How To Position Your Product, Service, and Yourself

I just finished reading Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

It was originally published in 1981 (I read an anniversary edition published in 2001), but it’s one of the best marketing books I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it.

Following are some of my favorite excerpts from the book…

To be successful today, you must touch base with reality. And the reality that really counts is what’s already in the prospect’s mind.

To be creative, to create something that doesn’t already exist in the mind, is becoming more and more difficult. If not impossible.

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. (p. 5)

Since so little of your message is going to get through anyway, you ignore the sending side and concentrate on the receiving end. You concentrate on the perceptions of the prospect. Not the reality of the product. (p. 9)

For many people or products today, one roadway to success is to look at what your competitors are doing and then subtract the poetry or creativity which has become a barrier to getting the message into the mind. With a purified and simplified message, you can then penetrate the prospect’s mind. (p. 31)

One prime objective of all advertising is to heighten expectations. To create the illusion that the product or service will perform the miracles you expect. And presto, it does. (p. 34)

Too many companies embark on marketing and advertising programs as if the competitor’s position did not exist. They advertise their products in a vacuum and are disappointed when their messages fail to get through. (p. 37)

The best headline for an advertisement is always incomplete. The best headlines always let the reader supply a word or phrase to complete the idea. That’s what makes an advertisement “involving.” (p. 39)

“Fight fire with fire” is the old cliche. But as the late Howard Gossage used to say, “That’s silly. You fight fire with water.” (p. 47)

You can’t build a leadership position on your own terms. “The best-selling under $1,000 high-fidelity system east of the Mississippi.”

You have to build a leadership position in the prospect’s terms. (p. 56)

Every product that gets into the mind first is perceived by the customer as the real thing. IBM in mainframe computers, Heinz in ketchup, Goodyear in tires and, of course, Coca-Cola in cola.

When you are perceived as the real thing, you have also repositioned every other brand as an imitation. (p. 56)

When Procter & Gamble introduced a dishwasher detergent, they didn’t call it Dishwasher Tide. They called it Cascade.

Each leading Procter & Gamble brand has its own separate identity: Joy, Crest, Head & Shoulders, Sure, Bounty, Pampers, Comet, Charmin and Duncan Hines. Not a Plus, Ultra, or Super in the lot.

So a multibrand strategy is really a single-position strategy. One without change.

Ivory has been going strong for 99 years. (p. 61)

Too often, however, greed gets confused with positioning thinking. Charging high prices is not the way to get rich. Being the first to (1) establish the high-price position (2) with a valid product story (3) in a category where consumers are receptive to a high-priced brand is the secret of success. Otherwise, your high price just drives prospective customers away.

Furthermore, the place to establish the high price is in the ads, not the store. The price (high or low) is as much a feature of the product as anything else. (p. 70)

Messages would “sound better” in print if they were designed for radio first. Yet we usually do the reverse. We work first in print and then in the broadcast media. (p. 114)

Anonymity is a resource.

One reason why companies keep looking for a free ride is that they underestimate the value of anonymity.

In politics, in marketing, in life, anonymity is a resource, easily squandered by too much publicity.

“You can’t beat a somebody with a nobody,” goes the old political saying. But today you can. (p. 125)

The Duracell battery just says Duracell in bold type. It doesn’t need to say “alkaline power cell” because Duracell means alkaline power cell.

This, of course, is the essence of positioning. To make your brand name stand for the generic. So the prospect freely uses the brand name for the generic. (p. 136)

A marketing program is much more effective if it is based on “credentials” provided by an objective third party. (p. 176)

In any positioning program, if you can start with a strongly held perception, you’ll be that much ahead in your efforts to establish your own position. (p. 176)

In this overcommunicated society, the only hope is the simple idea. (p. 178)

Positioning theory says you must start with what the prospect is already willing to give you. (p. 195)

A positioning exercise is a search for the obvious. Those are the easiest concepts to communicate because they make the most sense to the recipient of a message.

Unfortunately, obvious concepts are also the most difficult to recognize and sell. (p. 204)

Anything worthwhile is worthwhile doing lousy.

Your reputation will probably be better within the company if you try many times and succeed sometimes than if you fear failure and only try for sure things. (p. 208)

Everyone knows that an idea can take you to the top faster than anything else. But people sometimes expect too much of an idea. They want one that is not only great, but one that everyone else thinks is great too.

There are no such ideas. If you wait until an idea is ready to be accepted, it’s too late. Someone else will have preempted it.

Or in the in-out vocabulary of a few years ago: Anything definitely in is already on its way out. (p. 216)

The winningest jockeys are not necessarily the lightest, the smartest or the strongest. The best jockey doesn’t win the race.

The jockey that wins the race is usually the one with the best horse. (p. 218)

Positioning is thinking in reverse. Instead of starting with yourself, you start with the mind of the prospect.

Instead of asking what you are, you ask what position you already own in the mind of the prospect. (p. 219)

Words have no meaning. They are empty containers until you fill them with meaning. If you want to reposition a product, a person or a country, you often have to first change the container.

In a sense, every product or service is “packaged goods.” If it isn’t sold in a box, the name becomes the box. (p. 230)

If you dug the above excerpts, you can get the book here.

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