Al Ries and Jack Trout

The Marketing Strategy Gurus on Positioning

A product's position is how potential buyers see the product. Positioning is expressed relative to the position of competitors. The term was coined in 1969 by Al Ries and Jack Trout in the paper "Positioning" is a game people play in today’s me-too market place" in the publication Industrial Marketing. It was then expanded into their ground-breaking first book, "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind".

Who are Al Ries and Jack Trout

alt text Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta based marketing firm that has done strategic work for many major corporations.

Al Ries attended high school in Harvey, Illinois, before joining the Merchant Marines and later the US Army where he served in Korea.

Upon his return, Al attended and graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a degree in liberal arts in 1950. After school, he accepted a job in the advertising and sales promotion department of General Electric in Schnectady, New York.

In 1972, Al Ries (with Jack Trout) wrote a three-part series of articles on "positioning" for Advertising Age magazine. In 1979, the agency's name was changed to Trout & Ries Advertising with Al as Chairman.

Eight years after the original positioning articles were published, Al Ries (with Jack Trout) wrote his first book entitled Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind published by McGraw-Hill in 1980.

Positioning has become an industry classic, with estimated sales of over one million books. It is one of the best selling advertising books of all time.

In 1985 Al Ries (with Jack Trout) wrote a second best selling book entitled Marketing Warfare. This was followed by series of widely acclaimed books on marketing, branding and advertising that challenged some of the most cherished concepts and conventional wisdom of how to become successful.

In 1993, Al Ries (with Jack Trout) wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, a book that outlines the basic reasons why marketing programs succeed or fail. "Violate them at you own risk," it cautions. The book has been on bestseller lists around the world.

alt text Jack Trout is the acclaimed author of numerous marketing classics, Trout’s “The New Positioning” became a Business Week best seller in 1995. “Marketing Strategy” will highlight key strategic principles Trout has learned from the business world as outlined in his most recent book “Trout on Strategy.”

With over 40 years experience in advertising and marketing, Trout has been a boardroom advisor to some of the world’s largest, including IBM and Procter & Gamble.

He started his career in the advertising department of General Electric and, from there, went on to become a divisional advertising manager at Uniroyal.

Trout then joined Al Ries in the advertising agency and marketing strategy firm where they worked together for over 26 years. Currently, Trout manages and supervises a global network of experts at Trout & Partners, a marketing consultancy based in Connecticut with offices in 13 countries. The firm has done work for Burger King, Merrill Lynch, Xerox and other Fortune 500 companies.

What is Their "Positioning"

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.

The Process of Positioning

Generally, the product positioning process involves:

  • Defining the market in which the product or brand will compete (who the relevant buyers are)
  • Identifying the attributes (also called dimensions) that define the product 'space'
  • Collecting information from a sample of customers about their perceptions of each product on the relevant attributes
  • Determine each product's share of mind
  • Determine each product's current location in the product space
  • Determine the target market's preferred combination of attributes (referred to as an ideal vector)
  • Examine the fit between:
    • The position of your product
    • The position of the ideal vector
  • Position.

The process is similar for positioning your company's services.

Services, however, don't have the physical attributes of products - that is, we can't feel them or touch them or show nice product pictures.

So you need to ask first your customers and then yourself, what value do clients get from my services? How are they better off from doing business with me? Also ask: is there a characteristic that makes my services different?

Write out the value customers derive and the attributes your services offer to create the first draft of your positioning.

Test it on people who don't really know what you do or what you sell, watch their facial expressions and listen for their response.

When they want to know more because you've piqued their interest and started a conversation, you'll know you're on the right track.

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