Positioning by Al Ries & Jack Trout

Positioning by Al Ries & Jack Trout

The Book in a Few Sentences

The book that forever changed marketing. Positioning is outside-in thinking targeting the deep inner workings of the human mind. A simple yet powerful way of working with the prospect's mind rather than against it.

Positioning summary

This is my book summary of Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.


A New Approach to Communication

  • This book has been written about a new approach to communication called positioning.

Positioning Defined

  • Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.

1: What Positioning Is All About

  • To be successful today, you must touch base with reality. And the only reality that counts is what’s already in the prospect’s mind.
  • The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.

The Overcommunicated Society

  • 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.
  • But the average person cannot tolerate being told he or she is wrong.

The Oversimplified Mind

  • Only a tiny fraction of the original material ends up in the mind of the receiver.

The Oversimplified Message

  • The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message.
  • In communication, as in architecture, less is more.
  • “In politics,” said John Lindsay, “the perception is the reality.” So, too, in advertising, in business, and in life.

2: The Assault On The Mind

The Media Explosion

  • Each day, thousands of advertising messages compete for a share of the prospect’s mind. And make no mistake about it, the mind is the battleground.
  • Between 6 inches of gray matter is where the advertising war takes place.
  • Studies on the sensitivity of the human brain have established the existence of a phenomenon called “sensory overload.”
  • Scientists have discovered that a person is capable of receiving only a limited amount of sensation.

3: Getting Into The Mind

  • Positioning is an organized system for finding a window in the mind.

The Easy Way Into The Mind

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

The Hard Way Into The Mind

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

The Positioning Era

  • To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company 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.

What Miller Discovered

  • With a purified and simplified message, you can then penetrate the prospect’s mind.

4: Those Little Ladders In Your head

  • The mind rejects new information that doesn’t “compute.” It accepts only that new information which matches its current state of mind. It filters out everything else.

You See What You Expect to See

  • Very little mind changing takes place. You see what you expect to see.
  • One prime objective of all advertising is to heighten expectations. To create the illusion that the product or service will perform the miracles you expect.

An Inadequate Container

  • To cope with complexity, people have learned to simplify everything.
  • This ranking of people, objects, and brands is not only a convenient method of organizing things but also an absolute necessity to keep from being overwhelmed by the complexities of life.

The Product Ladder

  • To cope with the product explosion, people have learned to rank products and brands in the mind. Perhaps this can best be visualized by imagining a series of ladders in the mind.
  • On each step is a brand name. And each different ladder represents a different product category.
  • Some ladders have many steps. (Seven is many.) Others have few, if any.
  • A competitor that wants to increase its share of the business must either dislodge the brand above (a task that is usually impossible) or somehow relate its brand to the other company’s position.
  • The mind has no room for what’s new and different unless it’s related to the old.
  • That’s why if you have a truly new product, it’s often better to tell the prospect what the product is not, rather than what it is.

5: You Can’t Get There from Here

How to Go Against an IBM

  • An also-ran can easily be tempted to think that the answer to the problem is trying harder.

Smith and Jones at General Electric

  • Invariably, every industry has a strong leader (IBM in computers, Xerox in copiers, and General Motors in automobiles) and a host of also-rans.

6: Positioning of a Leader

Establishing Leadership

  • 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.

The Failures of Leaders

  • Coca-Cola is a gigantic company compared with Dr. Pepper. Yet when Coke introduced a competitive product, Mr. Pibb, even the immense resources of the Atlanta giant couldn’t put much of a dent in Dr. Pepper’s sales. Mr. Pibb remains a poor second.
  • Almost all the advantages accrue to the leader. In the absence of any strong reasons to the contrary, consumers will probably select the same brand for their next purchase as they selected for their last purchase.

The Instability of Equality

  • Consumers are like chickens. They are much more comfortable with a pecking order that everybody knows about and accepts.
  • Hertz and Avis.
    Harvard and Yale.
    McDonald’s and Burger King.

What Not to Do

  • You have to build a leadership position in the prospect’s terms.

What to Do

  • The essential ingredient in securing the leadership position is getting into the mind first.
  • The essential ingredient in keeping that position is reinforcing the original concept.

Covering All Bets

  • So when a competitor introduces a new product or a new feature, the tendency is to pooh-pooh the development.
  • This means a leader should swallow his or her pride and adopt every new product development as soon as it shows signs of promise.

Power from the Product

  • The power of the organization is derived from the power of the product, the position that the product owns in the prospect’s mind.

Covering With a Broader Name

  • Leaders are in the best position to exploit opportunities as they arise.
  • Leaders should constantly use the power of their leadership to keep far ahead of the competition.

7: Positioning of a Follower

  • Leaders can often cover a competitive move and retain their leadership.

Why Products Fail

  • How do you find an open position in the prospect’s mind?

The Size Creneau

  • The most effective ad Volkswagen ever ran was the one which stated the position clearly and unequivocally.
  • “Think small.”
  • With two simple words, this headline did two things at once. It stated the Volkswagen position, and it challenged the prospect’s assumption that bigger is necessarily better.

The High-Price Creneau

  • Some brands base almost their entire product message on the high-price concept.
  • “There is only one Joy, the costliest perfume in the world.”
  • 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.
  • Otherwise, your high price just drives prospective customers away.

Other Effective Creneaus

  • In positioning a product, there’s no substitute for getting there first.
  • Age is another positioning strategy to use. Geritol tonic is a good example of a successful product aimed at older folks.
  • Time of day is also a potential positioning possibility. Nyquil, the first night-time cold remedy, is one example.

The Technology Trap

  • Don’t try to trick the prospect. Advertising is not a debate. It’s a seduction.

8: Repositioning the Competition

Creating Your Own Creneau

  • In other words, to move a new idea or product into the mind, you must first move an old one out.
  • People like to watch the bubble burst.

Repositioning Lenox

  • 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.

Repositioning American Vodkas

  • People like to see the high and mighty exposed.

Repositioning Pringle’s

  • In some small corner of the brain is a penalty box marked “loser.” Once your product is sent there, the game is over.

Repositioning Listerine

  • One of P & G’s most powerful program is the one for Scope mouthwash. P & G used two words to reposition Listerine, the King fo Halitosis Hill.
  • “Medicine breath.”

Repositioning Vs. Comparative Ads

  • “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 your brand is so good, how come it’s not the leader?”

9: The Power of the Name

  • The name is the hook that hangs the brand on the product ladder in the prospect’s mind.
  • In the positioning era, the single most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product.
  • 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.
  • Like Head & Shoulders shampoo…

When to Use A Coined Name

  • So stick with common descriptive words (Spray ’n Wash) and avoid the coined words (Qyx).

Hubert and Elmer in the Sky

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

The Toledo Triplets

  • When the name is bad, things tend to get worse.
  • When the name is good, things tend to get better.

10: The No-Name Trap

The Mind Works by Ear

  • To utter a word, we first translate the letters into sounds.
  • When words are read, they are not understood until the visual/verbal translator in your brain takes over to make aural sense out of what you have seen.
  • Which is why not only names but also headlines, slogans, and themes should be examined for their aural qualities.

Acronyms and Phone Directories

  • With a good name, your positioning job is going to be a lot easier.

11: The Free-Ride Trap

Two Different Strategies

  • If you get into the mind first, any name is going to work.
  • If you didn’t get there first, then you are flirting with disaster if you  don’t select an appropriate name.

A New Product Needs a New Name

  • When a really new product comes along, it’s almost always a mistake to hang a well-known name on it.
  • The reason is obvious. A well-known name got well known because it stood for something. It occupies a position in the prospect’s mind. A really well-known name sits on the top rung of a sharply defined ladder.
  • The new product, if it’s going to be successful, is going to require a new ladder. New ladder, new name. It’s as simple as that.

The Teeter-Totter Principle

  • One name can’t stand for two distinctly different products. When one goes up, the other goes down.

12: The Line-Extension Trap

Outside-In Thinking

  • But 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.
  • When you have a generic brand name, you can afford to ignore the brand and promote the category.

Two Ways of Looking at the Name

  • In the consumer’s mind, Bayer is aspirin and every other aspirin brand becomes “imitation Bayer.”

13: When Line Extension Can Work

Long-Term Disadvantages

  • Line-extension names are forgettable because they have no independent position in the mind.
  • Their only contribution is to blur the position occupied by the original name.

What’s a Chevrolet?

  • By trying to appeal to everybody, a product winds up appealing to nobody.

14: Positioning a Company: Xerox

  • You can position anything. A person, a product, a politician. Even a company.

15: Positioning a Country: Belgium

Three-Star Cities

  • 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.

16: Positioning an Island: Jamaica

  • Jamaica's positioning problem is similar to the problem of Belgium. How to put a mental picture postcard into the mind of the Caribbean prospect?
  • It's to look into the mind of the prospect to see what mental images already exist. And then select one you can tie Jamaica into.
  • The "Hawaii of the Caribbean" provides a quick visual analogy.

17: Positioning a Product: Milk Duds

Looking Into the Mind

  • Most positioning programs are nothing more or less than a search for the obvious.

The Long-Lasting Alternative

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

18: Positioning a Service: Mailgram

Low Cost Vs. High Speed

  • Your problem is not just one of developing a good strategy. Equally important is the courage you will need to keep hammering at the same theme, year after year.

19: Positioning a Long Island Bank

Developing the Strategy

  • Positioning theory says you must start with what the prospect is already willing to give you.
  • But the best positioning ideas are so simple and obvious that most people overlook them.

20: Positioning a New Jersey Bank

Did It Work?

  • The essence of a good positioning strategy is that it transcends every aspect of a company. You know you have a winner when you run it up the corporate flagpole and everybody salutes.

21: Positioning a Ski Resort: Stowe

The Top 10 Ski Resorts in the World

  • “One of the top 10 ski resorts in the world” is a classic positioning strategy. It takes advantage of the mind’s tendency to “make a list” when trying to cope with complexity.
  • When you use a recognized authority to give your product or service credibility, you are tapping a fundamental aspect of human nature.
  • There’s security in not having to trust your own judgment.

22: Positioning the Catholic Church

Teacher of the Word

  • Experience has shown that a positioning exercise is a search for the obvious.
  • Those are the easiest concepts to communicate because they make the most sense to the recipient of a message.
  • The human mind tends to admire the complicated and dismiss the obvious as being too simplistic.

23: Positioning Yourself and Your Career

Define Yourself

  • People suffer from the same disease as products. They try to be all things to all people.

Find a Horse to Ride

  • It may be difficult for the ego to accept, but success in life is based more on what others can do for you than on what you can do for yourself.

The First Horse to Ride is Your Company.

  • No matter how brilliant you are, it never pays to cast your lot with a loser.
  • You can’t do it yourself. If your company is going nowhere, get yourself a new one.
  • Place your bets on the growth industries.

The Second Horse to Ride is Your Boss.

  • 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.
  • If your boss is going places, chances are good that you are too.

The Third Horse to Ride is a Friend.

The Fourth Horse to Ride is an Idea.

  • On the night before he died, Victor Hugo wrote in his diary, “Nothing, not all the armies of the world, can stop an idea whose time has come.”
  • To ride the “idea” horse, you must be willing to expose yourself to ridicule and controversy. You must be willing to go against the tide.
  • An idea or concept without an element of conflict is not an idea at all.

The Fifth Horse to Ride is Faith.

The Sixth Horse to Ride is Yourself.

24: Positioning your Business

1. What Position Do You Own?

  • What you must do is to find a way into the mind by hooking your product, service, or concept to what’s already there.

2. What Position Do You Want to Own?

  • Too many programs set out to communicate a position that is impossible to preempt because someone else already owns it.
  • Sometimes you can want too much. You can want to own a position that’s too broad.

3. Whom Must You Outgun?

  • It’s better to go around an obstacle rather than over it.
  • Prospects don’t buy, they choose.

4. Do You Have Enough Money?

  • The noise level today is fierce.
  • One way to cope with the noise-level problem is to reduce the geographic scope of your problem.
  • With a given number of dollars, it’s better to overspend in one city than to underspend in several cities.

5. Can You Stick it Out?

  • To cope with change, it’s important to take a long-range point of view. To determine your basic position and then stick to it.
  • Positioning is a concept that is cumulative.
  • With rare exceptions, a company should almost never change its basic positioning strategy.
  • The trick is to take that basic strategy and improve it. Find new ways to dramatize it.
  • Owning a position in the mind is like owning a valuable piece of real estate.

6. Do You Match Your Position?

  • Creativity by itself is worthless. Only when it is subordinated to the positioning objective can creativity make a contribution.

The Role of the Outsider

  • And what does the outsider supply? An ingredient called ignorance. In other words, objectivity.
  • The outsider is naturally attuned to outside-in thinking, while the insider is more comfortable with inside-out thinking.

What the Outsider Doesn’t Supply

  • Some business managers believe that the role of an advertising agency is to wave a magic wand which causes prospects to immediately rush out and buy the product.
  • The wand, of course, is called “creativity,”…
  • Today, creativity is dead. The name of the game on Madison Avenue is positioning.

25: Playing the Positioning Game

You Must Understand the Role of Words

  • Mental rigidity is a barrier to successful positioning.
  • To be successful today at positioning, you must have a large degree of mental flexibility.

You Must Know How Words Affect People

  • Words are triggers. They trigger the meanings which are buried in the mind.
  • Most people are “unsane.” They’re not completely sane and they’re not completely insane. They’re somewhere in between.
  • The sane person constantly analyzes the world of reality and then changes what’s inside his or her head to fit the facts.
  • Unsane people make up their minds and then find the facts to “verify” their opinion.
  • So you see the power of the psychologically right name. The mind makes the world of reality fit the name.
  • A Mustang looks sportier, racier, and faster than if the same car had been called the Turtle.

You Need Vision

  • The sun shines tomorrow on those who have made the right decisions today.

You Need Objectivity

  • 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.
  • You need someone to bounce your ideas off.
  • Only in a give-and-take atmosphere can ideas be refined and perfected.

You Need Simplicity

  • Simple concepts expressed with simple words used in a straightforward way.

You Need Subtlety

  • The secret to establishing a successful position is to keep two things in balance: (1) A unique position with (2) an appeal that’s not too narrow.

You Must Be Willing to Sacrifice

  • You must be willing to give up something in order to establish that unique position.

What You Don’t Need

  • 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.