The Origins Of Brand Positioning

Derrick DayeJune 7, 20174 min

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Jack Trout who died Sunday at the age of 82. To many in the business of building brands, Jack was a pioneer, a mentor, and a game changer. In 1969, he and his partner, Al Ries, introduced the now highly valued concept of positioning in the paper “Positioning Is A Game People Play In Today’s Me-Too Market Place.” This became the genesis of their ground-breaking first book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Positioning would quickly grow into one of the world’s most powerful business concepts, a countermeasure to the noise and confusion that plagues the minds of consumers searching for value in an over-communicated marketplace.

As a mentor, he shaped the thinking of generations of marketers and executives using the sharp edges of candor to make his points and push others to be better. His wisdom was spread out over 13 books that include classics such as Marketing Warfare, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Differentiate or Die, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change, and Crisis, Big Brands. Big Trouble, A Genie’s Wisdom, In Search Of The Obvious and Trout on Strategy.

Jack was also a friend to Branding Strategy Insider contributing 109 thought pieces since 2007. Most of them were set to the beat of differentiation and its role in competitive advantage. Some reminded CEO’s that they are the ultimate CMO, while others challenged an agency world that he thought was drifting away from its purpose.

Today we remember Jack and revisit the concept of positioning through a compilation of his thoughts:

Positioning is something (perception) that happens in the minds of the target market. It is the aggregate perception the market has of a particular company, product or service in relation to their perceptions of the competitors in the same category. It will happen whether or not a company’s management is proactive, reactive or passive about the on-going process of evolving a position. But a company can positively influence the perceptions through enlightened strategic actions.

In marketing, positioning has come to mean the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization. It is the ‘relative competitive comparison’ their product occupies in a given market as perceived by the target market.

Re-positioning involves changing the identity of a product, relative to the identity of competing products, in the collective minds of the target market.

De-positioning involves attempting to change the identity of competing products, relative to the identity of your own product, in the collective minds of the target market.

What Seven Concepts Are Critical To Brand Positioning?

1. Perception (their’s, not your’s)
2. Differentiation
3. Competition
4. Specialization
5. Simplicity
6. Leadership
7. Reality

To sell concepts, products and services, marketers have to understand how the mind works:

1. The mind is a limited container.
2. The mind creates “product ladders” for each category (cars, toothpaste, accounting services, hamburgers, etc.) There is always a top rung and a bottom rung in each category.
3. The mind can only remember seven items in a high interest category. Most people remember only two or three items in a category.
4. On the product ladder, Positions One and Position Two typically account for more than 60 per cent of the sales in that category. In other words, Positions Three, Four and Subsequent are not profitable.
5. The mind hates complexity. To the mind, complexity equals confusion. People don’t have time to figure out confusion.
6. The best way to enter the mind is to OVER-SIMPLIFY the message.
7. The most powerful positioning is to reduce your message to one simple and easily understood word.
8. Minds are insecure. Most people buy what others buy: this is the “herd mentality.”
9. Minds don’t change—easily.

How has Jack Trout impacted your career? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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One comment

  • Anjan Bhattacharjee

    June 15, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    The nine points on how consumers’ minds work has been done very nicely. However out of the seven concepts of Brand positioning the 6 & 7 need more explanation as to how these concepts are applied critically in Brand Positioning. Brand Positioning within the category without qualitative segmentation is not possible. Most common practice of hit and run is the bane of today’s marketing. The segmentation for any product/service category must be clear through field research of finding Q/P ratios of each segment defined for perfect positioning/re-positioning and reap the harvest.

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