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Positioning: How a rock turned into a revolutionary marketing strategy


The idea for positioning came from a young unknown advertising guy named Al Ries who had his own little agency Ries, Cappiello, Colwell in New York City back in the Mad Men era of the 1960’s. Al’s original idea was called the “rock.” Every brand needed a solid rock to differentiate itself from all the other brands in the category.

But not any rock. The “rock” had to be a word or concept that would be instantly accepted by prospects, like The leading toothpaste.

Al discussed the idea with the guys at the agency. One of his account executives, Jack Trout, suggested calling the rock a “position” instead. Al agreed. Al’s rock idea became positioning and it would change the world of marketing.

But not right away. The idea never went anywhere until 1972, when Al’s speech on positioning at the Sales Executives Club of New York got the attention of Rance Crain, editor of Advertising Age.

Rance suggested the topic of positioning would make a good series of articles for his magazine. Al, of course, agreed. The legendary three-part series of articles on positioning by Al Ries & Jack Trout was printed in April and May, 1972 – The Positioning Era Cometh.

Over the next few months, hundreds of articles on the pros and cons of positioning were written. From David Ogilvy on down, everybody had an opinion on positioning.

A major highlight was when the positioning idea was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. The article was not all that favorable, but it didn’t matter. Positioning was here to stay.

Positioning remained popular. Over the next decade, 150,000 reprints of the original Ad Age articles were given away by the agency. Then the now infamous book was finally published.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries & Jack Trout was published by McGraw-Hill in 1981. It has become one of the most famous and best-selling marketing books of all time. It has sold more than two million copies around the world and has been translated into over 20 languages.

In 2009, Advertising Age magazine asked its readers what the best book on marketing they ever read was.

Positioning was #1. Coming in at #3 was another Ries book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding written with his daughter Laura Ries.

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