When I was running marketing departments, my corporate colleagues weren’t always clear how the magic, as they called it, actually happened:

“Send this over to marketing,” they’d say. “So they can spin it.”

“Please,” I would respond, “we prefer to call it positioning.”

If you watch politics—and who can avoid it these days?—you know spin. While some practitioners proudly wear the label of spin doctor or spinmeister, spin is generally considered a form of propaganda; the intent to influence people by providing a biased interpretation of an event. It often uses disingenuousness (see also, lying), deception, and manipulative tactics.

To me, this is more than semantics. I’ve encountered plenty of folks who regard marketing as nothing more than professional manipulation. But any company looking for sustainable results knows there’s no shortcut to customer loyalty. Convincing someone to buy an idea is one thing. Convincing someone to buy, buy again, and recommend your product or service is best done on the up-and-up.

In 1982, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the small but significant book, Positioning; The Battle for Your Mind. In it, they described the problem of an overcommunicated world—and that was 35 years ago! In the not-too-distant future, they predicted, homes would have access to 100 television channels, and a thing called the compact disk would hold 600 megabytes of data. Suffice it to say, we’re now living in an unimaginably overcommunicated world. Positioning is more important than ever.

Positioning is finding that unique spot in the marketplace where your brand fits. It’s about telling the story of your brand in a way competitors cannot. To be effective, it’s got to be a story that’s simple and resonates with your customers.

One of the core take-aways from Ries and Trout’s little book is that positioning is not so much created by the marketer as discovered in the consumer. “You look for the solution…inside your prospect’s mind.” You’re not inventing something new about your product; you’re understanding how customers think about your product. And how your product stands out from others in your category.

With Positioning, the authors noted that a new era of strategic marketing was dawning in response to an increasing cacophony of messaging. The Mad Men era had been a time of advertisers vying to out-do each other with creativity. Strategic marketing requires a finer understanding of consumers—their needs, wants, and desires.

We’re now smack in the digital age of marketing, but this latest evolution is about targeting, channels, and social conversations. Positioning has never been more important as a strategy to focus your message and tell the story of your brand so it sticks in the mind of your customers.

Copyright Liz Behlke, 2019