I love so many books, you will rarely hear me (or read me) use that kind of strong statement – “the best book ever.” But I have read marketing book after marketing book, and I think there is still one gold standard, the book that laid down the most important basics of marketing. And it’s going on 30 years old!
Sometimes when I am speaking to a group and they ask me what marketing books I recommend, I am surprised to find out how many businesspeople – including recent MBA’s – have not even heard of this book.
It’s called Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published by McGraw Hill, 1981). You can also find some newer and anniversary editions, such as the one linked to the right of this column. The two authors have gone their separate ways and written a litany of excellent books and made speeches around the globe. But I find the original message still valid after all these years. 
That message, clearly articulated and demonstrated in this concise book, is that you must “own” a word or “position” in the customer’s mind that sets you apart from your competitors. Clarity, simplicity, consistency, repetition, and authenticity all come into play – ideas often left out of marketing today.
You will have to keep in mind this book was written in 1981, as some of the companies have seen better days and their killer marketing campaigns are no longer fresh, or have been overtaken by more agile competitors. But some of the stories still stand, such as FedEx’s “ownership” of the word “overnight.” I have yet to see any evidence that Ries and Trout’s basic principles are in error.
Of course how you apply these ideas to your industry in your time, at your company in your position, still leaves a lot up to you, and gives plenty of reason to study other books. In the future I will comment on some of the marketing books that I think hold the most wisdom. But you have to start somewhere to understand the most fundamental ideas, and this business classic is the book. Get it if you don’t already have it. If you have already read it, read it again.




  1. I am a frequent flyer on American Airlines. Last month they started to reintroduce the term ‘Astrojet’. This term was first used in 1959 with their first delivery of a Boeing 707 jet. I asked the captain why they are reintroducing it and he answered that American is celebrating 50 years of flying jets and from what he can tell no one cares. Another example of companies that didn’t perform the due diligence.

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