Book Summary : Ries, Al and Trout, Jack: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, McGraw-Hill
It pains me to say that I’ve been insisting people I manage always read this book. It’s usually number 3 when I am putting together a reading list as part of a development plan. As I write it part of me smiles knowing that it’s worthwhile but none too easy a read. But sometimes pain is worthwhile i think. I am assured that you can finish this book and not feel fondness for me afterwards. That’s power.
It’s sits was alongside Kotler and a few others in contributing to the professionalism of our business and helped to force a Mad Men industry into an academic disciple with point and counter point. Rigour and professionalism in place of oysters, expense accounts and I go way back with X.
Rather than put any one else through this I thought I would get around to summarizing it, hopefully this saving my people some time and sanity. Or at least spur them on to the fuller story in an informed consensual fashion. Once I’d done this is seemed socially good (see earlier blog) to let you lot have this as well. It has taken me the best part of 3 months to finish this. I could have learnt the guitar.
Positioning’s is always floating around the office with its striking red cover often poking out beneath marked up artwork and the usual desk fodder. Those that have read it cover to cover are part of a gang. United in a shared experience. It plods, repeats itself and the case studies have dated it beyond credibility at times. But it still is a great bit of thinking in a world that was far from open hearted for a head-first communication strategist.
This is not a thought piece and it’s my first book summary. So expect it to be hard work. Frankly, if it wasn’t then its miles away from the reality of the book. The books more than 100 pages long, and lacks some pace so stay with me, what do you want, a 5-minute podcast?
This not a critique, written to save you thinking or a rewrite for the modern times. I’m not clever enough even to start this and write an End of History style seminal text that then goes ping as times change. If I were, I wouldn’t be sitting on this plane off to a conference. I would be sitting on my plane off to an island. So consider it a gift horse.
Are you sitting idly? Lets begin.
Positioning addresses one of the key challenges of business – communication with the customer. It explains how the world is currently “over-communicated”. The book covers how effective positioning can help to deal with this problem. It does this through taking examples from the advertising world, and has a healthy appreciation for advertising being disliked by so many.
Positioning is defined as something that is changed in the mind of the prospect, and not as something that is done to a product. The book describes how positioning is to do with changing names, prices and packages, and not to do with changing products per se. It explains how these changes are too “cosmetic” to secure a “worthwhile position in the prospect’s mind”.
Chapter 1: What Positioning is All About
Positioning is a task that requires reframing ideas that are already in the prospect’s mind. An “overcommunicated society” makes advertising challenging because there is so much advertising out there already that it is hard for new messages to get through. For advertising to be successful, it must match with an idea a prospect already has in his/her mind.
“The oversimplified mind” relates to how there is already too much information for the mind to take in, leading to the mind oversimplifying the information that it receives. The volume of information that people are expected to deal with is overwhelming.
An over communicated society and an oversimplified mind combined lead to the need for an oversimplified message. By focusing on the prospect rather than the product, the positioning task can be simplified and communication improved.
Chapter 2: The Assault on the Mind
The volume of information that people have to take in is immense. This means that the vast majority of messages that are put out do not get through. Bombardment occurs through radio, TV, posters, billboards, newspapers, magazines of all kinds, sponsorship of buses, trucks and taxis. It is explained how all of these different communications compete for a space in the prospect’s mind. This challenge is deepened by the “product explosion” – the number of products that are already out there. This means that companies have to “get on the same wavelength as the prospect”.
Chapter 3: Getting into the Mind
It is essential to get into the mind first to be able to succeed with advertising in business. Getting into the mind second is always going to be harder than getting there first. Being first is better even than having the best product.
The boys at this point don’t mess around. They lay their views firmly on the table – to them Strategy is even more important than creativity. So there, that’s said and done then.
Chapter 4: Those Little Ladders in your Head
Getting into the mind is also a challenge because the mind “rejects new information that doesn’t compute”. It filters out everything except snippets that relate to the current state of mind. It is argued that when presented with an article, people will pick out points that support their particular point of view, even if very different from someone else doing the same thing with the same article.
The job of advertising is to heighten expectations, and give customers the idea that the product/service will achieve everything that you expect it to.
People have learned to rank products and brands in the mind like ladders, and to get a place on a ladder a competitor must usually oust another brand.
Positioning is vital for dislodging other brands. The ladder analogy helps once you consider all products climbing to achieve awareness, understanding and loyalty.
Chapter 5: You Can’t Get There From Here
It is impossible to achieve some positioning no matter how hard you try. Companies are sometimes better off sticking with the position that they have and building on that rather than trying to take on a new position and compete head to head with a competitor.
Chapter 6: Positioning of a Leader
It is possible for some companies to find alternative ways to become market leaders, but most companies achieve this by getting there first.
Brands that get into the mind first have double the share of the number 2 brand, and double that again of the number 3 brand, and that these relationships are not easily changed. The leading brand almost always has the advantage.
It is not necessary to tell customers that you are “number 1”. Either you are and the customer already knows it, or you are not, and then the message is lost. Instead, it is better to get into the mind first.
Name changing is another activity that can be used to position and keep ahead of the competition.
Chapter 7: Positioning of a Follower
Followers cannot necessarily follow the same strategies as leaders in order to succeed. Being better is not sufficient if someone else gains leadership first. The best way to get ahead is by “looking for the hole”. The goal is to look for the hole and then fill it, rather than trying to go bigger and better.
Price is another gap that can be filled. Establishing a high price can be an advantage for a luxury brand. Charging high prices in and of itself is not a way to be successful though. It is establishing the high price position where the product is valid and where customers are receptive to it, which is the key for success.
While the high price position is good for long-established products, the low price approach is good for new products, when customers are taking a risk through purchasing. Other important aspects are timing and getting there first.
It is better to carve out a niche than to try to be all things to all people.
Chapter 8: Repositioning the Competition
Sometimes there may not be a hole in the market. In this case it is necessary to reposition the competition. This requires undercutting an existing concept, product or person. Conflict can also be effective for building a reputation.
Using a competitor as a benchmark for your own product is not sufficient. Instead, the competition must be repositioned. Repositioning is legal, and while it may not feel necessarily ethical, it is the way that things are, though it must be done honestly and fairly.
Chapter 9: The Power of the Name
Naming is critical to marketing for positioning. The name must begin the positioning process, and copying ideas from the past will not work. The name should not be generic in the way that all other products of its class could be named this way though. Names should be almost, but not quite generic while being descriptive.
In marketing the name is the “first point of contact between the message and the mind”. The name must be appropriate. If a name does not work, the best thing to do is probably change it, but most companies do not want to do this. A bad name provides negative equity, and a good name helps with improvement.
Chapter 10: The No-Name Trap
Initials should not be used for company names at the outset. Company names may get shortened to initials in the longer term, but at the beginning, “when there is no phonetic advantage, most people won’t use initials”.
It is important to consider not just how a name looks but how it sounds. The sound is more important even than how they look.
It has been found that names are considerably more recognized than initials for companies. (I know if I said that in a meeting everyone would laugh now 3M et al? Sort it!)
Positioning using a name is a long-term activity, and name decisions taken may not have effect for many years. Positioning is much easier with a good name. Companies also have to consider where their name may appear in the telephone directory and if it will be easy to find.
I know, I thought that too.
Chapter 11: The Free Ride Trap
Companies grow either by internal development or external acquisition, and this means that two different name strategies occur. When a company develops a product internally it usually gives it its corporate name. when a product is acquired externally, it usually keeps its existing name. Getting into the mind first helps any name work.
Chapter 12: The Line-Extension Trap
Line extension is a common strategy used, e.g. Life Savers candy, Life Savers gum, Kleenex tissue, Kleenex towels. However, line extension is not always effective.
Generic brand names are good, but the strategy is risky. When a generic brand name exists, one word will serve in place of two. Generic brand names are good because they identify so closely with the products.
A large share of the mind is considered to be more important than a large share of the market. Transferring an existing strong name to a new product can be fatal if people do not associate the brand name with the product. Line extension can cause confusion, rather than increasing sales.
Chapter 13: When Line Extension Can Work
Line extension can seem to work initially because retailers buy into it. However, if customers do not buy, success is not achieved. However, line-extension names are very forgettable.
Rules for when to use the house name include, when there is a small volume expected, in a crowded field, when there is a small budget for the brand, when the brand is a commodity rather than a breakthrough, and when an item is being sold by a sales rep (rather than off the shelf).
Chapter 14: Positioning a company: Xerox
Companies need to be positioned for a variety of reasons. One is to attract employees. Another is to sell stocks. However, it is not all that easy to do. The name is important. Also, companies have to be seen to stand for something. Companies often position themselves on their people or their diversification. Diversification is challenging for positioning. For example, General Motors is known as a car manufacturer, not as a company that makes industrial, transportation and appliance products.
Xerox has a strong position as a copier company. It owns the copier position, which is a huge advantage in selling copiers. However, Xerox was looking at the broader office market and bought Scientific Data Systems, changing its name to Xerox Data Systems. Xerox Data Systems folded. The problem was that Xerox had not considered what was in the minds of its prospects when it moved into office information systems. It is argued that instead of going into information systems, Xerox should go into printers, scanners and storage devices. Laser printing could be the way forward for Xerox – moving from Xerography to Lasography. This would take advantage of Xerox’s position and broaden it to include new products.
Chapter 15: Positioning a Country: Belgium
The Sabena Belgian World Airlines flies the North Atlantic route. It cannot compete with TWA and PanAm. However, every Sabena plane would land in Belgium. However, few people fly to this country. The airline had focused its advertising on selling its service and its food. The authors argue that even the best food in the world will not encourage someone to fly where they do not want to go. It was necessary to position the country rather than the airline. This meant educating Americans about Belgium. Many countries have a position already, e.g. London and Big Ben, France and the Eiffel Tower. These places provide images. Belgium needed to be positioned in the eyes of prospects.
Belgium was compared to Amsterdam, by stating that there were five 3 star cities in Belgium but only one in the Netherlands: Amsterdam. The three-star cities of beautiful Belgium was the result, and the response was substantial. However, a new management team decided to change the strategy before enough of a commitment had been made to it.
Chapter 16: Positioning an island: Jamaica
Years ago, Jamaica needed both tourism and investment. It was decided tourism should come first, to encourage investment. Competitors to Jamaica include the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Bermuda. The common image of these islands is beaches and palm trees. Bermuda was an exception, with an image of motorbikes in pink sand. Jamaica had the same problem as Belgium – “how to put a mental picture postcard into the mind of the Caribbean prospect”
Positioning Jamaica as the Hawaii of the Caribbean was thought to be a good position for Jamaica, as it provides a mental image and distinguishes the country from other countries in the Caribbean.
Chapter 17: Positioning a product: Milk Duds
Milk Duds is a candy that was considered to be a “movie” candy for teenagers but the company wanted to move to include a younger market. The prospect was identified to be about 10 years old. Milk Duds did not have a large advertising budget compared to its competitors so needed to reposition the candy bar category. The weakness that the company was able to exploit was the size and shape of other candy bars. Milk Duds would last longer than other candy bars. It began to position itself as the “long lasting alternative”. This campaign was highly successful and showed how the solution to a problem of positioning is based in the mind of the prospect, rather than in the product itself.
Chapter 18: Positioning a service: Mailgram
While Milk Duds could use imagery more to advertise, for services this is harder – the verbal element is usually more important. Mailgram initially wanted to position itself as a telegram for a fraction of the price. Then it was realized that this would take mean that Western Union would be competing with itself. As such it was also decided to compare it to US Mail, and it was positioned as a “new high-speed letter”. In the end both campaigns were run, and both were successful. The low-cost telegram was more effective though, and it also had the benefit of helping rather than hurting the Telegram volumes. As soon as this theme was later dropped, Mailgram declined.
Chapter 19: Positioning a Long Island Bank
Unlike Mailgram, banking in the USA is still considered a regional service. It is necessary to understand the area to be able to position effectively. For a long time, Long Island trust was the leading bank on Long Island. The industry was deregulated and large banks like Citibank also located there. Semantic differential research was used where prospects rate attributes for each competitor. For general attributes, Long Island trust did not do well against its larger competitors. However, when considering local knowledge and helping the local economy, Long Island Trust did very well, much better than its competitors. Positioning theory means that it is important to start with strengths, so that is what Long Island Trust did. Long Island Trust had some considerable interest by turning its focus onto its local advantage.
Chapter 20: Positioning a New Jersey Bank
United Jersey was in a different position than Long Island Trust as it was not the biggest local bank in its territory. The only approach that would work for this company was the Tylenol approach. One problem with bigger banks was identified to be slow service and so the strategy for United Jersey involved calling it the “fast-moving” bank. This had to be linked to efficient ways of working to meet these claims. These changes in culture pervaded all aspects of the company, and it was highly successful.
Chapter 21: Positioning a Ski Resort: Stowe
Ski resort positioning is challenging in the USA due to the number of resorts that exist. Stowe had a name for itself but a positioning was needed to “supply material to talk about” for skiers. Stowe was positioned as one of the top 10 ski resorts in the world, and this position was found to be successful.
Chapter 22: Positioning the Catholic Church
Positioning ideas were applied to the Catholic Church, as if it was a large corporation. Communication was found to be poor, and based on “local dealers”. Vatican II had taken place and had introduced a new style to the church that embraced flexibility and rejected some of the old rules and regulations. This had not been promoted effectively. Attendance dropped. This was because people did not understand what the church was, if it was not a teacher of the law. Positioning was able to move the position from “teacher of the law” to “teacher of the word”. However, the church has not accepted this as a valid approach.
Chapter 23: Positioning Yourself and Your Career
Positioning can also be applied to a person’s own career. To do this, people need to not try to be all things to all people, but to pick on one concept and position themselves as that. People should know that mistakes can be made and that mistakes teach how to be successful. Also, unfortunate names can be changed. The no-name trap should be avoided – initials cannot be used instead of names for people that are not well known.
Chapter 24: Positioning your business
Getting started can be challenging. There are six questions recommended to be considered that will help. These include: What position do you own? What position do you want to own? Whom must you outgun? Do you have enough money? Can you stick it out? Do you match your position? Outsiders can be helpful in providing objectivity around ideas.
Chapter 25: Playing the Positioning Game
Meanings are not in words but in people using those words. Mental flexibility is needed to choose the right words. Words have to be chosen that trigger the meanings that are required. Words can be used to trigger meanings in the mind. Language is of critical importance, but those words must be in touch with reality.
Change has sped up, but companies should not necessarily try to keep pace in some regards – for example, there are many products that did not make it to market or did not succeed due to being rushed into. Vision is critical. Simplicity is necessary too, as is subtlety. Sacrifices may be needed to be successful in positioning.
Well what do you think? I told you this was far from good fun. Better now? I hope so. It’s been agony to write and not at all fun to edit. I think in future I will stick to blogs rather than saving you time on your reading list.