I recently picked up a wrinkled copy of Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. The pages had that “old-book smell” that confuses my brain: Is this a good smell, or is it gross? It reminds me of an old house. I imagine that the previous owner had it sitting around for a decade or so before it came my way.
The book might be old, but the ideas still stand.
The book asks a simple yet complex question: How do you stand out in a crowded marketplace and win?
If You Ain’t First, You’re Last
One of the major points brought up in the book is the importance of being first.
For example, when I say ridesharing, what company comes to mind? You probably said Uber, right?
Uber has first mover advantage over competitors such as Lyft and others. Uber has become a generic term for ridesharing. Ever heard someone say, “I Ubered over here”?
Another example that comes to mind is Google. When I say search engine, what do you think of? You probably said Google. And, like Uber, Google has become a verb (i.e. I googled it).
The ultimate objective of a positioning program should be to achieve leadership in a given category.
People position products and brands in their mind.
The goal of positioning is to acknowledge the connections already in the customer’s brain and communicate where your brand is positioned within those existing connections.
Think of positioning like a ladder. Each rung of the ladder represents a brand in your customer’s mind. You, the position marketer, have to understand where you sit on that ladder in order to move up it.
Be One Thing To Everybody Or Everything To Nobody
Another important lesson from Positioning is that of product extension. By all accounts, it’s a total mistake.
An example of this in the book is the story of Sarah Lee trying to get into the frozen food space. Sarah Lee occupies the position of a dessert company, not that of frozen noodles. Customers were confused and the extended product line was a flop.
Line-extension names are forgettable because they have no independent position in the mind. They are satellites to the original brand name. Their only contribution is to blur the position occupied by the original name.
This is as applicable to a product line as it is to an individual or a company.
Know what your core competencies are and stick with them. Stand for something.
Position Your Product By Skewing Value
What can you do to if you’re not first? How do you get inside the customer’s mind and get noticed?
Your first instinct might be to talk about how awesome your product is compared to the leader.
This is a mistake.
Comparative marketing is a failure because customers won’t believe you.
A great example of this is the “Pepsi Challenge.” Despite the assertion that more drinkers preferred Pepsi over Coke in blind taste tests, the campaign failed.
Customers aren’t stupid, they’re thinking, “If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?”
Don’t Compare, Exploit A “Creneau” Instead
The only real way to position yourself against a leader in your market is to find your competitor’s weaknesses.
Positioning refers to this as Cherchez le creneau, which is a French marketing expression meaning “Look for the hole.”
A good way of thinking about filling the creneau is to skew value. This means going where the people aren’t. What is the competition doing wrong? What unmet needs can your product fill that the competition is neglecting?
One way to do this is to you use the Six Ps framework.
A great example of value skewing in the book is the story of Milk Duds.
Milk Duds, instead of trying to go against the larger and more established brands, exploited the relatively small size of candy bars. Candy bar consumers were discontented with the fact that the average candy bar didn’t last that long.
Milk Duds realized this and decided to position themselves as “The Long-Lasting Alternative” to the chocolate bar. The results were staggering; Milk Duds sold more in the proceeding months of the campaign than in any time in their history.
The solution to a positioning problem is usually found in the prospects’s mind, not in the product.
The Habits Of Highly Effective Marketers
Positioning is a thought-provoking book with loads of case studies that prove the power of position thinking. It focuses heavily on having pathological empathy for your customers, and essentially, getting out of your own way.
It takes an outside-in approach to marketing that reminded me of Stephen Covey’s 5th commandment of “Seek first to understand, than to be understood.”
Seek first to understand, than to be understood. – Stephen Covey
Positioning is old, but the principles stand the test of time. There are some things at the end of the book that I took issue with, but they mainly just reflect the book’s age (copyright 1981).
Be first to market; focus on your core competencies; expose your competitor’s weaknesses; and seek to understand your customers– these ideas are as relevant today as they were back in the eighties.
Want to learn more about Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind? Grab your copy here or click on the image below.
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