Straight Talk

Dec. 21, 2004
Positioning: The battle for people's minds.

In 1972 a couple of highly creative New York advertising professionals named Al Reis and Jack Trout created a unique marketing concept they called positioning. Their objective was to position products, companies, services, or institutions in the minds of potential customers in a way that differentiated them from the clutter and confusion of the marketplace. Their idea was to replace advertising superlatives with marketing comparatives. Examples: Avis, "We try harder"; Seven-Up, "The Uncola"; Honeywell, "We're the other computer company." Instead of creating ideas that did not already exist in the prospect's mind, positioning accented ideas that were already there. Now some of you Doubting Thomases will say: "Positioning is nothing new. It merely substitutes a new advertising slogan for an old one!" "Not so!" say Reis and Trout. "The average mind is already a dripping sponge that can soak up more information only at the expense of what is already there. Millions of dollars have been wasted trying to change people's minds." They argue, "Once a mind is already made up, it's almost impossible to change it." They suggest that marketers look inside their prospects' minds for marketing ideas because it's easier and more cost-effective to promote product benefits buyers already believe and accept. In an overcommunicating society, very little communication actually takes place, say Reis and Trout. And, although most examples of the success of positioning are taken from the fields of advertising and marketing, they have proved that the concept works equally well for people who want to influence the minds of other people. Whether you want to promote products, ideas, programs, or even yourself, positioning is a battle for people's minds. And that's a battle all executives need to win, whether the targets are their board of directors, their employees, their competitors, their shareholders, the media, or themselves. The easiest way to get into a person's mind is to get there first. If you can't be first, the authors suggest that you must find a way to position yourself against the products, the companies, the people, and the competitors who got there first. The most important thing to remember is that positioning is not what you do to a product (or a person). Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. To be successful, you must touch base with reality. And the reality that really counts is what's already in the prospect's mind. To try to create something that does not already exist in the mind is becoming more and more difficult. If not impossible.

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Speaking of positioning: The book that was in our minds is now written. Back in September and November 1998, many of you persuaded me to write a book. I agreed on condition that you would help me. Well, our book is written. It's titled Management Rhymes & Reason For Those Who Manage For Better Or Verse. I thank my fellow contributors: Richard Brandt, Jim Fowler, Dennis Gregg, Ed McManus, Doug MacGregor, Len DeDario, Jane Flagello, Jim Lemperis, John Mariotti, Al Reposi, and Ed LaFreniere. Your contribution made the cut. You are now published authors. Congratulations! Our book is luminous rather than voluminous. We tried to be as wise as Alfred Sloan, but it reads more like Henny Youngman. Then we tried to emulate Bob Townsend, but we haven't been up enough organizations to qualify. Then we tried to write a John Kao musical metaphor, but it turned out to be Ogden Nash doggerel. The result is a different kind of management book. It's a combination of sense and nonsense. It's wry and wacky. Full of rhymes and reason, quips and quotes. We dare any readers of this column brave enough to want copies of our book to e-mail [email protected], phone 888-556-2024, or fax 216/360-4785. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc. and anIWcontributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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