"In our overcommunicated society, to talk about the ‘impact’ of your advertising is to seriously overstate the potential effectiveness of your message. Advertising is not a sledgehammer. It’s more like a light fog, a very light fog that envelops your prospects."
The word impact has become hyperbole; the world of advertising has changed since products were sold by demonstrating purpose and value. Today, there are many similar products available and we can assume the consumer knows their purpose. The goal becomes to stand out among them. Al Ries and Jack Trout developed the idea of positioning through a series of articles in 1972 and changed marketing forever. They wrote the now classic Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind that beautifully summarizes how to place yourself effectively in the mind of your prospect.
The heart of positioning is developing the mental flexibility to see the viewpoint of others. If your perspective is “the box” and you are “thinking outside the box”, you miss it. This is inside-out thinking. The goal is to develop the ability to imagine you are outside the box looking in or outside-in thinking. To master this point of view, you must gain an understanding of how people think and how they understand words. You need a vision to clarify goals, a measure of humility to recognize and learn from mistakes, and the courage to explore new ideas. The value in practicing outside-in thinking is exponential effectiveness in communicating your message.
In Positioning, Reis and Trout explore how to apply the concept of positioning to products, businesses, and people. They give specific examples of what works, what doesn’t and why. You may be revamping an old business, rolling out a new product, launching a start-up, looking for a job or just a date. Whatever your goal, effective positioning is paramount to stand out in an overcrowded territory. For this summary, I will focus on developing the basic positioning mindset which begins with communication.
The Big Idea
Refined Communication is Invaluable
"In our overcommunicated society, the paradox is that nothing is more important than communication. With communication going for you anything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible. No matter how talented and ambitious you may be."
Communication is a two-part system—one is what you say the other is what is understood. As Reis and Trout write, “When words are read, they are not understood until the visual/verbal translator in your brain takes over to make sense out of what you have seen.” Effective communication is more than using the vocabulary your prospect understands; it also involves understanding their world view. A fresh and innovative idea that seems to clash with your prospect’s standpoint may be rejected, misunderstood or dismissed as noise.
We all have a narrow perspective. Reis and Trout write, “Not only does the human mind reject information which does not match its prior knowledge or experience, it doesn’t have much prior knowledge or experience to work with.” No matter how much we know, it is only a tiny fraction of all the available knowledge and that is only a tiny fraction of all there is to know. Every day we battle an onslaught of information; our only choice is to filter out what doesn’t fit in our world. If we want to stand out in the minds of others, our position must communicate a simple, clear message.
"What are you? What is your position in life? Can you sum up your position in a single concept? Then can you run your own career to establish and exploit that position?"
Positioning can apply to whatever you are promoting, as Reis and Trout write, “You can position anything. A person, a product, a politician. Even a company.” You must define yourself before you have a position. If you do not define your position simply and clearly, your message will dissipate in the fog. Even worse, your prospects will be forced to rely on inferences from their small range of knowledge and experience and may misinterpret your meaning.
Be clear about whom you are establishing—perfection is not necessary. It is more important to be genuine; it makes you unique in the minds of others. The goal may not be to be the best, most creative, clever, intelligent, or beautiful; it is to be unforgettable. When defining your position focus on what makes you distinguishable from others.
You may position something not easily defined. It may be a person or company with many layers of complexity. Your prospects need a handle to identify with and grab. Defining yourself is more like this summary—a few words that give some of the most important information in the book. If you want a more in-depth understanding, you can read the whole book. Your prospects need a quick clue that they have found what they are seeking.
Once you have established who you are, you will be better able to link words and symbols that are easily identifiable in the minds of your prospects.
Fill the Empty Space
"The French have a marketing expression that sums up this strategy rather neatly. Cherchez le creneau. ‘Look for the hole.’ Cherchez le creneau then fill it. That advice goes against the ‘bigger and better’ philosophy ingrained into the American spirit."
Emphasize what sets you apart even if it does not meet everyone’s needs. As the poet John Lydgate wrote, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Instead of crafting a position that everyone will connect with it is more effective to consider what a few are missing. When the concept of positioning began to spread the internet was still to come, and consumers were already overwhelmed and confused. Now that the number of choices may be unmeasurable, defining the specific hole you fill is more important than ever.
Where there is declining interest, a niche may appear. Reading books and knitting have both lost popularity in recent years, perhaps because we have more choices of things to read and we can buy more ready-made textiles. About 72 percent of Americans read at least one book last year, and about 1.6 percent took up a knitting project. There are still millions of book readers and knitters. In spite of the books already written and the knitting projects available, those interested are always seeking more. No matter what your niche there is a hole to fill. Especially in a small niche, properly positioning yourself helps your prospects to find you.
As I read this book, I thought about timeless icons like Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, Corvette and The Beatles. People collect items from these classics because of how they positioned themselves. More than a marketing strategy, positioning is filling the human need to find meaning and connection. We do not forget things that fill a void even if it is an ideal we chase in our subconscious or a lingering nostalgia for a life we never had. We follow when we feel a connection.