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Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Al Ries, Jack Trout, Philip Kotler · 10 HN comments
HN Books has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind" by Al Ries, Jack Trout, Philip Kotler.
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Amazon Summary
The first book to deal with the problems of communicating to a skeptical, media-blitzed public, Positioning describes a revolutionary approach to creating a "position" in a prospective customer's mind-one that reflects a company's own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors. Writing in their trademark witty, fast-paced style, advertising gurus Ries and Trout explain how to: Make and position an industry leader so that its name and message wheedles its way into the collective subconscious of your market-and stays there Position a follower so that it can occupy a niche not claimed by the leader Avoid letting a second product ride on the coattails of an established one. Positioning also shows you how to: Use leading ad agency techniques to capture the biggest market share and become a household name Build your strategy around your competition's weaknesses Reposition a strong competitor and create a weak spot Use your present position to its best advantage Choose the best name for your product Determine when-and why-less is more Analyze recent trends that affect your positioning. Ries and Trout provide many valuable case histories and penetrating analyses of some of the most phenomenal successes and failures in advertising history. Revised to reflect significant developments in the five years since its original publication, Positioning is required reading for anyone in business today.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
This starts as a pet project which was an excuse to keep in touch, experiment with new technologies and most importantly have fun.

Given that, it sounds like you've already won, no matter what happens next.

As far as advice goes, I'll just leave a couple of book recommendations.

Thank you so much for that!

Very refreshing and insightful answer :)


Seth Godin is another author well worth reading:

And a few others:

And, of course:

There are no magic pills though. The best thing is to read and learn from a lot of perspectives and then start to navigate the waters you happen to be sailing. No two markets or products are going to be the same. In fact, the same product will require a different based on where it is in the adoption/maturity cycle.

This is true, and a useful book on positioning is:

Furthermore, one way to avoid ending up in a feature for feature fight to the death with a bigger player is to think instead in terms of “job to be done”:

By planning what you work on by focusing on what the customer is trying to achieve you’ll do yourself a favour when it comes to marketing as you’ll be able to speak in terms they understand.

Lastly, as you’ll see in the positioning book above, it’s not wise to completely avoid competitor analysis despite how unpleasant and draining it can sometimes be. A potential customer needs to understand why they would choose you over the incumbent. You need to know that answer before they can.

The "job to be done" is essentially just another term for the customer's need, right? To me, the main utility of that phrase is that it emphasizes the mindset of the customer much more than looking for a need.
Yes that’s my understanding but looking at it as a job to be done intuitively moves towards how they currently do the job. This can often reveal other areas where you can help.
There's a classic marketing book written a few decades ago called Positioning that is about just this topic.

It's a short read and well worth the time. I wish I'd read it before I'd built one of my products. If I had I wouldn't have wasted the development time.

The core message is that you shouldn't compete against an established market leader head on. It outlines a number of different approaches you can take.

This is the best book I've read on positioning. The anecdotes might be a little dated now, but the concepts are solid.

The 'x for y' metaphor is actually a well-respected positioning technique in strategic marketing. You want your product or service to occupy a place in a prospective customer's mind. The easiest way to do that is to place it close to some things that are already in their minds. Creating an entirely new place is much more difficult when time and attention are limited.

Great book on the subject (Amazon link but I'm not an affiliate):

Thank you for the recommendation. I'll have a look at that.
Aug 13, 2015 · rebootthesystem on Your name is fine
This brings me back to a nice little marketing book I read about ten years ago:

One of the interesting ideas the author postulates is, to put it in CS terms, that people's minds work like a dictionary. Each key associates with one and only one value. And, in this case, the key is a concept, need, category, etc.

If you ask someone in the US to name a plumber they'll probably answer "RotoRooter" without hesitation. Fast food? "McDonalds". Rental car? "Enterprise". Fast car? "Corvette".

The values side of the relationship isn't necessarily uniform across a population but some keys have more uniformity than others (Fast Food).

Once a person makes that key:value association it is really, really hard to break it, if not impossible. Politics tends to work that way too.

In the case of the web, the vast majority of people make the following key:value pair association:


And that's the end of the story.

Every one of those observations sounds extremely true to me.

Regarding the first one: "changing your mind is one of the most difficult things we do" -- changing our mind is almost impossible; changing other people's is down right impossible.


- It's possible to influence people before they have made up their mind.

- It's also possible to reframe / rename / re-position a subject, so that it becomes a new category about which people don't already have an opinion. Politicians do it all the time (most people are opposed to torture, but "enhanced interrogation techniques" sound both useful and reasonable, for example). Marketers also do it, sometimes, but they should do it more.

On this last topic, this book is absolutely fantastic:

It explains why brand extension is almost always a bad idea ("Google Play", OMG!!!!), and why "7Up: the uncola" is genius.

I found that changing your mind is heavily dependent on one's internal honesty. If you care more about the truth than about your own opinions, if you avoid being attached to your own beliefs, then it's actually not that hard to change your mind after encountering new evidence.

Actually, that's one of the main reason I frequent HN - in the comments I quite often encounter knowledgable people arguing for beliefs different than mine. By reading and sometimes participating in discussions here I get to constantly re-evaluate the reasons for what I believe and, occasionally, to change my mind.

I have found that peoples' opinions are most strongly influenced by the narratives they subconsciously construct to make sense of the world. A given fact will be seen as part of a huge trend by one person, an outlier by another, and a lie by someone else. This explains why there are some facts that are just ignored by people even though they're a big deal. For example, Ronald Reagan supported Apartheid in South Africa. People don't know how to fit this into a larger framework or pattern so it doesn't become part of the social construction of this person.

I think this explains why the NSA revelations are such a non-issue to so many people: it doesn't fit into their narrative, so it must somehow be overstated or misleading in its presentation. I think a solution to this is to try to notice your aversion or second-guessing of straightforward information. If you immediately start seeking to minimize something or think "This must be wrong", then that thing is worth deeper investigation. One must realize if a piece of information does not fit with their model of the world, it is usually an inadequacy of their model and not with the data.

If you look at the author's profile you also realize that maybe he should reflect more on what he just wrote. I am referring to his ownership of tobacco company stocks (MO and PM). Is it really a good idea to own tobacco companies even if one is amoral about investing, esp. in light of what the author said about long term thinking?
One day in high school, perhaps in 1971, I was reading the financial section of the newspaper just before math class started.

My math teacher came in, saw that I was looking at the stock tables, and said something like: "I really like Philip Morris. I've made a lot of money in that stock over the years".

Now, check out

Here are the splits in just that stock since 1974:

   2 * 2 * 2 * 4 * 3
That doesn't include the spinoff of PM and KRFT (I don't recall if shareholders participated in Miller spinoff). And there may have been more spinoffs that I can't even remember.

Now imagine how much money my math teacher's heirs would have today if they continued to hold his Philip Morris stock because they had "long term thinking".

You might be right. Maybe the long term is over in tobacco stocks. But the previous half century has sure made some people a lot of money selling products that have killed millions of other people.

Regarding the first one: "changing your mind is one of the most difficult things we do" -- changing our mind is almost impossible; changing other people's is down right impossible.

Eh, I did a lot of therapy. We can change our own minds. It takes work and it is hard but it is not "almost impossible."

Perhaps the second is true. If so, that would explain a lot of my frustrations. I would like to think it is not true and that changing the minds of other people is hard but not impossible.

How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Just one, bit the lightbulb has to want to change.

It can, actually, be quite hard. But, yeah, if you want it bad enough, it can be done.

(Also: you haz a typo)

It is possible to change peoples minds, but the trick is that you have to convince everyone around them first. Social proof is the most powerful force in the universe. It's infuriating, but the research shows us time and time again that most people simply choose the position they perceive to be most popular.

It is, incidentally, why the internet is so dangerous. It is easier now, more than ever, to surround yourself with people who confirm your beliefs ALL OF THE TIME. If we're going to make decisions socially, that's a pretty worrying state of affairs.

It is also why most meaningful change happens in generational cycles. At least that is how it seems to me.

It is also why most meaningful change happens in generational cycles

"People don't change their minds. They die, and are replaced by people with different opinions"

-- Arturo Albergati, via Paul Graham (

(Strangely, when one searches for that quote, the first hit is Paul Graham's page; I'd like to know where exactly this was said, but couldn't find it after a quick investigation).

He learned it while studying in Florence I guess.
That sounds similar to the Max Planck quote that "science progresses one funeral at a time".

Actually, that might be paraphrased, the quote which seems more authentic according to Google is this:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it"

Jul 13, 2010 · JacobAldridge on Domain Names
If you're wondering about the reference to being "Influenced by Ries and Trout", it's a reference to the book Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, which I've recommended on HN before and will continue to do so -

It talks about the importance of standing out in your marketplace, because consumers want simple purchasing decisions so will only, at best, compare the top few.

"Positioning" by Ries and Trout:

It was THE marketing book of the 80s, and it's still extremely relevant today. It's quick read, too.

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