Mr Al Ries is a Marketing Hall of Famer known as the Pioneer of the concept of ‘Positioning’. He is a bestselling author (or co-author) of 11 books, selling more than 3.5 million copies all over the world. His ideas on positioning changed the marketing and advertising landscape for decades and were voted by AdAge as one of the 75 most important advertising ideas of the past 75 years.
Q – You graduated from the university with a Major in Mathematics — What were the circumstances that led you to a career in advertising?
I read a book called The Hucksters about the advertising business. It describes a life that I thought would be perfect for me.
Q – When you and Jack (Trout) started writing articles for ‘Advertising Age’ back in 1972 — Did it ever cross your mind that your ideas would change advertising and marketing strategy and its practice forever?
No. We wrote those articles to build our advertising agency. In truth, it did not help us do that. Prospects would tell us, We do the positioning. You do the advertising.
So while potential clients were very interested in positioning, they didn’t necessarily want to hire someone to do it.
Long-term, positioning had more effect on the discipline of marketing than it did on the discipline of advertising. In the year 1989, we recognized that fact and shut down our advertising agency and opened up a marketing consultancy.
Q – Mr. Trout worked for you and eventually became your business partner for several decades — What are the things you learned from him that influenced your worldview?
The biggest thing I learned is the power of working together with another person. Jack was a left-brainer, an extrovert, very talkative and exceptionally good with clients. And I am a right-brainer, an introvert and not exactly the nicer person in the world when it comes to working with clients. Jack was the outside person; I was the inside person.
Q – A few years ago you wrote the article ‘The medium is the message, but few are listening’ where you discussed the importance of considering new brands when moving to a new platform like the internet. In the advent of the pandemic, a lot of companies are in a rush to develop their online strategy — what one advice could you give such companies so that they would avoid the struggle that has plagued other?
It’s hopeless. Very, very few companies have taken our advice to set up a separate brand on the Internet. Almost every physical retailer has moved to the internet using their existing brands.
Here’s the problem: An Internet brand can stock many more products and sell them at lower prices. A physical retail store is an opposite. They stock fewer products and sell them at higher prices. But they do have the advantage of the instant delivery and the ability of prospects to see and feel the merchandise.
How can one brand name deal with those two different approaches? It can’t.
Q – How fulfilling is it working and collaborating with your daughter and seeing her grow and develop her own space in business consulting?
Many people want to create a “legacy” which is a meaningless idea to me. I’d rather have a person that carries on the work I started to do.
Q – Lastly, what advice would you give an advertising or marketing professional who is starting out and would like to make their own mark in the world?
Learn before you preach. Try to learn what makes a business successful. Read the newspapers and magazines and think about the strategies that companies are using. For example, Coca-Cola just introduced an energy drink using the Coca-Cola brand name. I think this is a terrible idea, really terrible. And the CEO of Coca-Cola made $16.7 million last year.
I’ve mentioned this to a number of people in the marketing business and their reaction is, I didn’t know that.
In essence, no reaction at all. No outrage. Nothing. As if this didn’t matter at all. But it does. It’s what convinces many marketing people that line extension is just another effective marketing technique.