Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

What Is Positioning?

Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. Put another way, it’s how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect.

Positioning Summary

Chapter 1: What Positioning Is All About

Positioning is not about creating something new and different. It’s about manipulating what’s already in the prospect’s mind. It’s about bridging the connections that already exist.

“The mind, as a defense against the volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information offered it. In general, the mind accepts only that which matches prior knowledge or experience.”

“Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change it.”

Trying to change the prospect’s mind is an advertising disaster.

“The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message.”

“You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.”

“Once you own a word in the mind, you have to use it or lose it.”

“When you want to communicate the advantages of a political candidate or a product or even yourself, you must turn things inside out. You look for the solution to your problem not inside the product, not even inside your own mind. You look for the solution to your problem inside the prospect’s mind.”

“The essence of positioning thinking is to accept the perceptions as reality and then restructure those perceptions to create the position you desire.” The authors call this process “outside-in” thinking.

Chapter 2: The Assault on the Mind

Another reason our messages keep getting lost is the number of media we have invented to serve our communication needs.

Chapter 3: Getting into the Mind

“Positioning is an organized system for finding windows in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances.”

“The easy way to get into a person’s mind is to be first.”

“‘It’s better to be first than it is to be better’ is by far the most powerful positioning idea.”

“If you want to be successful in love or in business, you must appreciate the importance of getting into the mind first.”

“If you didn’t get into the mind of your prospect first (personally, politically or corporately), then you have a positioning problem.”

“‘If you can’t be first in a category, then set up a new category you can be first in’ is the second most powerful positioning idea.”

To succeed in our overcommunicated society, you must create a position in the prospect’s mind. A position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.

“Don’t give your brand a generic name.”

“The name of your brand is just as important as its positioning, maybe even more important.”

Chapter 4: Those Little Ladders in Your Head

“To put a new brand into the mind, you have to delete or reposition the old brand that already occupies the category.”

“The mind has no room for what’s new and different unless it’s related to the old.”

“For 13 years in a row, Avis lost money. Then they admitted that they were No. 2 and Avis started to make money.”

“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.’”

“To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product. Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind.”

“More than anything else, successful positioning requires consistency. You must keep at it year after year.”

“If you want to be successful today, you can’t ignore the competitor’s position.”

Chapter 5: You Can’t Get There from Here

“Don’t fight perceptions with facts. Perceptions will always win.”

“Positioning has nothing to do with whether you mention a competitor or not. It has to do with ‘considering’ competitive strengths and weaknesses before you launch a marketing campaign.”

Chapter 6: Positioning of a Leader

“History shows that the first brand into the brain, on the average, gets twice the long-term market share of the No. 2 brand and twice again as much as the No. 3 brand.”

“Leadership alone is your most effective marketing strategy.”

“Leaders should not try to drive their competitors out of business. They need them to create a category.”

“Leadership is your best ‘differentiator.’ It’s the collateral for your brand’s success.”

“In every category, there are two brands which will ultimately dominate the category.”

“When two brands are close, one or the other is likely to get the upper hand and then dominate the market for years to come.”

“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. There are two basic strategies that should be used hand in hand. They seem contradictory but aren’t.”

“The ultimate objective of a positioning program should be to achieve leadership in a given category.”

Chapter 7: Positioning of a Follower

“Most me-too products fail to achieve reasonable sales goals because the accent is on ‘better’ rather than ‘speed.’ That is, the No. 2 company thinks the road to success is to introduce a me-too product, only better.”

“It’s not enough to be better than the competitor. You must launch your attack while the situation is fluid. Before the leader has time to establish leadership.”

“‘Look for the hole’ in the prospect’s mind is one of the best strategies in the field of marketing.”

“You don’t have to be first to succeed, as long as you can create the perception that you were first.”

“Your high price must have a real difference to justify the price. If nothing else, it rationalizes the spending of more money.”

“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.”

“In positioning a product, there’s no substitute for getting there first.”

“The biggest single mistake that companies make is trying to appeal to everybody.”

“Rather than asking yourself, ‘Who are we trying to appeal to?’ try asking yourself the opposite question, ‘Who should not use our brand?’”

Chapter 8: Repositioning the Competition

“To move a new idea or product into the mind, you must first move an old one out.”

“For a repositioning strategy to work, you must say something about your competitor’s product that causes the prospect to change his or her mind, not about your product, but about the competitor’s product.”

“The late Howard Gossage used to say that the objective of your advertising should not be to communicate with your consumers and prospects at all, but to terrorize your competition’s copywriters, and there’s some truth in that.”

“‘We’re better than our competitors’ isn’t repositioning. It’s comparative advertising and not very effective. There’s a psychological flaw in the advertiser’s reasoning which the prospect is quick to detect. ‘If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?’”

Chapter 9: The Power of the Name

“The name is the hook that hangs the brand on the product ladder in the prospect’s mind.”

“What you must look for is a name that begins the positioning process. A name that tells the prospect what the product’s major benefit is.”

“One of the things that makes positioning thinking difficult for many people is the failure to understand the role of timing.”

“When you want to change a strongly held opinion, the first step to take is usually to change the name.”

“In naming people or products, you should not let your competitors unfairly preempt words that you need to describe your own products.”

“The name is the first point of contact between the message and the mind.”

Chapter 10: The No-Name Trap

“When they have a choice of a word or a set of initials, both equal in phonetic length, people will invariably use the word, not the initials.”

“In general, if you remember the set of initials, you also remember the name.”

“A company must be extremely well known before it can use initials successfully.”

“Make no mistake about it. Initials make weak brand or company names.”

“The mind works by ear, not by eye.”

“Before you can file away a picture in the mind, you have to verbalize it.”

Chapter 11: The Free-Ride Trap

“A big company with a big reputation usually cannot compete successfully with a smaller company with a well-defined position. Size doesn’t matter. Positioning does.”

Chapter 12: The Line-Extension Trap

“What does it mean to own a position in the mind? Simply this: the brand name becomes a surrogate or substitute for the generic name.”

“The stronger the position, the more often this substitution takes place.”

“The easiest way to kill a brand is to line-extend it.”

Reverse line extension is called “broadening the base.”

Chapter 13: When Line Extension Can Work

“One of the keys to understanding the line-extension issue is to separate the short-term effects from the long-term effects. Is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant? Actually, it’s both. In the short term alcohol is a stimulant; in the long term alcohol is a depressant. Line extensions generally work the same way.”

“The classic test for line extension is the shopping list. Just list the brands you want to buy on a piece of paper and send your spouse to the supermarket.”

“If your competitors are foolish. If your volume is small. If you have no competitors. If you don’t expect to build a position in the prospect’s mind. If you don’t do any advertising.”

Chapter 14: Positioning a Company: Monsanto

“Rightly or wrongly, the bigger, more successful companies have the better people. And the smaller, less successful companies have the leftovers. So if your company occupies the top rung of the product ladder in the prospect’s mind, you can be sure that the prospect will also think that your company has the best people.”

Chapter 15: Positioning a Country: Belgium

“The perceptions of people living in a place are often different from those visiting it.”

“To position a country as a destination, you need attractions that will keep the traveler around for at least a few days.”

“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.”

“To create an effective positioning program, you have to ‘verbalize the visuals.’ Alliteration can also be an effective memory device in this process.”

“A successful positioning program requires a major long-term commitment by the people in charge.”

Chapter 16: Positioning a Product: Milk Duds

“The first step in any positioning program is to look inside the mind of the prospect.”

“Isolating a narrow target is usually the first step in finding an effective position.”

“The solution to a positioning problem is usually found in the prospect’s mind, not in the product.”

Chapter 17: Positioning a Service: Mailgram

“Visuals can be extremely memorable, but unless they are connected to a verbal idea they lose their effectiveness.”

“Regardless of how much money you spend, regardless of how technologically interesting your service is, to get inside the prospect’s mind, you have to relate to what’s already there.”

Chapter 18: Positioning a Long Island Bank

“To successfully position a retail outlet, you must know the territory.”

“‘Mapping the prospect’s mind’ is normally done with a research technique called ‘semantic differential.’”

“Most marketing research is overly concerned with the attitudes of customers and prospects to the company itself. It doesn’t really matter what customers think about your company and your products or services. The thing that counts is how your company compares with your competitors.”

“In semantic differential research, the prospect is given a set of attributes and then asked to rank each competitor on a scale, generally from 1 to 10.”

Chapter 19: Positioning the Catholic Church

“Once a positioning strategy has been developed, it sets the direction for all the activities of the organization. Even one as large and multifaceted as the Catholic Church.”

Chapter 20: Positioning Yourself and Your Career

“The most difficult part of positioning is selecting that one specific concept to hang your hat on. Yet you must, if you want to cut through the prospect’s wall of indifference.”

“Confusion is the enemy of successful positioning.”

“Always try to work for the smartest, brightest, most competent person you can find.”

“If you look at biographies of successful people, it’s amazing to find how many crawled up the ladder of success right behind someone else.”

“The more business friends you make outside of your own organization, the more likely you are to wind up in a big, rewarding job.”

“It is possible to succeed in business or in life all by yourself. But it’s not easy.”

Chapter 21: Six Steps to Success

  1. What Position Do You Own?
  2. What Position Do You Want to Own?
  3. Whom Must You Outgun?
  4. Do You Have Enough Money?
  5. Can You Stick It Out?
  6. Do You Match Your Position?

Chapter 22: Playing the Positioning Game

“The meanings are not in the words. They are in the people using the words.”

Alfred Korzybski, who developed the concept of general semantics, explains that insane people try to make the world of reality fit what is in their heads.

“It’s a whole lot easier to change the facts to fit your opinions.”

“Unsane people make up their minds and then find the facts to ‘verify’ the opinion. Or even more commonly, they accept the opinion of the nearest ‘expert,’ and then they don’t have to bother with the facts at all.”

“Language is the currency of the mind.”

“To be successful in the positioning era, you must be brutally frank. You must try to eliminate all ego from the decision-making processes. It only clouds the issue.”

“One of the most critical aspects of positioning is being able to evaluate products objectively and see how they are viewed by customers and prospects.”

“Often the solution to a problem is so simple that thousands of people have looked at it without seeing it. When an idea is clever or complicated, however, we should be suspicious. It probably won’t work because it’s not simple enough.”

“The big winners in business and in life are those people who have found open positions near the center of the spectrum. Not at the edge.”

“The secret to establishing a successful position is to keep two things in balance: (1) a unique position with (2) broad appeal.”

“To repeat, the first rule of positioning is: To win the battle for the mind, you can’t compete head-on against a company that has a strong, established position. You can go around, under or over, but never head-to-head.”

“The leader owns the high ground. The No. 1 position in the prospect’s mind. The top rung of the product ladder. To move up the ladder, you must follow the rules of positioning.”

“If you’re not the leader, set up a new category you can be the leader in.”