Through the course of my recent business readings, a recommendation appeared to read Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. I’m not sure which book it was, although I suspect it was one of the Lean Series books. Either way, the book was presented as a marketing classic that had a timeless appeal to it. Since I’m all about substance over style, it sounded like a book that would be right up my alley. Plus, being a marketer at heart, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to brush up a bit on my marketing skills.
Positioning was originally published in 1981. While, the version I read was the 20-year anniversary edition published in 2001, the concepts presented haven’t changed. You would think that a book on marketing couldn’t survive over 30 years of aging, but like a fine wine, Positioning has. Why? Marketing concepts are dominated by buzz words and fads, but the concepts Ries and Trout present aren’t. In fact, the most important concept they present can be summarized in their words as follows:
You look for the solution to your problem inside the prospect’s mind.
What they are simply saying is that to be effective at marketing your product, you have to get inside the consumer’s mind and understand your message and product position from the prospect’s perspective, NOT from your perspective as the producer or seller of the product. It’s a concept that applied to marketing products fifty years ago as much as much as it will apply to marketing products fifty years from now.
As Ries and Trout point out, too many marketing messages are developed to highlight what the company making the product thinks is important, or what they want the product to be. Unfortunately, most positions within the consumer’s mind are already occupied by products and services, so they focus their teachings on helping you figure out ways to create new positions within the consumer’s mind your product or service can occupy, or how to avoid competing with the existing positions.
They also spend a lot of time talking about the differences of marketing from a leading position versus follower position, when line extensions work, when they don’t, and the importance of naming. For established companies developing consumer products, nearly all the lessons are applicable and important. As a startup, especially one without an extensive product line, some of the concepts and lessons don’t feel as applicable.
However, the most important section of the book, which I felt was the most timeless and most valuable for me, occurs near the end. They posed six questions for you to consider when positioning your business. They are as follows:
- What position do you own?
- What position do you want to own?
- Whom must you outgun?
- Do you have enough money?
- Can you stick it out?
- Do you match your position?
No matter the size of your company, the size of your product line, or the size of your marketing budget, these are six great questions to ask yourself when embarking on any company positioning campaign.
I wouldn’t recommend that you drop what you’re doing and go read Positioning. However, if you are involved in sales, marketing or business development, it’s a book that you should pick up and read through at some point. The concepts are truly timeless and will help you avoid falling victim to the marketing fad of the day. Better yet, by forcing you to think about how your product is perceived by your prospects, it may help you figure out how to use today’s marketing gimmicks to correctly position your product.