Positioning

This marketing book was suggested by a childhood friend and businessman named David Worrell. You can read his take on the subject in his post about lame business names. Great rant David. For me, the book is a much needed treatise on some of the most important principles in marketing. I have my own business and as you can probably tell, it’s not in marketing. I certainly always need marketing help.

To give you a feel for the definition of positioning, I’ll use a few quotes from the authors, Al Ries and Jack Trout:

The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.

Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise.

Keep in mind, this book was first written in 1980 and revised in 2001. Even considering the update, they were talking about “too much marketing noise” before Facebook and Twitter were even conceived and Google was mostly a search company. If you want discussions about information overload, we have discussions about information overload. I’ve talked about it in detail in a post over at my business site. Ries and Trout use this great visual of a “dripping sponge”:

The average mind is already a dripping sponge that can only soak up more information at the expense of what’s already there. Yet we continue to pour more information into that supersaturated sponge and are disappointed when our messages fail to get through.

I find this interesting because when I wrote my post I was under the impression that this was new and groundbreaking science. But Ries and Trout have been making the same point about information overload for decades. Quoting from the book:

Scientists have discovered that a person is capable of receiving only a limited amount of sensation. Beyond a certain point, the brain goes blank and refuses to function normally.

So that’s where we stand folks, now more than ever. Getting someone to hear what you’re saying, listen to your pitch, or pay attention to what you’re selling, becomes more difficult every day.

Ries and Trout have the antidote with plenty of specific, albeit dated examples. They go through the details on advertising, communication, and public relations campaigns for companies ranging from Avis to Xerox, and many in between. Each is tied to a specific positioning principle.

It’s highly relevant stuff, but I need help thinking through if it’s more or less relevant now in the information age. Take this assertion for example:

Changing minds in our overcommunicated society is an extremely difficult task. It’s much easier to work with what’s already there.

Isn’t this even more relevant today? Not only are we bombarded with more information, but it’s easier than ever to find information that’s agreeable, that corroborates feelings and emotions already in place. So there’s a good case for it being even more difficult to change minds in this day and age. However, it’s not as easy to fool the educated consumer these days because information is a lot more accesible for those who know how to get at it. Can’t their mind be changed simply with facts and data? Can they even be swayed by positioning-speak like “we try harder” or “it’s the real thing”?

These are questions that a finance guy like myself needs help on. I would buy an update to the book. Heck, it could be valuable to look an line extensions alone. Ries and Trout are highly negative on line extensions, but they don’t seem to have lost favor yet. Gosh, the candy aisle is full of Dark Chocolate Kit-Kats, Pretzel M&Ms, and Snicker’s Peanut Butter. They seem to be doing alright, but I don’t have any hard data on that.

I have a feeling that certain assertions stand the test of time. Ries and Trout would still stand behind their idea that to be successful, a marketer has to deal with reality. What’s in the mind stays in the mind, it’s a monstrous task to change it. To do so you have to be skilful, analytical, creative, and subtle. Their six guiding questions are still relevant I think:

  1. What position do you own?
  2. What position do you want to own?
  3. Whom must you outgun?
  4. Do you have enough money?
  5. Can you stick it out?
  6. Do you match your position?

To answer these, the examples in the book help a lot. It’s a fast read. It would be a cliche to call this book timeless, but it very well could be.

2 thoughts on “Positioning

  1. David Worrell

    John:
    Glad you got a chance to read Positioning (and thanks for the shout-out).

    It’s interesting that you chose to focus this post on the “info overload” factor… that’s not at all what I would have picked as the main treatise of a marketing book about market selection and effective competition.

    OK, here’s what I think you should have taken away from Positioning… and what we can certainly talk about ad nauseum because it IS timeless and it DOES work today and it WILL benefit your business…

    (1) People associate you and your brand with certain feelings and thoughts (your position).
    (2) They do the same with competitors, but two competitors cannot “own” the same feelings and thoughts. Thus, position is relative to competition.
    (3) The more you embrace that, the more you can own the feelings and thoughts that they already associate with your name / brand and build on it.
    (4) Recognizing (or building) your position makes it SOOO much easier to attract, retain, and defend your market. Just the fact that you HAVE a position makes you different from many competitors who don’t try.
    (5) Grab a unique position, rise up and own it, conquer the competition, and you will build a lasting brand that customers love.

    Don’t you think this is more important than the “dripping sponge” lesson?
    Don’t you hate people who try to school ya on your own personal website?

    Talk soon,
    David

    1. John Post author

      I can’t argue, good call. I’m a finance guy, I seek out marketing help. Your synopsis is very helpful. I consider your 5 points an integral part of this post.

      I agree with your point and I tried to salvage it in the last couple of paragraphs, but I fear I didn’t do Ries and Trout justice. There’s a lot of stuff in this book and on jstef.com I just pick a single topic to focus on. It struck me that these guys were so far ahead of the game on info overload because I deal with the topic every day, although in a different context.

      I’ve highlighted about 75 passages from the book that I’ll use to get my marketing strategy on track. We may be sorting through them ad nauseum in about a month. See you soon.

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