Five rules of successful marketing positioning


I have recently been reading an amazing marketing classics Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout. It is a relatively old book – from the 1980-ies, but the information can be applied nowadays.


The main idea of the book is that for a brand to be successful, they must establish a position in the mind of the customer. For example, Mercedes has a positioning of an expensive car, Coca-Cola as the position of a cola soft drink. All attempts to attack other positions with the same brand name result into confusion in the mind of the customer and losses for the company. There can be exceptions, but majority of the companies out there cannot afford to have more than one or two successful positions. Here are the main positioning strategies according to Trout:

  1. The mind ladder.


A human mind has a limited amount of information immediately available. For every product there is a ladder – position one, two and three. The maximum is usually seven. If you ask an average person to name seven different brands of a product they will have trouble. The most common two positions are occupier by the companies which make the most profit.



  1. Be the first.


Being the first to bring a new product to the market is the best positioning possible. In many cases the most famous brands were not the first to necessarily introduce the product, but the first to establish it in the mind of the consumer. In the case of computers IBM was not the first and only company to make computers, but they were able to take the position in the brain of consumers as the computer company. If you cannot be the first in one field, make a small modification, so that you are first in the modified field. For example, people remember the first person to fly the Atlantic on their own, they don’t remember the second, but they know the third, because she was the first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic.

  1. Be second.

If you cannot be the first, the second position is also lucrative, but any position below second is not worth the fight. In many positions, you will find two brands on the top, one dominant and one competing. The classic example is Coca –cola and Pepsi. Another example is Hertz and Avis – the two leaders of rental cars in the USA. For years Avis was trying to get the first positioning. Then they accepted their second place and even celebrated it in their marketing campaign. The slogan of the campaign was saying: When you are not the biggest in rent a car, you have to try harder. We do. We are only No. 2. This campaign was a huge success for Avis and help them take a great share of the market.


  1. Pick a good name.

There are good names to call a business and there are extremely unsuitable ones. If you are first, pretty much anything goes. However, nowadays competition in most sectors is so much higher, that a brand cannot afford a mediocre name. Names which contain S, C, P, A and T are the 5 most common brand initials. The least common are X, Z, Y,Q and K. A good brand name must sound a little bit generic, but be still memorable. It’s the same with people’s names – people with very strange names are often mocked upon, where certain not very common, but still known names are well accepted and remembered.


  1. Avoid the extension line trap.

A lot of successful companies try to get new products, which sometimes have little to do with their flagship product. These extensions are rarely successful in the long term, because the new product is not established in the mind of the customer. they can not relate it to the same brand. What is worse, this might influence the success of the original product the company is known for. Multiple extension lines make the position fuzzy and susceptible to competitor’s attack. If you want to launch a new product, give it a different name. The classic example is Proctor & Gamble which has 100s of product lines – from potato chips to menstrual hygiene. Most people don’t even know that all these products are from the same company. The brands are so independently positioned, that the relation is not obvious.