Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind


“Positioning” is the first body of thought to come to grips with the problems of communicating in an overcommunicated society. People misunderstand the role of communication in business and politics today. In our overcommunicated society, very little communication actually takes place. Rather, a company must create a “position” in the prospect’s mind. A position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself. But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.
  2. To be successful today, you must touch base with reality. And the only reality that counts is what’s already in the prospect’s mind. The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.
  3. The average person will sit still when being told something which he or she knows nothing about. (Which is why “news” is an effective advertising approach.) But the average person cannot tolerate being told he or she is wrong. Mind-changing is the road to advertising disaster.
  4. The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message. In communication, as in architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.
  5. The first thing you need to “fix your message indelibly in the mind” is not a message at all. It’s a mind. An innocent mind. A mind that has not been burnished by someone else’s brand. What’s true in business is true in nature too. “Imprinting” is the term animal biologists use to describe the first encounter between a newborn animal and its natural mother. It takes only a few seconds to fix indelibly in the memory of the young animal the identity of its parent.
  6. To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product. Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind. You won’t find an “uncola” idea inside a 7-Up can. You find it inside the cola drinker’s head.
  7. “Fight fire with fire” is the old cliché. But as the late Howard Gossage used to say, “That’s silly. You fight fire with water.”
  8. Almost all the advantages accrue to the leader. In the absence of any strong reasons to the contrary, consumers will probably select the same brand for their next purchase as they selected for their last purchase.
  9. As long as a company owns the position, there’s no point in running advertisements that repeat the obvious. “We’re No. 1” is a typical example. Much better is to enhance the product category in the prospect’s mind. IBM’s advertising usually ignores competition and sells the value of computers. All computers, not just the company’s types. Why isn’t it a good idea to run advertising that says, “We’re No. 1”? The reason is psychological. Either the prospect knows you are No. 1 and wonders why you are so insecure that you have to say so. Or the prospect doesn’t know you are No. 1. If not, why not?
  10. The essential ingredient in securing the leadership position is getting into the mind first. The essential ingredient in keeping that position is reinforcing the original concept. Coca-Cola is the standard by which all others are judged. In contrast, everything else is an imitation of “the real thing.”
  11. “We invented the product.” A powerful motivating force behind Xerox copiers. Polaroid cameras. Zippo lighters.
  12. Most leaders should cover competitive moves by introducing another brand. This is the classic “multibrand” strategy of Procter & Gamble. It may be a misnomer to call it a multibrand strategy. Rather it’s a single-position strategy.
  13. The pure covering move is often difficult to sell internally. Management often sees the new product or service as a competitor rather than as an opportunity. Sometimes a name change will help bridge the gap from one era to the next. By broadening the name, you can allow the company to make the mental transition.
  14. The French have a marketing expression that sums up this strategy rather neatly. Cherchez le creneau. “Look for the hole.” Cherchez le creneau and then fill it. That advice goes against the “bigger and better” philosophy ingrained into the American spirit.
  15. Let’s explore some strategies for finding creneaus. The size creneau
    1. The high-price creneau
      1. Too often, however, greed gets confused with positioning thinking. Charging high prices is not the way to get rich. Being the first to (1) establish the high-price position (2) with a valid product story (3) in a category where consumers are receptive to a high-priced brand is the secret of success. Otherwise, your high price just drives prospective customers away. Furthermore, the place to establish the high price is in the ads, not in the store. The price (high or low) is as much a feature of the product as anything else. If you do your positioning job right, there should be no price surprises in the store.
    2. The low-price creneau
    3. Other effective creneaus Sex is one.
    4. Timing is critical.
      1. In positioning a product, there’s no substitute for getting there first.
    5. Age is another positioning strategy to use.
    6. Time of day is also a potential positioning possibility.
    7. Distribution is another possibility.
    8. Another possibility is the heavy-user position.
    9. The factory creneau
      1. One common mistake in looking for creneaus is filling a hole in the factory rather than one in the mind. In other words, to move a new idea or product into the mind, you must first move an old one out. Once an old idea is overturned, selling the new idea is often ludicrously simple. As a matter of fact, people will often actively search for a new idea to fill the void. Never be afraid to conflict either. The crux of a repositioning program is undercutting an existing concept, product, or person.
        1. Tylenol went out and burst the aspirin bubble. “For the millions who should not take aspirin,” said Tylenol’s ads. “If your stomach is easily upset … or you have an ulcer … or you suffer from asthma, allergies, or iron-deficiency anemia, it would make good sense to check with your doctor before you take aspirin. “Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining,” continued the Tylenol ad, “trigger asthmatic or allergic reactions, cause small amounts of hidden gastrointestinal bleeding. “Fortunately, there is Tylenol …”
      2. For a repositioning strategy to work, you must say something about your competitor’s product that causes the prospect to change his or her mind, not about your product, but about the competitor’s product.
      3. “We’re better than our competitors” isn’t repositioning. It’s comparative advertising and not very effective. There’s a psychological flaw in the advertiser’s reasoning which the prospect is quick to detect. “If your brand is so good, how come it’s not the leader?”
  16. What you must look for is a name that begins the positioning process, a name that tells the prospect what the product’s major benefit is. Like Head & Shoulders shampoo, Intensive Care skin lotion, and Close-Up toothpaste. Or like DieHard for a longer-lasting battery. Shake ’n Bake for a new way to cook chicken. Edge for a shaving cream that lets you shave closer. So stick with common descriptive words (Spray ’n Wash) and avoid the coined words (Qyx).
  17. The first step in overcoming negative reactions is to bring the product out of the closet. To deliberately polarize the situation by using a negative name like soy butter. Once this is done, it allows the development of a long-term program to sell the advantages of soy butter vs. cow butter.
  18. Inside-out thinking is the biggest barrier to success. Outside-in thinking is the best aid.
  19. This, of course, is the essence of positioning. To make your brand name stand for the generic. So the prospect freely uses the brand name for the generic.
  20. While line extension is usually a mistake, the reverse can work. Reverse line extension is called “broadening the base.” One of the best examples is Johnson’s baby shampoo. By promoting the mildness of the product to the adult market, the company has made Johnson’s baby shampoo one of the leading brands of adult shampoo. Notice the characteristics of this broadening-the-base strategy. Same product, same package, same label. Only the application has changed.
  21. Line extension is a weakness, not a strength.
  22. Equally important is the courage you will need to keep hammering at the same theme, year after year.
  23. But the best positioning ideas are so simple and obvious that most people overlook them.
  24. The essence of a good positioning strategy is that it transcends every aspect of a company. You know you have a winner when you run it up the corporate flagpole and everybody salutes.
  25. The most difficult part of positioning is selecting that one specific concept to hang your hat on. Yet you must, if you want to cut through the prospect’s wall of indifference. What are you? What is your own position in life? Can you sum up your own position in a single concept? Then can you run your own career to establish and exploit that position? Most people aren’t ruthless enough to set up a single concept for themselves. They vacillate. They expect others to do it for them.
  26. Trying harder is rarely the pathway to success. Trying smarter is the better way.
  27. Always try to work for the smartest, brightest, most competent person you can find.
  28. What position do you own? Positioning is thinking in reverse. What position do you want to own? Whom must you outgun? Do you have enough money? Can you stick it out?
  29. Positioning is a concept that is cumulative. Something that takes advantage of advertising’s long-range nature.
  30. With rare exceptions, a company should almost never change its basic positioning strategy. Only its tactics, those short-term maneuvers that are intended to implement a longterm strategy.
  31. Alfred Korzybski, who developed the concept of general semantics, explains that insane people try to make the world of reality fit what is in their heads. The insane person who thinks he is Napoleon makes the outside world fit that notion. The sane person constantly analyzes the world of reality and then changes what’s inside his or her head to fit the facts.
  32. Often the solution to a problem is so simple that thousands of people have looked at it without seeing it. When an idea is clever or complicated, however, we should be suspicious. It probably won’t work because it’s not simple enough. The history of science is a history of the Ketterings of this world who found simple solutions to complex problems. This calls for great restraint and subtlety. The big winners in business and in life are those people who have found open positions near the center of the spectrum. Not at the edge.
  33. The secret to establishing a successful position is to keep two things in balance: (1) A unique position with (2) an appeal that’s not too narrow.
  34. The essence of positioning is sacrifice. You must be willing to give up something in order to establish that unique position.
  35. To repeat, the first rule of positioning is: To win the battle for the mind, you can’t compete head-on against a company that has a strong, established position. You can go around, under or over, but never head to head.

What I got out of it

  1. The “textbook” on positioning that helped set the foundation for how to think about this important topic

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