Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
Published: 1/3/2001
The first book to deal with the problems of communicating to a skeptical, media-blitzed public, Positioning describes a revolutionary approach to creating a "position" in a prospective customer's mind-one that reflects a company's own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.

Book Summary - Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries

Key Insights

Positioning is everything. Without it, Coca-Cola and Apple would not be brands that are recognized globally. In today’s society, consumer products and information is produced at an extremely fast rate. If you want to be a successful brand, you have to rise above the noise and stand out. This is what positioning is all about.

It’s not just consumer products that use brand positioning. Politicians and public figures have become adept at building their brands too. Positioning can be used to promote almost everything from a political message to your own social media posts.

To position your brand, you must first understand where it exists in the consciousness of your target audience. Whether you are trying to influence a certain demographic or simply get your product seen by as many people as possible, understanding your market is key. To be successful you need to know your position, learn how to compete against the first position brand, and understand how to get into the mind of your audience.

Key Points

To be a successful brand you need to be the first one that comes to mind.

Being first in the thoughts of your customer is essential to being successful. Think about iconic brands that you know. Brands like Coca-Cola and Kodak have strong marketing departments that have helped with their growth but it wasn’t the only reason for success. They became successful by being first.

When you’re a brand leader you are almost always placed above the fray of competition. You were there first so consequently, every other competitor is automatically compared to you. Even if someone comes up with a better product or service, the fact that you have been the primary brand will make it a lot harder for them to take your spot.

The first brand gets benefits that other brands that follow never experience. For one thing, if you’re the first brand, that can never be taken away. You’re the original. You may not be the best anymore but you have had longer market exposure and by default have become a trusted name. Even if another brand becomes bigger and better, it is rare that they will ever have the same position in the customer’s mind as the first brand.

If you’re not the first you have to find a way into the mind of the customer.

You know you don’t have the advantage of being first so now you have to think about how you can stay in the customer’s minds. One of the best approaches you can take is to look for the gap.

For example, when everyone was building bigger cars for the American market, Volkswagen launched the compact Beetle. Another good example is the Michelob brand. They entered a market that was filled with a number of cheaper, established competitors. They differentiated themselves by positioning their product as a premium beer brand. Both brands stood out because they found their own place by being purposefully different from their closest competitors.

If everyone is making one thing, then try and make the opposite. If everyone is making cheap, affordable products, that means there’s a gap for an expensive luxury brand. It may seem obvious but doing the opposite is one way to ensure that your brand stands out from the others. Having a good marketing strategy also pays off.

A unique packaging model can be effective for retail products. Try thinking beyond what is expected. The company L’eggs took a risk and packaged their pantyhose line in eggs. It caught the attention of the consumers and succeeded in occupying a position in their minds.

Sometimes a marketing strategy is so successful that the brand becomes synonymous with it, long after the idea has been dropped. A good example is the image of the Marlboro Man. Years after the campaign, Marlboro cigarettes are still associated with the image of a rugged outdoorsman.

Regardless of the product, a good understanding of trends and how to capitalize on them is essential for success. Not only do you have to look for the gap in the consumer’s mind, but also make sure you are providing a brand they want. Only products or services that can effectively fill a need will fit the gap, and only brands that are positioned well can survive.

You can use a competitor’s brand to help reposition your own brand.

You don’t want to build your brand by simply catering to a trend. Even if that trend helps make your competitors highly profitable, it will not help you build a trustworthy brand name. Besides, there is a more effective way to position your brand alongside your competition. It’s called repositioning.

What this means is that your product becomes known by association. For example, a well-known vodka line associated with its rivals by stating it was the only brand that was produced in Russia. The vodka brand had now positioned itself alongside its rivals in the mind of the customer but with the added bonus of making other brands seem less authentic. It may be an unfriendly approach but it resulted in a successful repositioning of the brand.

A good brand name is integral to its success.

You know you have a successful brand name when it becomes part of everyday language. Band Aid is a good example of this. Even if they do not sell as much as other competitors, their name is synonymous with adhesive bandages. As a result, they will always have a prime spot in a consumer’s mind.

The choosing of a name cannot be underestimated. A good name can lead to brand immortality. Positioning and marketing all begin once you have a name decided upon. A good name will help you to plan how you market your brand and the gap you are looking for. The danger with brand names is that they can become dated.

What may seem fashionable now could seem old and tired in five years. Creating a name requires taking this into consideration. Even if your product is the best on the market, the name is everything. Consumers don’t think of the purpose of the product first. They think of the name. Therefore your name must stand out from the rest.

Try not to be too clever. If you take a look at some of the most successful brands, their names are very easy to remember because they are concise. Look at Kodak and Xerox. Keep it simple so that customers can easily remember the brand.

Also, consider that the name itself doesn’t have to reflect the product exactly. Think of Apple. What do apples have to do with computers? Nothing, but the name is easy to remember and well known that the meaning behind the name is irrelevant.

Where you are positioned now affects your future for better or worse.

Positioning is not just for brands or single products. Positioning can affect companies as well. Companies rely on good positioning to enhance their image and secure their place in the minds of their target audience. For companies that are looking for investment, a good position today is essential for their future.

If you invest in a company, you’re investing in their image and in your perception of what they represent. Companies know this and therefore, positioning is integral to ensure they can get that kind of investment.

This doesn’t just refer to financial investments in corporations but also an investment in public figures, in educational organizations, even in nations. Almost everything and everyone relies on a form of positioning to thrive and function.

Positioning even affects you personally. When you strive for a promotion or are seeking to be recognized, you are effectively building your brand. You are looking to secure your own space in the mind of a target audience, just like a company, and you ensure you present your best self to do that, just like a company. This is why positioning is everything.

Once you have your position, you have to work to maintain it if you want to continue to be successful.

A lot of brands have had the luxury of being the first of their kind. To maintain their position, they simply have had to find ways to reinforce they were the first, therefore they are the ones to trust above others. Coca-Cola has done this by branding their product as the real thing, indirectly accusing competitors of being shallow imitations.

However, if you don’t have the prestige of being the first brand out there, you have to find ways to reiterate your reason for being in that position. If you have found a gap in the market, one way to continue your success is to restate your position as the only brand in that gap. If you now have competition in this niche, now is the time to push your brand as being the first within that area.

Another way is to highlight the reasons you are unique. Maybe you are the only company in a specific region. Whatever makes you different from your competitors use it to your advantage and build on it.

The key is to ignore what your competitors are doing and focus on what you can offer your customers. Once you know how to do this you can build your brand the way you want and be in the position you want.

The Main Take-away

If you learn how to position your brand, you’ll be able to use your strengths to stand out from your competitors.

Understanding where your brand is positioned in comparison to your competitors is the key to your success. If you cannot be the first on the market, create a memorable brand name and look for gaps where you can thrive. A good marketing strategy that plays to your strengths will help you retain a place in the customer’s mind.

About the Authors

Jack Trout was the founder of Trout and Partners, an international marketing strategy company. He was the author or co-author of several best-selling books including five with Al Ries.

As a pioneer of positioning theory, Trout has worked with an array of clients ranging from General Electric to Papa Johns. He worked with the United States Department of State to develop the Brand America campaign during the Iraq war. Trout died in 2017, aged 82.

Al Ries is the co-founder of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based consulting company. He has co-authored nine books, five of them with Jack Trout. He has been named one of the Top 10 Business Gurus by the Marketing Executives Networking Groups and in 2016, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.


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