Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book, ‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,’ offers marketing tips based on their over 20 years of experience. The book, published in 1981, is the first of many collaborations between the authors, who are experts on marketing strategy. We’ll explore their definition of positioning and techniques, and discuss how it can be applied to career development.
What Is Positioning?
Ries and Trout define “positioning” as shaping customer perceptions of your product in comparison to competitors. A product’s “position” is its unique identity in consumers’ minds. For example, a Ferrari is a luxury sports car, while a Corvette is an iconic sports car that’s more affordable than a Ferrari. These mental associations represent each product’s “position.”
What Does Positioning Look Like?
Positioning is primarily achieved through advertising, which serves as a means of communication according to Ries and Trout. To shape perceptions of your product, you must convey a message that affects how people view it relative to other products.
However, the authors acknowledge that advertising can be intrusive since we are inundated with countless ads from various sources, leading us to tune most of them out.
Guidelines for Positioning-Based Advertising
Ries and Trout offer three recommendations for crafting effective ads that can break through the mental filter and shape customer perception.
- Firstly, simplify the message, as our brains can only store and process a limited amount of information.
- Secondly, align your message with your customer’s existing understanding of reality, as people are more likely to accept messages that confirm their beliefs.
- Lastly, maintain a consistent message over time, as people are resistant to changing their minds, while updating your ads to keep them current.
Preliminary Positioning Strategy
Ries and Trout emphasize the importance of three factors to successfully position your product:
- Firstly, comprehending your present position.
- Secondly, identifying a feasible and desired position.
- Lastly, selecting a name that aligns with the desired position.
- Comprehending Your Present Position
Ries and Trout caution that it is crucial to understand how your potential customers perceive your business and how your competitors compare. They also advise investing in research, such as surveys, to gain clarity and make informed decisions.
2- Identifying A Feasible and Desired Position
Ries and Trout advise having a realistic and clear vision of the position you desire for your product. Ideally, positioning as a market leader is recommended as it offers various benefits like brand loyalty, ease of attracting good employees, and higher stock prices. Being a leading product/company helps in creating self-perpetuating success.
Ries and Trout suggest that market leaders have significant advantages and become entrenched, making it difficult for competitors to supplant them with a better product. Instead, they recommend becoming the first to occupy the leading position by finding or creating a niche where you can make a credible claim of market leadership. This often involves sacrificing your product’s general appeal to target a niche where you can be the first to claim leadership.
Find Your Niche
By changing various facets of your product or advertising to stand out, Ries and Trout offer the following strategies for finding an open niche:
- Product Size: Offer a miniature version if the industry trend is towards large products, or vice versa.
- Price: Create premium or economy versions of a product to offer profitable niche opportunities.
- Demographics: Tailor your product and advertising to appeal to an untapped gender or age group.
- Setting: Target your product for use in a particular place, climate, season, or time of day.
- Distribution: Consider novel approaches to enhance your customers’ shopping experiences, such creative packaging.
- Selecting A Name That Aligns with The Desired Position
Ries and Trout stress the significance of a product’s name for positioning, as it’s what consumers use to mentally position it in the market. The name should be unique, memorable, and representative of the positioning strategy.
Additionally, they advise that a company name should accurately reflect the company’s role and that an outdated or non-representative name can hinder growth.
Consider Your Abbreviations
Ries and Trout caution against using awkward acronyms and recommend creating phonetic ones, such as NASA, for better memorability. However, acronyms should align with your positioning strategy and avoid sounding contradictory to your message, as in the case of using “FAT” for a fitness program.
Additional Naming Pitfalls
Ries and Trout warn that unclear names hinder product positioning. Customers struggle to mentally place them in the market landscape, making it vital to choose a name that reflects the product’s market position. For example, “W Magazine” can be misleading as it covers art and fashion, not finances or women’s issues.
- Ries and Trout warn that names can become outdated as cultures and businesses evolve. Even if a product or company remains the same, changes in language or culture can make a name obsolete and less effective in resonating with prospective customers.
- Ries and Trout suggest changing technical product names developed by engineers before bringing them to the market, as such names are often meaningless to outsiders.
- Ries and Trout suggest that having a name too similar to a competitor’s name can make it challenging to establish your own distinct position in the market.
Once you’ve assessed your current position, envisioned a realistic goal, and confirmed your name aligns with it, how can you solidify your position as the market leader? Ries and Trout offer various strategies depending on whether you’re already the leader or striving to become one.
Strategy for an Established Market Leader
To maintain market leadership, reinforcing your position may suffice. But, Ries and Trout suggest that advertising your product as the best won’t persuade customers. They recommend promoting yourself as the original and genuine article. As leaders usually occupy their positions first, this claim is credible and suggests competing products are imitations, giving people a reason to buy from you.
Strategy for an Aspiring Market Leader
If you’ve found a valuable, unexplored niche, you can become a market leader by creating a product that meets demand, choosing a fitting name, and launching a successful ad campaign, according to Ries and Trout. However, they emphasize the importance of meeting customer expectations and repositioning the competition in this scenario.
Appeal to Expectations
To effectively communicate a message, it’s best to align with people’s expectations. Ries and Trout suggest that if you introduce a new product, it’s essential to compare it to something familiar to consumers. They use the example of marketing early cars as “horseless carriages.”
Reposition the Competition
To gain a market advantage, Ries and Trout advise discrediting competitors by repositioning their product. Merely claiming superiority is ineffective. Instead, expose a deficiency in the current leading product to create an opening for a new niche leader. Ries and Trout note that bad news about a competitor is more effective than good news about your product. For example, a pharmaceutical company can highlight side effects of gender-neutral vaccines on women’s health to promote a new flu vaccine.
Strategy for an Established Leader Entering a New Market
If you’re a market leader with one product and want to launch a new one in a different sector, Ries and Trout advise creating a new brand for the new product. This avoids the pitfalls of line extensions, which we’ll discuss next.
The Pitfalls of Line Extensions
“Line extension” is a term used by Ries and Trout to describe adding new products to an existing line under the same name. Products are distinguished with descriptions or other qualifiers. While line extensions provide instant brand recognition and save on marketing costs, Ries and Trout advise against them due to brand dilution and internal competition.
Ries and Trout argue that line extensions weaken a brand’s position by diluting its collective essence. A brand associated with diverse products and market positions becomes harder for customers to identify, and thus weaker. For example, if Ferrari started selling economical cars, it would dilute its high-end sports car brand and lose its meaning.
Professional Positioning for Career Success
Ries and Trout believe that the principles of positioning can be applied to advance one’s career. The strategy they recommend includes understanding your current position, identifying your desired position, selecting a suitable name, and charting a course to your desired position.
Understanding your current position involves being aware of how others perceive your strengths and weaknesses. To identify your desired position, you need to realistically determine what professional positioning you want, and this might involve finding an open niche.
Your name is also an important element of how people perceive you, and Ries and Trout recommend avoiding initials and using a name that supports your desired positioning.
Charting a course involves finding a good fit between your values and goals and your company’s vision and goals. In applying for new positions, you should emphasize how your strengths match the company’s strengths.
Ries and Trout stress the need for persistence in positioning as it is a long-term endeavor.