23 Jun 2017

Remembering an Advertising Legend

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Earlier this month, the legendary marketing strategist Jack Trout passed away. Along with his business partner, Al Ries, the consummate ad man made the notion of ‘brand positioning’ the holy grail of successful marketing.

Their book, published in 1981, ‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind’ became a clarion call for businesses large and small: To win, occupy a space where your competitors aren’t. And that space is in the consumer’s mind.

In a recent New York Times article, Al Ries reminded us of this straightforward, but oh-so-difficult task: “Find an open hole in the [consumer’s] mind and become the first brand to fill it.”

What has always struck me about the Trout/Ries philosophy – and what I’ve tried to apply to all my strategic thinking – is that positioning isn’t about creating a need. It’s about finding an existing need that isn’t being met by competitors. This is the essence of positioning.

Companies who lament that, in their category, “it’s just a pricing game,” and lure customers through deep discounts, are not building brand loyalty. There’ll always be a competitor who will match – or exceed – the price cuts.

Brands who position themselves around a distinct unmet consumer need – and devote product development and brand messaging exclusively to that need – are able to protect margins, and even command a price premium.

Identifying these ‘unmet needs’ means understanding what’s going on in the consumer’s mind. It means listening and asking the right questions. It means conducting research, and crunching the data. A lot of work, but the payoff can be enormous, since not all competitors will be up for the task.

As Al Ries recently said, “Every brand has a slogan, but few have a position.”