Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Alexey Cherkasov
6 min readAug 5, 2020

In their book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” Jack Trout and Al Ries describe the use of such a communication tool as positioning. The term of positioning was first used by Jack Trout in 1969 in the article “Positioning is a game people play in today’s me-too marketplace” in the magazine “Industrial Marketing”.

Then in 1972, he and Al Ries published a series of articles called “The Positioning Era” in the magazine “Advertising Age”, which are devoted to the concept of positioning. According to the authors, positioning is an activity with a position in the minds of consumers. The basic principle of positioning is not to create something new and different from others, but to manipulate what is already in the minds of consumers, using existing connections.

In modern society, a person is subjected to a mass attack with information. A large information field is formed around it, in which it is difficult to understand which data is useful and necessary, and which needs to be filtered out. The protective reaction of a person to an overcommunicated society is an oversimplified mind.

The oversimplified mind is the ability to perceive new information only at the expense of existing information and discarding what does not correspond to our experience and knowledge. The oversimplified mind of modern man requires an oversimplified message. Jack Trout and Al Ries advise you to drop all uncertainties, simplify your message, and then, if necessary, simplify it again.

According to the concept of positioning, to attract the attention of consumers, marketers need to look for a solution, not inside the product, but in the mind of the person, you are addressing. Jack Trout and Al Ries believe that the easiest way to get into people’s minds is to be the first.


The word FIRST has an amazing effect on the human mind. Everything that can be described by this word leaves an indelible imprint on our minds. Therefore, you are faced with a difficult, but winning task — become the first in what you do. If the first place in your category has long been occupied by someone else, then create a new category and become the first in it. There is another way to get into the mind of a person, more difficult, according to the authors, to be the second.

Jack Trout and Al Ries say that for each product category in the human mind there is an imaginary ladder, each step of the ladder is one brand. At the top stage is the leading brand. In most cases, there are three steps. The largest possible number is seven. A firm that wants to expand its business must either displace its parent brand or link its brand in some way to the position of another company.

It is extremely difficult to move up the product ladder, especially if the brands that occupy the top positions have a reliable foothold and in the absence of positioning levers. A company that has created a new product category should bring its ladder, linking the new product in the consumer’s mind with something familiar to them.

The authors recommend positioning the new category relative to the existing one.

Jack Trout and Al Ries give a few strategies for positioning

1. The position “against”. In today’s markets, your competitors’ positions are as important as your own, and in some cases, they are more important. The opposite position can be against the product, the politician, the person who did get there first. The position “against” someone or something is a classic positioning maneuver. If the company is not the first in all respects, then it should be the first to take position # 2.

2. The “Uncola” position. Another classic positioning strategy is to get on a ladder occupied by someone else. The essence of the “uncola” position is to relate your product to someone who has managed to get a firm foothold in the minds of customers, to present it as an alternative.

Jack Trout and Al Ries also talk about the types of positioning and their features.

Positioning of a Leader

Most firms don’t want to be sidelined forever, no matter how popular they are. They want to become leaders in their category. To do this, you need to use two main strategies that should work together.

Strategy №1. To win a leading position, you need to be the first to get into the minds of consumers. Preserving them requires supporting the original concept of the first-class product.

Strategy №2. Leaders must always pay attention to their competitors’ inventions, block their actions, and purchase a new product before it is firmly established in people’s minds. As in a casino, cover the entire playing field with chips.

The goal of a positioning program should be to lead in a specific product category. Once the championship is won, the company can enjoy success for many years.

Positioning of a Follower

What is good for a leader does not always benefit their followers. The leader usually can maneuver and maintain their positions. But this maneuver can cause damage to followers. Follower companies often believe that the only way to succeed is to offer a similar but improved product. But the strategy often does not bring success.

In this situation, Jack Trout and Al Ries suggest looking for gaps in their product categories and filling them in. The authors list the following types of gaps and give examples of firms that have used them:

Method 1. Size. A classic example of filling in a gap using a small size.

Method 2. High price. Price can be an advantage, especially if you are the first to fill the highest price niche in a product category.

Method 3. Low price. The opposite direction to the high price. Low cost is often very suitable for products that are not known to consumers.

Method 4. Gender.

Method 5. Age.

Method 6. Time of day

Method 7. Place of distribution

Method 8. Quantity

Repositioning the Competition

If you can’t find a free niche, use the repositioning strategy. The essence of this strategy is to inspire people with a new product idea, it is necessary to replace the old one. The main purpose of the repositioning program is to trip up an existing concept, product, or person.

There is no doubt that when conducting a repositioning campaign, it is necessary to keep in mind the ethical principles of interaction with competitors. This strategy raises questions about culture, ethics, and corporate behavior, but advertising is a battlefield, not a pleasant ride.

The product name plays an important role in the positioning concept. The brand name is the first step on the way to the buyer’s consciousness. It either remains or does not remain in the consumer’s memory. Full names and company names usually win over initials. Names and titles, ad titles, slogans, and general ideas should be checked for their sound quality, even if you intend to use them only in printed materials.

According to Jack Trout and Al Ries, using such a phenomenon as line extension is a big mistake. A line extension is when a new product is released under the name of an existing product.

Line names are quickly remembered because they do not have an independent position in the minds of consumers. They are satellites of the original brand, but this only contributes to the erosion of the concept of the main brand, which often leads to irreversible consequences.

Line extension usually occurs in three acts

Act one: a stunning success, a big breakthrough. It is usually the result of finding a space in the minds of consumers and using it brilliantly.

Act two: reinforced by greed and confidence in the infinity of success.

Act three: the denouement. This pattern — early success, line extension, and subsequent disappointment-is typical.

Sometimes, however, the linear expansion can work. Jack Trout and Al Ries offer a few rules that will tell you when it is better to use a common, corporate name, and when to create a separate brand.

1. Low volume sales.

2. Crowded market. Competition.

3. Advertising support. Small ad budget.

4. Commodity product. Novelty.

5. Distribution by sales reps.

In the book, Jack Trout and Al Ries talk about the benefits of effective positioning to communications and show in practice successful advertising campaigns and research on human consciousness that people often remember positioning concepts better than product names.

Read more marketing and sales Book Reviews in the special section of the website.

Originally published at http://www.marketing-psycho.com on July 14, 2020



Alexey Cherkasov

Marketing and sales professional with over 10years experience in b2b industry of power electronics and power semiconductors.