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Hot Takes

Nail Your Positioning through Argument Theory with Eric Duerr


Marketing is the business of persuasion. And no one understands persuasion more than ancient Greek philosophers. This session explores how marketers can harness the power of argument theory to develop better positioning and achieve persuasive outcomes.

By understanding the principles of argumentation and applying them in marketing contexts, marketers can better engage and influence target audiences.

In this unique presentation, Eric Duerr will delve into the world of argument theory and its applications in marketing. You will gain insights into how argument theory can help craft compelling messaging based on which arguments work best when persuading someone to choose your offering.

[Transcript] Nail Your Positioning through Argument Theory with Eric Duerr

Although transcriptions are generally very accurate, just a friendly reminder that they could sometimes be incomplete or contain errors due to unclear audio or transcription inaccuracies.

Armando Biondi

And we’re back online, welcome back everyone. If you just joined, we are in the middle of the first part of the first track, which is the marketing track for Hot Takes Live, and next up is Eric Duerr, founding partner at Massive Global. The topic of your session is particularly intriguing, and we’re gonna unpack positioning through argument theory.

More about that, Eric! The floor is yours.

Eric Duerr

Alright, thank you so much. So welcome. I’m Eric Dewer, founding partner at Massive Global, and I want to talk about what we can learn from Socrates when we think about our positioning and messaging for marketing. And it’s so funny, we are in an environment where we, as marketers, we just need to create content. 

We have all these little content mouths that need to be fed, we have SEO, we have ads, we have blogs, we have articles, we have all this stuff, and so we end up producing a lot. But there’s a saying that I like, which is, you know, if you’re lost in the forest, running doesn’t help.

So what I want to do is take a couple of steps back and say, well, how do we make foundational positioning and foundational messaging that really helps all the other content kind of cohere together, and so that’s what this idea of what can we take from Socrates and learn it from marketing strategy so that’s it.

The first thing is it’s like, I’m gonna show you how to build an argument.

Nail Your Positioning Through Argument Theory With Eric Duerr

So it’s really simple. You should always be thinking about this exercise in your head: why would someone choose our brand or our product? What are the strongest claims that we can make, and then what would our competitors say?

Then, it’s really important for everyone to agree on what the argument is. So, what do I mean by argument? Argument is just not a mere contradiction; this isn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m at my Thanksgiving dinner table and arguing with my siblings.’ 

There’s a lot in this slide. I’m not going to read it all, but I hope you do read it, as these slides will be available.

Nail Your Positioning Through Argument Theory With Eric Duerr

But this is basically what it is; an argument consists of a simple structure of a claim. So, I make a claim about something, I have a warrant, that is a reason for you to believe the claim is true, and then the data that supports the reason that is true, right, so it’s really simple: there are all sorts of different arguments that are logical, there’s emotional, we use arguments every day.

I’m going to kind of show you where we mess up on arguments, which is a lot of fun, and one last thing before we hop into some of the exercise is really understanding why we use an argument-driven methodology. 

So we all do this right, so we all get in, and we say, ‘Hey, let’s brainstorm an idea on a campaign, let’s brainstorm an idea on a value prop,’ and so what you can see here is the ideas during the brainstorm session.

Nail Your Positioning Through Argument Theory With Eric Duerr

This was some research that was done that we cite, is basically we’ve come up with 18 ideas 20 ideas, or 24 ideas depending on if you’re using minimal preparation to the far left brainstorming like everyone just comes in and throws great ideas up on the whiteboard, or we have a debate and then, and we move away from debate too much.

We think sometimes debate means arguing and argument is bad, but I believe that debate is really, really strong. We need to create a culture of well-reasoned debates.

Now look at the far right side, and you see ideas after for the people who did minimal preparation. They really didn’t have that many ideas. The people who did the brainstorm had six ideas, but the people who went into debate had double the brainstorming and quadruple that of the one with minimal preparation.

This means that when we tend to debate, and we really understand what it is that we’re trying to say, the claim, the warrant, and the evidence, we tend to come up with better ideas even afterward. So it’s a really strong thing to show or to get into.

So, let’s hop into it. So, what is an argument? So, I already talked about it; it’s a claim, an evidence, and a warrant. Any recovering philosophy students like myself, you’ve seen this really, you know you’ve seen this a lot, so I’m going to make a simple claim.

This one is, you know, people who know me would believe this: Eric is untrustworthy because he’s always late. So that is the argument. Eric is untrustworthy because he’s always late.

So, just walk you through this: the claim is this, right? Eric is untrustworthy; that’s what we’re claiming. The evidence is because I’m always late, and that’s the data we have. We can show that Eric is untrustworthy because he’s always late, so the question then is, well, what is the warrant now?

Remember, the warrant is the thing that you have to believe to be true in order for this argument to work. So here we go: A. is always late is the warrant of untrustworthy, so in order for you to believe that this statement is true, you have to believe that tardiness is connected to trustworthiness.

Now, maybe you do think, ‘Oh, I can’t trust anybody who’s ever late.’ but in a lot of cases, we just think, well, maybe Eric’s always late because he’s too busy, or maybe he’s untrustworthy because he keeps stealing all the office supplies.

So here we have a very simple statement that doesn’t really make sense once we really unpack it, and often, and I show this one because it’s really simple to do, but often as marketers, we write value props or we write positioning that is actually not true. 

It doesn’t get into the mind of what our audiences believe, and so one of the things I would suggest straight away is really looking at what the warrant is, what is the reason to believe that this data supports this claim, and I’ll tell you that a lot of times we skip over this, and we can smell it. We, as the receivers of it, were like, ‘Ah, I don’t know if that’s true.’

So let me just give you a great example: car marketers do this all the time. So I took a little bit of liberty, just to make sure we’re on brand with this ad, but we switched it up a little bit, but here it is: women love men who drive the Lincoln MKZs.


So you can imagine this type of ad coming out, and for you to believe, they’re making an argument, but for you to believe this to be true, you’d have to believe that all men who drive these Lincolns are loved by women, which just doesn’t seem right. 

Then, when we get into the arguments, we have to think about, well, what are the fallacies that we tend to use. We use them a lot, and then that’s where our messaging and our positioning just kind of fall apart.

So here are a couple of different fallacies that we tend to use a lot. 

Nail Your Positioning Through Argument Theory With Eric Duerr

One is Strawman; this is when you misrepresent someone else’s argument and try to make it pretty easy to dismiss, like, ‘Oh, they always say this,’ and we do this a lot when we try to compare ourselves to competitors that we make Strawman arguments that then our audience sit there and say, “I don’t know, I don’t believe that to be true,” right so that’s the Strawman.

The second one we do a lot is the Middle Ground, so you take one extreme, and the other extreme it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re always going to protect this data thing like this blah blah blah blah blah,’ and someone says well that’s ridiculous, that will never work’ so that that the right answer must be in the middle. Well, that’s not necessarily true either.

Composition fallacy is when you assume that all parts of something, kind of the composition of them, create something that’s not true. Back to car manufacturing, all of our parts are lightweight and efficient. Therefore, our cars are the most efficient. Well, no, that doesn’t make sense. Just because all the parts are the most efficient doesn’t mean the entirety of it is the most efficient.

And then the false dichotomy is assuming that we do this a lot, like, “Hey, only these two things can be true. So the rest of these also can’t be true.” False dichotomies happen quite a bit, so watch out for the fallacies that we make our audiences and ourselves; we hear them all the time. That’s why we turn off in marketing.

Then, finally, I would suggest one last thing is look for commercial insights. 

Look for the insights, the data that support your argument, and that make you think about your product differently. So saying something, stating something that is already obvious isn’t necessarily going to be data that’s going to support your claim, and so you’re going to want to find really interesting insightful evidence that changes the way that people think about their business.

The last thing that I know, because we’re going quick on time, the last thing I’m going to talk about here, is how you assess the strengths of an argument. And I would offer you to do this exercise: write up an argument for why someone should buy your brand. 

Why would someone choose it? Why would someone choose a product? Write them out as fast as you can brainstorm this stuff out and debate them, remember the debates create better ideation.

Nail Your Positioning Through Argument Theory With Eric Duerr

And then do this simple idea: you go ahead and score each of your arguments, and you say, how disruptive is it? Give it a one to five. Is that argument really disruptive? Is that claim really disruptive? 

Number two: Is it differentiated? Can someone else make that same claim? Finally, what is that evidence? What is that defensibility that we have? Remember that warrant, that defensibility, has to be part of why that claim makes sense, and that’s it.

So I think if you really take a look at all of your value props, all of your positioning, all of the claims that you’re making and really think about–not just what is the evidence but what is the reason that someone believes that evidence to be true. That’s it.

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Hot Takes Live


Catch the replay of Hot Takes Live, where 30 of the top SaaS leaders across Marketing, Sales, and RevOps revealed some of their most unpopular opinions about their niche.

These leaders shared what lessons they learned and how they disrupted their industry by going against the grain (and achieved better results in the process).

Armando Biondi

There you have it: Nail your Positioning Through Argument Theory. Eric, this was awesome; I enjoyed it more than you know, so thank you for that. If anyone has additional questions, feel free to write them in the chat, by the way.

So it’s funny because, you know, when we talk about being marketers, we constantly talk about doing the research. 

Talking to your customers and nailing your ICP and understanding more about the data, but you’re raising a very valid point around yes, you should do that, but also there is a like a moment of synthesis, where you need to think through the data you have to get to a place where you can have a statement that can resonate with your audience based on evidence,  which I find very very fascinating. 

Eric Duerr

Yeah, it really shows up; the place where it pops the most is when you look at customer case studies. Often, we do case studies that we try to back end into some sort of value prop. So the customer’s saying this, and we’re trying to say this, and then we just kind of make it work, but you know when you read it.

So I think case studies are one of the first places where you can really begin to look at it, saying, are we making an argument that is coherent that really resonates with our ICP or not?

Armando Biondi

Again, the key point that you were hammering on more than a few times is that word part. What is the thing that you need to believe to be true for this statement to make sense?

Eric Duerr

That’s right, and if you can do it, boy, particularly sales–how many times have we created marketing decks that sales never use because they inherently know this? 

Especially the really good sellers, the ones that only use whiteboards and napkins to make their sales. So the best way, the way I look at it, is if sales believe my arguments, which is why you always partner with your sales teams to do this, and you guys can argue that out.

You’ll ask them, “What is the best way? How do you persuade someone to buy? Don’t tell me features embed.

Armando Biondi

I believe that is even more like always been relevant right to some degree, but even most of these days when, like as a society, you find people that believe all kinds of things and are polarized in all kinds of ways, and so you have to find common ground to have those conversations like the things that you again, you can believe to be true.

Eric Duerr

That’s right.

Armando Biondi

Interesting, so, like the difference between arguing and debating, what is that?

Eric Duerr

Well, I actually put it all in the school of rhetoric, okay. So I think a lot of people hear argument, and they think of contradictory, and there’s a link in that thing. There’s a wonderful Monty Python skit saying, ‘I’m looking for an argument.’ It’s like, ‘This is an argument.’ It’s a mere contradiction: ‘No, it isn’t,’ ‘Yes, it is,’ ‘No, it isn’t,’ and ‘Yes, it is,’ right? 

So you want to avoid it. With argument theory, you know, there’s so much you can do in rhetoric, and if people want to read about it, there’s a book called Rhetoric by a guy named Aristotle. Has been around… but you know he talks about how you can persuade people through ethos.

Like, ‘Hey, I’m your doctor. You should believe me,’ you should have it by pathos like ‘Hey, I’m a really good person, you like me.’ So that’s another way of persuasion. 

Or logos, the logical structure of an argument, and when you mix them all together, like if you try a pathos argument with a judge like ‘Hey, I’m so sorry I was speeding, judge, but I’m a really nice guy.’ He’s like, whatever.

And so we have to, as marketers, we have to construct the emotional valence right, like, is this a brand that I connect with? There are a lot of brands out there when I go buy a car; there are so many I just don’t connect with. It may be a really good product; I just don’t connect with them, and then you have the functional affinity.

Those things are just pathos, ethos, logos. 

Armando Biondi

Would you say that the best companies and brands have all those elements, or would you say that you have to pick one or two and really nail those down?

Eric Duerr

They do, and we all use all three all the time, but you have some brands like tech that tend to use the ethos logos. 

We just sit there and say here are the five reasons that you should believe this to be true, and that’s it.

We forget that even in B2B, it’s emotional. Do I resonate with this brand? Do I resonate with this company as a person because this is a risky decision to make this purchase, and I think B2B marketing skips over the pathos piece?

Then you have people like, you know, if you think of Apple. Apple is not a category leader in any product; they’re not number one in phones, they’re not number one in music, they’re not number one in computers.

They’re not number one in anything, and yet they have this giant market cap which is all to do with the way that they’ve created that brand affinity, and so they have this pathos right it’s like this is a brand I have an emotional valence with and tell you they didn’t do that just through creative. They did that by understanding the arguments that their ICP really wanted.

Armando Biondi

It’s really a conscious effort on their part.

Eric Duerr

That’s right. In fact, one last point: it’s really critical to remember the argument to persuade someone else isn’t the same argument that persuaded you to believe it.

Armando Biondi

Right on this note, Eric, thank you so much. 

Eric Duerr

Okay, thank you, that’s so great.

Armando Biondi

It was incredible. If anyone wants to connect with you, they can find you on LinkedIn, I’m sure. Thank you so much.