What does a book from the 80s have to teach to marketers today?

Let’s see.

Advertising is, for the most part, unwanted and unliked. In some cases, advertising is thoroughly detested.


In general, the mind accepts only that which matches prior knowledge or experience. Millions of dollars have been wasted trying to change minds with advertising. Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change it. Certainly not with a weak force like advertising.


as the effectiveness of advertising goes down, the use of it goes up. Not just in volume, but in the number of users.

These are some of the aspects Ries and Trout start from in their book, Positioning: how to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace. And they bear quite incredible similarities to the environment marketers operate in nowadays. Almost 40 years after the book was written.

The solution to this mix of sensory overload and advertising inefficacy is positioning, the process that leads (better, should lead) companies to identify a space in the prospect’s mind and leverage it for growth and success. Contrary to common shared belief, indeed, growth and success are not in the product and its features, they are in how the audience and particularly your prospects remember and talk about you.

Not surprisingly, Ries and Trout share quite many examples of companies who did positioning right and companies who did it wrong (back in the Seventies and Eighties), and perhaps the more interesting examples are the ones the authors dedicate a full chapter each in the second half of the book. Some commonalities.

  • Find a space (“cherchez le creneau”, as they say in French) that is not taken, no matter if it is a small one, and be the first to move there.
  • To find that space, the company needs to know a whole lot of things that have very little to do with the product or service they offer: market, competitors, audience, prospects, and so on.
  • Be mindful of the importance of the name of your product or service, better if it is a name that reminds what the product or service stands for.
  • Avoid name extensions to the best of your abilities (“When a really new product comes along, it’s almost always a mistake to hang a well-known name on it“).
  • Be consistent with your positioning strategy in the long-term, particularly in times of change, when it is more beneficial to change tactics rather than strategy.

Positioning is one of those books that anybody who starts a career in marketing should read and keep close throughout their careers. It really is too easy to forget about the importance of everything that is not the product/service you are offering (competitors, environment, audience, etc.) and fall in love with words and messages that mean literally nothing to the people you seek to serve.

This is the classic mistake made by the leader. The illusion that the power of the product is derived from the power of the organization. It’s just the reverse. The power of the organization is derived from the power of the product, the position that the product owns in the prospect’s mind.



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