everything is almost as bad as being able to do nothing at all. (It is mildly better, because you can do something even if that is not readily understood at first.)

So in December and January, we took our eyes off the blog and instead we worked on productizing a couple of offerings, in order to provide the beginnings of a mental map for our prospective customers and business partners. That basically meant that we carved out some of the things we can already do and presented them as discrete, named offerings, with a list of what was included, an engagement model and some reference prices. Those offerings, described on the Solutions page, are as follows :

Marketing on Demand

Digitera’s Marketing on Demand solution provides smaller companies—that may not have the means or the need for a full-time marketing resource on staff—with cost-effective and timely access to a range of product marketing and marketing communications services. Learn more.

 Web Site and Social Media Audit

Web Site and Social Media Audit

To provide companies with a clear picture of where they stand in their online marketing efforts across channels and devices—and ultimately how to move forward—Digitera has developed a Web Site and Social Media Audit that will assess your current online marketing initiatives and provide a benchmark for future improvements and measures of effectiveness. Learn more.

 Digital marketing catch-up plan

Digital Marketing Catch-Up Plan

Digitera has developed the Digital Marketing Catch-Up Plan to revitalize your web, social media, and online marketing efforts for  and beyond. Learn more.


Note: The day after publishing this piece, Forbes magazine shared its own article in a similar vein: the importance of embracing categories to help people figure out just what it is that your new company does.