The marketplace today is filled with an abundance of products and services that come with a plethora of advertisements. Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, point out that this massive volume of marketing communications ensues an overcrowded and overcommunicated marketplace. As a response, the two wrote this book to show readers how to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace. A new approach to communication, called positioning, is their proposed solution to achieving successful marketing campaigns in the competitive advertising landscape of today. Ries and Trout are well-rounded and respected marketing professionals who both have owned prestigious consulting firms and worked in the advertising departments of several large companies.
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The book starts out by explaining that positioning is not what a company does to a product but instead involves manipulating what is already in the mind of a potential customer and emphasizing links that already exist (Ries & Trout, 1986). The easiest and most effective way to get into a potential customer’s mind is be first. If companies want to compete with products that are positioned before theirs in a category, they will have to establish a position distinct from the leaders’ positions or reposition the leaders by revealing something about the leaders’ products that causes potential customers to change their mind, not about their product, but about the leaders’ products (Ries & Trout, 1986). The name of products can also be a key to successful positioning. To establish a position or preserve an established position, companies must avoid what the authors refer to as “traps.” To stay ahead in the positioning game, companies must resist being static and be observant to keep their position targeted to today’s problems and today’s markets (Ries & Trout, 1986). The book gives examples of a variety of companies that have successfully positioned products and some that have fallen to “traps.” Ries and Trout conclude the book by asserting that positioning can be applied to countries, small businesses, and individuals in addition to large companies.
I will start by indicating where I am in agreement with Ries and Trout. “In a mental battle the odds favor… the first product… to get into the mind of the prospect,” (Ries & Trout, 1986, p. 22). Ries and Trout reinforce their statement by asking questions relating to the second person to fly across the North Atlantic, the second tallest mountain, and the second largest-selling book. Most people, including myself, can name the first but really have no clue as to the second. The importance of being first can be shown by looking Scotch Tape, Kleenex, and Xerox (McLaughlin, 2011). These are a few examples of brands that have become synonymous with their function and were the first to take their position. I do agree that being first is advantageous but just being first will not be enough to retain a successful position. This can be displayed by looking at Kodak.
At the time the book was written, Kodak was in a leading position and synonymous with photography, but Kodak has recently filed for bankruptcy. The book gives tips on how to remain in the top position after being first. Kodak’s bankruptcy can of course be credited to the age of digital cameras. Ries and Trout state one key to positioning is “…get there first and then be careful not to give them a reason to switch.” The “be careful not to give them a reason to switch” part is where Kodak messed up. An electrical engineer at Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975 (Djudjic, 2018). If being first is so important, why did Kodak have to file for bankruptcy after inventing the digital camera? This can be explained by the following excerpt: “More than anything else, successful positioning requires consistency. You must keep it year after year. …too often a company falls into what we call the F.W.M.T.S. trap: Forgot what made them successful,” (Ries and Trout, 1986, p. 34). Kodak’s prior success came from being positioned in the mind as the leading and best photography brand, not from its cameras alone. I think it is safe to say leaders at Kodak “forgot” this and continued to make traditional cameras in the age of digital cameras letting competitors eat away at its position.
“What works for a leader does not necessarily work for a follower,” (Ries & Trout, 1986, p. 53). Ries & Trout build on this statement by giving the example of Volkswagen. Volkswagen knew that it would be hard to compete with the positions that Detroit automakers had established in the minds of customers, so it decided to create a new position. Volkswagen established the small size position with the introduction of the Volkswagen Beetle. Ries and Trout describe this model as short, fat, and ugly, but they give credit to Volkswagen for being the first to occupy the small-car position. I agree that Volkswagen establishing this position, challenging the idea that bigger is better, has resulted in a couple of decades of success for the Beetle. The Beetle was discontinued this year so that the company can use the factory space to focus on the new wave of environmentally conscious customers by producing electric vehicles (Banerjee & White, 2018). I think this smart move by Volkswagen to try to reposition to fit today’s marketplace. Ries and Trout said, “Not that positioning does not involve change. It often does.”
“If Bayer is aspirin, how can Bayer also be nonaspirin?” (Ries & Trout, 1986, p. 105). The authors are against line-extensions that blur the sharp focus of the brand in mind. I also would advise a company that has a brand that has become the “generic” name to refrain from line-extending as doing so will confuse the position in the mind of the customer. After reading this chapter, it seemed as if Ries and Trout were completely against line-extensions, but they redeemed themselves in my mind in the next chapter by showing when line-extensions work.
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Now, I will go through where I disagreed with Ries & Trout. “It’s the teeter-totter principle. One name can’t stand for two distinctly different products. When one goes up the other goes, the other goes down,” (Ries & Trout, p. 99). After reading this, I thought about Amazon. Amazon has a wide array of products/services, such as Amazon Kindle, Amazon Alexa, Amazon Web Services, and many more. Market share across many of Amazon’s own products and services have been growing over the past several years with no end in sight (Day & Gu, 2019). Amazon, positioned as the best and generally the lowest-cost, has not seen a decrease in sales e-readers as a result of an increasing usage of its cloud computing services. “Diversification is not the answer,” (Ries & Trout, 1986, p. 130). Again, the first company that came to mind was Amazon.
In today’s overcrowded marketplace, the old ways of advertising do not always get the point across. The concept of positioning will stay relevant for years to come. I would definitely recommend reading this book to anyone as it is not filled with jargon that is hard to understand and can be applied to businesses, countries, and individuals.
- Banerjee, Arunima & White, Joseph. (2018, September). Volkswagen to end production of the Beetle next year. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-volkswagen-beetle/volkswagen-to-end-production-of-the-beetle-next-year-idUSKCN1LT315
- Day, Matt and Gu, Jackie. (2019, March). The Enormous Numbers Behind Amazon’s Market Reach. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2019-amazon-reach-across-markets/
- Djudjic, Dunja. (2018, June). FROM PHOTO INDUSTRY GIANT TO BANKRUPTCY: WHAT HAPPENED TO KODAK?. DIYPhotography. Retrieved from https://www.diyphotography.net/from-photo-industry-giant-to-bankruptcy-what-happened-to-kodak/
- McLaughlin, Jerry. (2011, December). The Importance of Being First. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrymclaughlin/2011/12/28/the-importance-of-being-first/#5cbf95929eb7
- Ries, Al & Trout, Jack. (1986). Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill. 210 pp. $19.99
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