Jack Trout passed away earlier this week. He along with Al Reis wrote the book “Positioning. The Battle For Your Mind” in the late 60s. For over 50 years, the marketing and communication practice has looked at the term and what the term represents almost every day.
70s was the era of manufacturing boom in America (the theory originated in USA). The retail shelves were getting filled with new packaged products and the brands needed to stand out.
The concept of positioning is based on a simple principle of identifying a ‘differentiator’ and then owning that differentiator in the consumers’ mind. The ownership of the differentiator creates a lasting impression and becomes the driver of business in a wider sense of term.
This remained unchanged and unchallenged, despite the second book that the authors wrote. They amended some of their theories, but somehow the updated book did not become the kind of anthem the first book had become.
Positioning was all about narrowing the brand to one thing that could be owned in the strongest way in consumers’ mind.
Positioning actually built a buying shortcut.
I am not sure if the theory was intended to build a buying shortcut. The singular focus of the brands meant that consumers could identify what the brand stood for with ease. That ease fuelled the entire impulse buying. As the consumer crossed the shop shelf, or stood behind the counter asking for a brand or interacted with a brand at any place, the singularity triggered the reason to buy.
Singularity meant that consumers could use twisted heuristics – unconsciously held rules of the thumb – that help us make quick decisions that we’ve learned generally work out well.
Impulse became the currency and positioning strengthened impulse every day.
Now if the brands had to enter the buying basket, they had to displace the ones already there. What was called brand loyalty was actually twisted heuristics, and rival brands raided the others to weaken the twist.
At some stage with more and more brands proliferating, with every brand trying to occupy mind space, the whole singularity started to become a drag for the brands.
Impulse got ambushed by transaction.
Positioning as a theory lived in the context of the broadcast era. Brands could be singular and deliver the same message to a wide range of diverse audience every evening in the same way every day. Digital changed that fundamentally. Messages are now not broadcast driven, they are individual driven. Narrowcast is not the word that can be used for digital messaging. Brands now don’t have to bother about building a context. They look at the consumer and make an offer. Heuristic went out of window because the new currency is all about better value here and now.
Transaction rules the new message from brands. Brands becoming transactional is the exact opposite if what the Gurus of Positioning say. In being transactional brands are many things to many people. They are about moving hands and feet, they are not about moving heart and mind.
Transactional is now delivery, that too by drone.
The new frontier of branding is neither positioning nor the transactional competence. The final frontier is about how quickly the brand can be delivered to the consumers. Before you think this is kite flying, consider this: Mercedes-Benz is investing USD 562 million in a drone delivery setup. This system is designed to deliver packages faster to consumers using drones. This in the 60s when the positioning theory was written would have sounded like a far-off science fiction thing. The future is here, the future is in drones.
Jack Trout has passed away. The theory he co-authored is also passing through transitioning times.
The future itself may need new positioning.
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