Positioning: Defining Your Brand Space to Win Marketshare

It started from an executive talk. An AdAge editor heard the talk. The editor turned the talk turned into a series of articles. Positioning from Al Ries and Jack Trout was born. It’s the strategy of creating a ‘position’ (space) in the consumer’s mind. The currency of the mind is Language.

Success in positioning means defining or redefining the language used for the perception of your brand. Success in brand positioning includes Dyson becoming the second largest in the US market. Subway overtaking McDonald’s. BMW overtaking the leader Mercedes.

“The mind, as a defense against the volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information offered it. In general, the mind accepts only that which matches prior knowledge or experience.”
― Al Ries, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Is Positioning Still Relevant?

Positioning was first introduced into the marketing world back in 1972. A lot has changed. Is positioning still relevant for today’s businesses building brands and competing for customers? Back when positioning was first introduced as an article to AdAge, Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote: “Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the kind of advertising that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, too much marketing noise.”

Fast forward to today. The exponential increase in the amount of noise a consumer sees has exploded. The number of channels, amount of money brands sink into paid marketing and the number of different products a consumer can choose from for each need. Positioning is more relevant today than ever.

Positioning & Strategy: Avoid the Competition

A maxim of strategy remains the indirect approach. The indirect approach is key for most of the strategy. In positioning, going head to head with the market leader is a waste of paid marketing budget and effort. Coke attempted to use a massive marketing budget and distribution system to overtake Dr. Pepper with Mr. Pibb.

Going head to head doesn’t work. The market leader owns that space within the consumer’s mind. Instead, take the indirect approach. Mercedes was the market leader for luxury cars. BMW used “The Ultimate Driving machine” campaign to indirectly challenge the market leader and win.

“The first rule of positioning is: To win the battle for the mind, you can’t compete head-on against a company that has a strong, established position. You can go around, under or over, but never head-to-head.”
― Al Ries, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Positioning structures the leaders with a winner take all or most of the market. The top three brands tend to have a 4:2:1 ratio of market share. The leader has twice the market share of number 2. Number 2 has twice the market share of number 3.

Part of The Blue Ocean Strategy remains re-positioning a product to create an uncontested space. Yellow Tail Wines repositioned Yellow Tail to create wine for non-wine drinkers. Easy, enjoyable, unpretentious wine to position Yellow Tail into a new uncontested market.

How to Execute Brand Positioning (or Repositioning)

Language is the heart of a brand position. With the right word choice, you can affect the decision process. Starting from the brand name down to the language used will influence consumers. Consider two examples describing how different products fit within the market space. 7-up and Avis. 7-up used the “uncola” to create a space for people wanting an alternative to Coke and Pepsi.

Opposites work to polarize people into different product categories. Avis, on the other hand, failed to differentiate its self from Hertz. Avis repositioned itself with the campaign, “Were number two, we try harder.” Avis did two things, show social proof that it was the second largest, but also showed consumers it wanted to earn more business with better service.

“In my own market research for dozens of Fortune 500 companies, I have found that the best ways to communicate authenticity is to trigger personalization. Do audience members see themselves in the slogan… and therefore in the product?”
― Frank Luntz, Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear

Finding the space to give consumers that personalized need that no other brand has met yet is the hard word. Think through all the alternatives a consumer has. Could you position you against all others? Could you position as the complete opposite as in the 7-Up uncola case? Could you find a group of customers within unserved within a larger group to carve out? Pick the biggest painpoint that’s been unserved.

Focus & Discipline Matter

Consider that Avis stuck with the #2 positioning for 50 years. GEICO the fastest auto insurance company for over a decade has stuck with “15 mins could save you 15% or more.” Once you find the uncontested space, stick with the message. Focus on owning the language around the space you want to own.



  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/briansutter/2016/05/06/easy-tips-on-how-to-create-a-brand-position-for-your-product-or-service/#1048d3391073
  2. http://www.quickmba.com/marketing/ries-trout/positioning/
  3. https://growandconvert.com/marketing/positioning/
  4. https://adage.com/article/75-years-of-ideas/battle-positioning-rages-day/102700/
  5. http://www.breakthrough.marketing/9-marketing-strategies-tactics-for-the-positioning-era-ogivly/
  6. https://www.smartling.com/market-positioning-strategy/