Positioning Is Important

Lesson 4: Positioning Is Important

by Bob Baker

Al Ries and Jack Trout coined the term “positioning” in the early 1980s in their book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.” Although a few years have passed since the book was released, the core ideas they express are just as true today.

Positioning refers to the way a product, service, or person is presented to the buying public. To properly position yourself on the Internet, you must consider many factors:

  • Your name
  • Your Web address (URL)
  • The benefits of what you offer
  • Your personal strengths and weaknesses
  • The strengths and weaknesses of your competition
  • How people generally perceive the category in which you seek an impact

Ries and Trout contend that positioning is not something you do to a product, service, or to yourself. It’s something you do to a human mind. It’s all about perception and how you fit in — especially when compared to the other perceptions that already exist in each potential fan’s brain.

Crafting the best identity for you should be based on what already exists within you. In other words, you shouldn’t conjure up an image you feel would be cool and then mold yourself into that identity.

The brand you create should be based on who you truly are as a human being. It should reflect your real skills and personality. Remember the pop duo Milli Vanilli and the fallout that occurred when it was discovered they didn’t actually sing on their best-selling album? Faking it doesn’t work.

The same goes for the person on the other end of the positioning equation: your potential fan. A person’s preferences and view of the world are influenced mainly by the memories and attitudes that already exist in his or her mind, which explains why most people aren’t easily swayed by dazzling advertising blitzes and publicity campaigns. If they were, every dot-com company that ran a Super Bowl ad would be prospering today. The truth is, they’re not.

Remember the Pets.com sock puppet? The company used the mascot in a flurry of television ads in early 2000. Nine months later, when the Web site shut its doors, it was just another stray dog that had lost its way.

The mistake Pets.com made was assuming that, since consumers were spending millions online buying books and airline tickets, people would also buy pet supplies in the same manner — if only the company got the word out on a grand enough scale.

But people didn’t bite for many reasons: They simply weren’t ready to purchase pet products in the same way they purchased books, plus there were already a number of competitors in the pet category.

Bottom line: The mental perceptions that exist inside the minds of people who make up your target audience are just as important as your ideas about how you’d like to be perceived.

Online book sales offer another example. In the mid 1990s, who was in the best position to sell a lot of books on the Internet? Perhaps brick-and-mortar behemoths Barnes & Noble or Borders? You’d think so. But who sells the most books online today? That’s right, Amazon.com — the first book-selling identity to make a splash on the Internet.

In short, Amazon established itself as the online retailer of choice for people who want to buy books. Barnes & Noble and Borders have expended a lot of money and effort trying to play catch-up; but the mental perception has already been established that Amazon is the leader, and once ingrained, that perception is hard to undo.

So … how can you make sure that your personal brand image makes an impact on the Internet? That topic will be covered in the next lesson.


This workshop is based on Bob’s book “Poor Richard’s Branding Yourself Online: How to Use the Internet to Become a Celebrity or Expert in Your Field” (Top Floor Publishing). Download two chapters free and find out more about the book at BrandingYourselfOnline.com