The other day, I was watching the PBS series “American Experience” and learned something I never knew before.

And this discovery reminded me of an important lesson about being “top of mind” in your business category.

The show was about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But what I learned has nothing to do with them directly.

It was an interesting piece of trivia about the term “Private Eye.

Let me explain…

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch were very smart. The more crimes they committed the better they became at robbing people. And they always took what they learned and used it in the next town. This made it very difficult for the local sheriffs in each town to catch them.

That’s when the The Pinkerton National Detective Agency got involved.

If was because of their nation-wide intelligence network and their new methodology that they were able to disband Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.

What I thought was interesting was that Allan Pinkerton formed the The Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1850.

It was the first detective agency to exist.

The agency’s logo was an eye embellished with the words “We Never Sleep.

pinkerton's private eye - top of mind awareness

The agency became so well-known after their work disbanding Butch Cassidy that the term “private eye” began to be used to describe any detective agency.

Think about that for a moment.

Their business became so well-known that ALL detective agencies today are known by a name that comes from their original agency.

Top of Mind Awareness

The term “positioning” was coined by Jack Trout and Al Ries back in 1972. At the time, they were running the advertising agency Ries Cappiello Colwell. In January of that year, they made a speech at club called the “Sales Executives Club.”

The topic of their talk? “The Positioning Era.”

No one else would have probably heard of the term except for one fact.

At the head table that day was a man named Rance Crain. He was then a reporter for Advertising Age (he’s now editor in chief). Rance loved their concept of “positioning.”

He loved it so much that he suggested that it might make a good series of articles in Advertising Age.

Ries and Trout agreed and so the concept and the articles appeared in the April 24, May 1 and May 8, 1972 issues.

If you’re not aware, the term “positioning” describes the “position” or “place” you or your business has in your prospect’s mind or your customer’s mind.

Later in 1981, they expanded on the idea in their famous book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.“ In the book, they said something very important. They said, “Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise.

They said that because the market is so crowded that if you want to stand out in your market, then you must be in the first in your category. If you’re second, you’re forgotten. And they said something interesting about the leader in a product category that have a lot to do with The Pinkerton National Detective Agency. They said that the leader in a product category has such an overwhelming position in people’s’ minds that they become synonymous with the category itself.


  • In the category of soda, many people call any soda a “coke.”
  • In the category of tissue, many people call all types of tissue “Kleenex.”
  • Before we all had all-in-one printer/copiers, when people to make a copy of something, they used to say they were going to “Xerox” something.

Do you see how this happened to The Pinkerton National Detective Agency because they were first?

2 Ways to Grab the “Top of Mind” Position

If there were too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise in 1981, then think of how true it is TODAY!

The amount of competition and “noise” is now off the charts!

If you want to stand out in most categories, then it’s probably way too late for you to grab the first spot.

What can you do to gain the “top of mind” position?

I think the two best things you could do would be this:

1. Find a way to create a new category for what you do or for your business.

Chipotle was definitely way too late to the game to be the first to sell burritos and tacos.

That’s why they didn’t just create another Mexican restaurant.

They created a new category to be first in by the way they let us move down the counter to create our burritos and tacos and by emphasizing their use of local, “food with integrity.”

2. Find a unique selling proposition.

You have to propose something to your prospects that your competition can’t or doesn’t offer.

It has to be at least unique in how you frame it.

Jetblue was too late to be the first in the low-price airline category, but they still gained “position” in people’s’ minds.

They did this by offering direct TV (the first to do this), first-class seats to everyone, and better snacks.

The next time you hear the phrase “private eye” let it remind you that now more than ever you must find a way to gain “top of mind” position.

It won’t just help your business to stand out today, but if you do it right, it might just help it to stand out for years to come.

If you’d like other ideas on how to do this, then I’d encourage you to grab a copy of the 2000 version of “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.”