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SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2007
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Positioning product for success

Rivals.com founder and Chief Executive Officer Shannon Terry, who hails from Woodville, attributes much of his success to lessons he learned from reading a 1981 book on marketing, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.”

“It’s the best book on marketing ever written,” Terry said Thursday, speaking at the annual Small Business Breakfast sponsored by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

Terry’s praise deserves attention. He started his business — a Web site focusing on college sports — in 1996 with $60,000 in capital. He was 26 at the time. He survived the dot-com crash of 2000. “Survived” is not quite the word; he flourished, in part by selling his company for $3 million when the boom was at its peak, then buying the company back from its bankrupt owner three months later, for $500,000.

Successful marketing

Much of his success has to do with marketing — or “positioning,” as his favorite book describes it — and that’s a skill that is essential to every business with a product to sell. Which means all of them.

Written by Al Ries and Jack Trout a decade before the creation of the World Wide Web, the book reads like it was written in the Internet age.

“We have become the world’s first overcommunicated society,” the authors wrote. “Each year, we send more and receive less.”

One would think they were looking at my e-mail inbox.

With so many products vying for consumers’ attention, a seller’s success requires that his product position itself in an exclusive niche within the consumer’s mind.

Finding a niche

Positioning a product as primary in the consumer’s mind is the way to market a product successfully. That means finding a niche that can be communicated to the consumer, and taking ownership of that niche. The authors use 7-Up as an example. Coca-Cola enjoyed primary position in the minds of most consumers when it came to sodas, so 7-Up positioned itself as primary in another category. It became “the Uncola.”

Contac and Dristan were positioned first in the consumer’s mind among cold remedies, so how did a competitor break into the market? By communicating a primary position as a nighttime cold remedy. The successful competitor was Nyquil.

“It’s better to go around an obstacle than over it,” the authors explain. “Try to select a position that no one else has a firm grip on.” And then advertise your product into ownership of that position.

At the core of positioning is looking at your company from the outside in, not the inside out, the authors explained. In order to position your product, you have to understand the position of other products on the market.

Avis, the authors said, understood this. How to compete with Hertz, which had a lock on its position in the consumer’s mind when it came to rental cars? Avis did so by acknowledging its No. 2 status in its advertising, followed by what the authors call the most famous last line in advertising history: “The line at our counter is shorter.”

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Eric Fleischauer
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