Marketing Warfare


Al Ries and Jack Trout’s 1970’s booklet ‘The Positioning Era’ summarised a gradual but significant development in advertising following the 1960’s ‘image’ advertising. Image advertising had taken over from the direct selling styles of traditional advertising, and the era of the USP (unique selling proposition) – though the newer developments could be said to sharpen and clarify the earlier, not invalidate them. The problem positioning was trying to solve was how to communicate to potential customers in an over-communicated world.

Positioning a product or a brand enabled it to be rapidly understood, gave it an instant position in the prospect’s mind. Avis famously positioned itself as the number 2 in car rentals: “We try harder because we’re number 2″. Volkswagen successfully positioned the Beetle for the US car market with ‘Ugly is only skin deep” – capitalising on reliability concerns with US-made cars. Positioning was a radical change in marketing communication – even acknowledging that other brands existed was anathema to the older world.

Over the following decades Positioning was further expressed in the concept of branding, largely an extension of the original positioning concept.

“Marketing Warfare”, written in 1986 and updated in 2006, expands on the strategic possibilities and necessities of positioning in business. Rich in quotations from Von Clausewitz and military terminology, it describes the choice of approaches open to market leaders, challengers, also-rans, and small independents. Its examples are US-based but should be familiar enough.

At first glance the relevance of the book might seem limited to an established corporate world, but the principles are remarkably applicable at any level, from SMEs to global brands. This is marketing at the level of strategic business decisions, and these decisions need to be made, to provide the direction for tactical efforts in marketing communications.

What’s the precise, strategically valuable field, sector,or subsector your company can dominate? What tactics would get you there?

A very valuable text, readable and thought-provoking.