Some books get straight to the point. Jack Trout, marketing guru, wrote a book called “Trout on Strategy” within the last few years that summarizes his experience with marketing over his very successful career.
There is not a high degree of content but it is easy to mistake simplicity and shortness with a lack of value.
Jack Trout is perhaps most famous for his views on positioning.
He starts out talking about too much choice leading to consumer confusion. This aligns with Barry Schwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice”. As a result of this confusion, it is very difficult for companies to come out ahead unless they are perceived as being different in some valuable way. The point is that any company is going to need a strategy to survive.
There is enough wisdom contained in this book that it would take several posts to discuss them.
Instead, this post is just to introduce some relevant ideas with the hope that future posts might wander over to the other areas.
The first idea to cover is that what marketing is really trying to do is to gain mindshare with the consumer. It is commonly accepted that consumers only have so much room for product information and that consumers also do not like being confused. There tends to be a desire to rank products relative to each other in a given category and usually competitors are viewed as having specific attributes. The messages that have the most success are based on simplicity and newcomers have the most success with a message relative to existing category companies.
It is a common mistake to take on a competitor head on. It is much wiser to find weaknesses with the competitor and focus on the attribute that can be used against that weakness. Consumers see value in something the competitor cannot or will not do.
Trying to be an end all solution is only going to end in defeat. Consumers prefer going to specialist than to generalist. This makes more sense from a medical perspective ( patients would not go to the GP for everything). Jack gives a great example of GE trying to convince companies that they can be the one stop provider for an entire power plant. The power company refuses and points out that it wants the best provider for each category. This is a hard lesson for any company looking to expand its business.
Customers do not always know what they want of even why they bought what they did. This idea makes surveys and other customer interactions less valuable when developing a competing product. Jack basically states that it is a myth that a consumer driven model will provide all the answers to success.
It is hard to accept that people do not like changing their minds. He points out that it is much easier to add a relative point than to build an entirely new one. Human minds have trouble grasping information not relative to what it already knows. Accepting this human nature provides a much more accurate model for building the marketing story.
A company that specializes is much more likely to succeed and be understood by customers. Customer undertstanding and simple marketing are directly tied. The transition from product concept to actual product requires being seen as the expert with the best product. It does not mean that the product is actually the best performing or the best tasting or the fastest. It just means that the consumer believes it is the right choice based on the evidence that the main provider knows what it is talking about and only does that thing well.
Logically, the reality of the situation is defined by what the consumer thinks. Reality is not based on any facts. Facts are not going to make a successful product. Facts are for science and the human mind is not based on science.
What seems to be true based on this advice is that a new company needs to be different in some way in order to succeed against the current companies in that field. It has to stake a claim on a new aspect of the field in order to get the attention it needs to survive. Once it has a foothold, it needs to continue on a path that is simple and well understood. Once more momentum builds, it needs to keep showing that it is the expert and that consumers would benefit in its differences. It needs to reduce its desire for growth for the sake of satisfying “Wall Street”. It also needs to keep its roots with the customers intact. Consumers gain a solid performer that can be trusted and the company gains a life and provides work for many employees.
I would recommend reading this book just for understanding the dos and donts of marketing. Even for those of us not in marketing, it is still interesting. It’s always good to hear from a specialist.