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The Godfathers Of Positioning

I try to make every fifth blog post about positioning. That means I write about positioning quite a bit. Not too long ago, a reader commented that I hadn’t innovated anything new. He pointed out that Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the book on positioning, with the apt title, Positioning, back in the sixties. I was horrified at the implication that I was somehow plagiarizing their work. Far from it. I only attempt to spread the gospel. Positioning, as a tenet of marketing, is so completely accepted, and its prophets so highly revered, that I always take it as a given that readers know who they are and that they are true giants of marketing. After all, you don’t have to credit Marx and Engels every time you mention Communism. You don’t have to explain who Abbot and Costello are every time you reference the Who’s-On-First routine. Be that as it may, I’d like to take this opportunity to pen a brief appreciation of Messrs Ries & Trout – and celebrate their achievement, educating us on one of the most important marketing insights ever.

It turns out Ries & Trout were not the originators of the concept of positioning. But they certainly did popularize it. One of my other marketing heroes, David Ogilvy, was championing positioning in the mid-to-late 1950s. And he writes that even he didn’t originate the idea. However, he doesn’t mention who did. Ten years after Ogilvy, Ries met Trout while they wer both working at the same ad agency. They began co-publishing articles in business magazines and finally published their masterpiece, Positioning – The Battle for your Mind, in the late 60s. Today, that book is required reading at just about every business school in the world.

If anyone, prior to Ogilvy, was actively positioning products and services in order to better market them, they were doing so in an organic, seat-of-the-pants fashion. It appears that positioning, as a marketing practice, was tacitly acknowledged by many marketers as early as the early 20th century. But it was Ogilvy who first talked about it openly and Ries & Trout who codified it and distributed the knowledge far and wide. Marketing has never been the same.

Unsure of your own offering’s positioning?
Ask Boardwalk to take a look.

Ries & Trout were first to actually explain what positioning is: the art of occupying a “territory” in the customers’ collective mind. A couple of years ago, Ries reminded us that the world is chock full of marketing messages, most of which we screen out immediately. He explained the human mind only has so much capacity to remember things like brands. Each market category can only expect two positions to have much grip on our collective memory. He gave the examples of:

1 – Batteries, with Eveready and Duracell top of mind, then everybody else left in the dust.
2 – Toothpaste, with Crest and Colgate top of mind, then everybody else.

Almost no one remembers the everybody else. The trick then, is to find a way to grab one of those top two positions in the customer’s mind. You do that by determining what makes your offering unique and by looking for “white space’ within the market.

Ries & Trouts’ book lays out, in easy to read language, just how to secure those positions. That’s what I do for my clients. That’s why I write about positioning. Not to claim their ideas as my own but to forward them to others. Everyone who writes about branding is standing on the shoulders of these two giants. They are truly the godfathers of positioning.

Best Branding Reads – Week of January 27, 2020

How Far Could The Sussex Royal Brand Go?
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Alexa — How Do I Create an Ownable Brand Voice?
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Brands And Customers: How Close Is Too Close?
Your brand is the relationship you share with your market … emphasis on “share”.

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