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Why Positioning is the best marketing book ever?

It’s a sweeping claim to make. But here I am, sticking my neck out.

Of a boatload of marketing literature available out there, “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind” is the best. No, not arguably the best, but, the best.

Jack Trout and Al Ries
Jack Trout (L) and Al Ries (R)

You might wonder what’s wrong with me. After all:

  • How can a book published in the ’80s – long before the Internet and digital era – still make immense business sense?
  • How can it still hold its own when more than half the companies and the brands mentioned in it either no longer exist or have merged into other entities?
  • When you have rent-a-dozen marketing guru types available handy on YouTube, why take the pains to read a 3-decade old book?

The following will explain why I so highly recommend this book:

#1. Positioning still matters

Trout and Ries defined positioning as, “The process you follow to differentiate your product in the mind of the prospect.” Don’t focus on the product or the competition, focus on the mind of the prospect. That’s exactly where most marketing battles are won or lost.

For the brands struggling to steer out of the sea of sameness, positioning could be the manna from heaven.

The moot question is how to do it? How to carve your own niche amidst all the communication overkill of the present day?

Well, the answer is you position your brand in the mind of your prospect so that it stands for something. Most brands choose to chase the market leader, fail to define their niche and over the long run, end up as also-rans.

Tesla stands for 'Electric Cars' in the mind
Tesla stands for ‘Electric Cars’ in the mind

#2. Struggling brands need positioning

Unless you are the market leader, your brand needs positioning.

See, sometimes a market leader can get away with a less superior product than the competition owing to the no.1 position it commands.

However, if you have a struggler brand on your hands, then, no matter hard you may try to accentuate its superior features, it won’t make a difference to the customer. The perception of no. 2 or 3 catches up with you.

You can’t fight perceptions with facts. Perceptions will always win. – Jack Trout & Al Ries

Look at what happened in the premium footwear category.

Adidas, Nike, Reebok all were making premium footwear for the athletes and fighting a tough battle with each other. Over the time, each brand, however, chose a niche and drilled itself into it.

Adidas chose soccer; the brand has become intertwined with soccer. Nike chose track and field and a host of other sports.

Reebok (owned by Adidas) chose exercising and fitness. Luckily, it landed a masterstroke and got into UFC niche. Watch any UFC martial artist on TV, you will see them wearing Reebok gear. This again underlined Reebok’s association with fitness.

Bottomline is clear. You can spend millions on the new advertising campaign, make Superman your brand ambassador, buy Super Bowl spots, make the product packaging snappier, you can do all of it. But it won’t change anything unless you make your product stand for something in the minds of your customers.

“If you can’t be first in a category, then set up a new category you can be first in.” – Jack Trout & Al Ries

Reebok and UFC
Reebok has underlined its ‘fitness’ association with an exclusive UFC partnership

#3. Line Extensions still galore

The counterintuitive idea behind positioning was to not try and create something afresh. No, that’s not what Trout and Ries had on mind. They instead advised the marketers to reorganize the connections that already exist in mind.

This brings me to the pet peeve of Trout and Ries. The dreadful line extensions.

A line extension is when a brand stretches itself too thin in the same product category, e.g. Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coke Life and more are all line extensions of Coke.

Both Trout & Ries argued time and again together and individually that line extensions only weaken the mother brand. It’s a futile exercise.

#4. Brands forget what brought them to dance

Your big marketing program could flounder if it fails to alter the perception your customers carry about your product. Every marketer worth his/her title knows that perceptions are hard to change. Once formed, they are difficult to dislodge from the mind.

This is why Trout & Ries in Positioning suggested the brands to stick to their DNA. Don’t forget what made you famous in the first place.

Recalibrate, improvise on your strengths, but don’t venture into the uncharted territories.

Take the example of Volvo. If you have read any of Trout-Ries books, you’d have invariably come across the example of Volvo and its sturdy positioning.

Volvo of the ’70s was built on ‘safety’ of its vehicles. Just in case if you have ever wondered which company innovated the seat belts? It was Volvo.

When customers thought of safe cars, Volvo was the brand they looked at. Basically, Volvo owned the leadership position for the word ‘safety’ in the minds of its customers.

Now have a look at the present day Volvo. They are highlighting beauty, design and luxury. Whatever happened to safety! If you don’t believe me, click the preceding link and do a Ctrl+F search for Safety.

The result is Volvo is no longer the most imported luxury car in the American market it once was. Volvo may indeed be making vehicles that are stylish and beautiful, but in the minds of customers, those words belong to Mercedes, BMW, Audi, etc.

Volvo stood for safety, not for beauty and they have let that positioning slip away.Why Positioning is the best marketing book ever

Why is Positioning still relevant?

The first positioning articles appeared in the 1970s in Advertising Age – the global media and marketing magazine. From the moment they were published, they caused a furore in the advertising circles.

Before Positioning, advertising was considered to be communications. But even when the advertising effectiveness was higher compared to what it is today (since there were far fewer brands), the outcome wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. Most brands struggled to change their perceptions.

After more than three-and-a-half decades, this book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” still stands relevant. Now with the sheer proliferation of brands, multiplied product portfolios, amplification barrage from TV, Print and digital, Positioning is required more than ever.

Why do I recommend Positioning?

If I have to give you a one-line answer, it will be: “Read it because every damn thing mentioned in this book makes great business sense.”

I had first read Positioning in April 2004. Its comprehensive lessons still enamour me and I read or refer to it from time to time.

If you still need more convincing, here are a few more pointers as to why you must read this book:

    • It reads like a breeze. It’s the equivalent of an SEO-friendly paper book
    • It brims with numerous uncomplicated marketing lessons and takeaways
    • It has stood the test of time
    • Even if you don’t run a business, the lessons can help you build a personal brand
    • The idea of positioning is more relevant than ever due to lowering of entry barriers leading to all-pervasive advertising
    • Positioning will help you drive your brand out of the muddled waters

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