A discussion of the book, “Positioning”, by Al Ries and Jack Trout
In their book, Al Ries and Jack Trout provide an in-depth description of the use of positioning to enable a business reach out to its target customers in an otherwise highly competitive marketplace. Ries and Trout intimate that even as positioning starts with a product, the idea is rather about ensuring that the product in question is positioned in the mind of the consumer. Such an approach is vital seeing as hundreds of marketers bombard consumers with lots of advertisements every day. Amid all these advertisements, Ries and Trout reckon that the mind of a consumer can only accept advertisements that are consistent with previous experience or knowledge. The authors have also acknowledged the difficulty in altering the impression of a consumer regarding a given product, once it has been formed.
Ries and Trout further observe that as a strategy to coping with information overload, consumers oversimplify it. In addition, they also have a tendency to shut out any message or information that is not consistent with their experience and knowledge. Therefore, when the advertiser is faced with an over-communicated environment, it is always advisable to present a basic message. Furthermore, the advertiser should also ensure that such a message is consistent with the existing experience and beliefs of the consumer. Ries and Trout advise that the advertiser can ensure this by focusing on consumer’s perception as opposed to the realist of his/her product. The authors are also quick to point out that positioning normally begins with the product. In this case, a product could be a corporation, an institution, an individual, a service, or goods.
How to position a product in the minds of consumers
Positioning is what the marketer does to the prospect’s/ consumer’s mind, and not what is done to the product. The fundamental approach to positioning is to try and manipulate what already exists in the mind of the consumer, as opposed to trying to develop something new and different. In dealing with the current-day over-communicated society, one can no longer rely on past strategies as they have ceased being responsive. Rather, the trick is to embrace positioning, by being selective and narrowing down to one’s target market. Ries and Trout contend that the easiest way to gain access to the consumer’s mind is by ensuring that you are the first entrant. People always remember who is first, but find it hard to recall who is second or third.
While the second entrant could provide a better product relative to the one provided by the first entrant, however, the latter benefits from the first mover advantage, and this more than compensates for other shortcomings they are likely to experience, such as an inferior product. Nonetheless, there is still hope for those products that are yet to occupy the first position in the consumer’s mind, according to Ries and Trout. They argue that through advertisement, a product can curve this desirable position, presumably as a desirable alternative to the product that has occupied the first position. For example, the “Uncola” line as used by the soft drink manufacturers 7-UP helped to position the brand as a suitable option to the standard colas by the market leader and follower, Coke and Pepsi.
How to use meaning in a name
It is important to choose a memorable brand name so that at its mention, consumers can conjure up images of the product in question. This goes a long way in positioning your product. Ries and Trout have a preference for descriptive names such as People in the case of a gossip magazine and Close-Up, in the case of toothpaste, in place of coined names such as Xerox and Kodak. Even as protecting a generic name that already bears a trademark can be quite difficult, Ries and Trout and nonetheless optimistic that such a gamble could pay off, in the long-run. Ries and Trout opine that coined names are more suited to new products where the company is the first entrant into the market with a much sought-after product. Ries and Trout have taken a swipe at the corn syrup, arguing that in the minds of consumers, the product is viewed as being of lower quality than sugar. In a bid to enhance its perception, one distributor started calling corn syrup “corn sugar”, effectively positioning it as a substitute to cane or beet sugar.
How to distinguish between strategies of leaders and followers
Ries and Trout contend that being first in a given product category ensures the success of its brand, more than any other marketing strategy employed. The authors have noted how Xerox managed to remain a market leader in plain-paper copier because it was the first entrant in that market, even as it failed to hold the number one position in product categories where it was ranked below other brands. In the same way, attempts by IMB to usurp Xerox as the market leader in the copier market failed. Ries and Trout have used these examples to underscore the fact that beg first in the market, as opposed to the marketing capabilities of an organization, is responsible for its success. By urging market leaders to embrace this strategy, Ries and Trout however cautions them against boasting about their number one position, as this would suggest its sense of insecurity in the eyes of the consumer. Also, a leader could embrace a multi-brand strategy that is introduce various brands in the market, as opposed to changing brands that already are market leaders. Finally, Ries and Trout urge leaders to embrace change, as opposed to resisting it.
On the positioning of a follower, Ries and Trout opine that market followers take more time to improve their products prior to launching. For the follower, the authors urge them to locate an unoccupied position and seek to be a leader in it. They have given the example of Volkswagen who used the slogan “Think small” to position the Beetle upon its introduction in a market awash with larger cars. While there were other smaller cars before the beetle, Volkswagen was the first to position their small car in the mind of the target consumer. Other successful positioning by followers outlined by Ries and Trout include age (Geritol) and gender (Virginia Slims), among others.
How to position competition
When a company finds no unique positions in which it can curve out a suitable niche, Ries and Trout intimate that it should Endeavour to reposition a competitor. It can do this by convincing consumers to look at the competitor from a divergent point of view. For example, to successfully reposition aspirin, Tylenol ran numerous advertisements that explained the various negative side effects of this product. Another example of successful repositioning is that of vodka. While vodka is originally from Russia, enterprising manufacturers started to manufacture it in the U.S and sold there, but bore Russian names. Feeling threatened by this move, Stolichnaya exposed these manufacturers to the consumer and reminded them that while they were made it the U.S. (Stolichnaya) was manufactured in Leningrad, Russia. In this way, the company managed to successfully reposition its competitors.
are tempted by line extensions as they seek to control an existing brand
well-liked by the consumers. However, Ries and Trout caution against line
extension in case the brand name is almost generic. In such a case, the product
and the name are considered by consumers to be synonymous. A number of
companies have failed in their line extension endeavor. Ries and Trout have
given various examples of line extension failures in which the original
successful product surrender a share of its market to the competition because a
diluted brand name had weakened its position or the new product fails altogether. However, Ries and Trout are of the opinion
that line extension can actually work in the case of a product characterised by
low volume, if the sales persons are the ones doing the distribution, and when
the market is crowded.