WVU Marketing Communications Today

Are the Teachings of Trout and Ries Relevant in 2019?

November 16, 2019


For decades, marketers have considered the wisdom of Al Ries and Jack Trout to be the gospel of positioning.  In their two books, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” and “Marketing Warfare,” Trout and Ries explained their concept that:

  • Consumers only have space in their brains for a handful of brands in any one category – say fast food, soft drinks, airlines, or athletic shoes.
  • The consensus number-one brand is the “defender.” Their job is to stay on top and never even acknowledge that the lesser brands exist. Example: Coca-Cola
  • The consensus number-two brand is on the “offense.” Their job is to try to knock off number-one with comparisons that make their brand look good. Example: Pepsi and the Pepsi Challenge
  • The next-level brand or brands are called “flankers.” They are not strong enough to take on those top two brands, so they carve out their own position in the marketplace. Example: Seven-up – The Un-Cola. 

But in today’s world of digital disruption, some small, start-up brands have been able to carve out quite a niche for themselves by looking at the same old paradigm and thinking something different.  Whether they find a better way of distribution, cut out the middleman, or find a more defined niche, they are able to turn Trout & Ries on their heads.  Example: Dollar Shave Club.  

When this happens, we’re seeing the top brands go on the defensive instead of being defenders!

About Matthew's guest:

Susan K. Jones, Tenured, full professor of marketing at Ferris State University and the principal of Susan K. Jones & Associates

Lead Instructor, IMC 616 - Direct and Digital Marketing

2011 Alexia Vanides Teaching Award Recipient
Award-winning professor, author, and consultant with expertise in direct and digital marketing.

Jones teaches direct marketing, digital marketing, advertising, social media, content marketing, and business-to-business classes at Ferris State. Her practice focuses on corporate training and seminars in direct and digital marketing, as well as marketing planning, product development and copywriting. Jones began teaching online in early 1998 and has attracted students to her online classes at Ferris State from throughout the United States, as well as South and Central America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and Europe.

Jones has authored or co-authored more than 30 books, including “Creative Strategy in Direct and Interactive Marketing,” “Business-to-Business Internet Marketing” and “The IMC Handbook: Readings and Cases in Integrated Marketing Communications.” She has been honored by the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation, the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing, the West Michigan American Marketing Association, the John Caples International Awards, Ferris State University and Northwestern University with prestigious awards both as an educator and as a practitioner.

Jones enjoys an active volunteer career. She is the founding president and current treasurer of the Northwestern Club of West Michigan. She was a member of the West Michigan Alumni Admissions Council for Northwestern for 20 years, and she is a past board member of the Northwestern Alumni Association. In 2002, she was elected to Northwestern University’s The Council of One Hundred, an elite group of 100 alumnae who mentor women students and young alumnae of the university. In 2004, she was elected a member of The Council of One Hundred’s executive committee, a position in which she served until 2007. She is a member of the board of Mercantile Bank of West Michigan, the three-year president and long-time board member of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, a past-president and active sustainer of the Junior League of Grand Rapids, and a graduate of Leadership Grand Rapids. Educated at Northwestern University, Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in advertising and a Master of Science in advertising. 


WVU Marketing Communications Today is hosted by Matthew Cummings from West Virginia University which is a program on the Funnel Radio Channel

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