Book recommendation – Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Ries and Trout

Positioning The Battle for Your MindAs I mentioned in this blog entry on the Positioning Statement, I learned a lot from Al Ries and Jack Trout‘s book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.  My copy, published in 2000 is the 20th anniversary edition and I must admit to thinking that its relevance may have diminished over the the 20+ years since it was published.  That’s not the case as the concept of positioning and the associated disciplines and exercises really haven’t changed that much in that time.

That said many of the examples, and the book uses hundred of examples and case studies to make its point, are a little dated.  Whilst an attempt has been made to bring some of these up-to-date the majority are from another era.  That said I think that the age of the examples and the fact that we can now look back with the benefit of hindsight actually adds something to the enjoyment of the book.

One other small issue I have with the book is the advertising-based focus that it takes.  The role, shape, size and relative importance of advertising in the corporate marketing budget has changed dramatically, not only in the 20+ years since the book was first published but also in the 8 or so years since the anniversary edition hit the shelves.  You’ll find yourself interpreting the TV, radio and print advertising examples into modern, web 2.0 approaches.  But that’s OK as it’s a good exercise to go through.  It forces you to digest the main thrust of the book in your context – which is that claiming a space in the mind of a prospect “FIRST” is critical. It doesn’t really matter what medium you use to get the message out.

Being known as the first mouse trap is better than being known as the best mouse trap from a marketing perspective.  In fact being known as the first mouse trap designed to work at night, or the first to work for rats as well as mice or the first humane mouse trap are all better positions to own than being the technically the best.  Owning that unique, defensible position in the minds of your prospects is critical and that is easiest when your are the first to claim the position.

The book contains some great ideas and cites a lot of relevant research that will steer your thinking on the psychology of how prospects buy and how they evaluate the market.  There are some excellent tips on the right and wrong strategies for selecting certain positions.  Repositioning strategies, which touches on an area that I refer to as competitive depositioning, is also covered as a way to change the general knowledge and perceived wisdom in a market segment. I’d recommend anyone with an interest in positioning, whether it’s simply academic interest or for a specific positioning project, to read the book first.

My only other comment surrounds the level of organisation the book seems to be aimed at.  I spend most of my time working with mid-sized corporations or small start-ups who tend not to a) take as scientific an approach as the book advocates and b) don’t have the market muscle/financial ability to boss the market in this way.  I would have preferred to have seen a discussion about positioning for organisations where advertising on a large scale is not an option.  i.e. where outbound communication is limited to little more than a product marketing-driven web site and prospect engagement via the sales organisation.  But as all of the principles remain the same no matter how you’re engaging the market, that’s a small gripe in what otherwise is an excellent book.

Buy it and read it.

Danny Goodall

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