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Lessons from Jack Trout

Rebecca Weeks
Lessons from Jack Trout Rebecca Weeks

Giving the keynote address at Interactive World’s opening day in New York City is no easy task. The audience -- comprising executives from the top interactive companies and advertising spenders in the nation -- had great expectations. So would Jack Trout, the best-selling author and legendary brand marketing strategist meet their expectations? Not quite.

Trout proved his expertise in brand differentiation strategy. To begin, he described how leveraging brand attributes is integral to developing an effective marketing strategy. He pointed specifically to five attributes:

  1. Ownership -- He told marketers that once you take ownership of an idea you have to stick with it. For example, Papa John’s is now the third most popular pizza chain, thanks to a smart positioning statement it has maintained: "Better ingredients. Better pizza." And this has led to better results -- sales have grown at twice the industry average rate in the past two years.

  2. Leadership psychology -- Believe it or not, Trout has found that one of the most underused competitive advantages is leadership. He said that it is the most direct way to establish the credentials of your brand. Even if you don’t have it, you can claim it.

  3. Timing -- A successful brand has to be first to market with a good idea, not just any idea.

  4. Heritage -- Demonstrating tradition is a great way to establish a brand’s point of difference. When there’s a trusted line from a brand in the past, customers feel comfortable with its future. For instance, dozens of under-the-radar companies today communicate tradition through photos of their heritage and telling a story.

  5. Expertise -- One of the most powerful advantages is to show how a brand is an expert in its category. GE faces tough competition from smaller companies that have positioned themselves as specialists. Generalists, such as Kraft, have become weak against specialists, like Smuckers.

Four-step process to differentiation

Trout laid out a simple process for brand differentiation that involves only four steps:

  • First, your message has to make sense within the context of the category. 

  • Second, the differentiating idea must be clear. Find the difference and set up a benefit for your customer.

  • Next, identify the credentials. In order to build a logical argument for your brand, you have to demonstrate proof.

  • Last, communicate the difference. Truth will not win without communicating it.

Marketing is an exercise in reality

"When you approach a category with a strategy, you have to deal with reality: what you can do and what your competitors will let you do," Trout said.

He used AT&T’s history as the perfect case study. The phone service provider had high reliability ratings in the 1990s, but when MCI and Sprint arrived, AT&T began to lose its differentiation because it ignored the competition. The company was in dire need of a big marketing announcement for its new, stronger network, but it sat around and waited. Not until a few months ago did the behemoth finally position itself as "The Network Company" -- a few years too late.

AT&T handed market share to its competitors.

Ending his keynote, Trout pointed out that the interactive industry is an enormous factor in differentiation primarily because it is a new tool. It delivers information in a brand new way about the points of difference. Trout warned the audience: Just don’t overdo it. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Did the audience know this already? Yes, but we can thank him for reminding us.

As Trout exited, some attendees whispered, "That’s it? Aren’t we at an interactive conference?"

Once again, proof that too many traditional marketing experts aren't comfortable speaking interactive marketing's language.

Return to Part 1

A second OMMA panel focused on the key issue of the shifting role of big media in conveying brand messages. In his discussion on "Big Media Disintermediated," moderator Shelly Palmer, managing partner, Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC, stated that we are in the midst of the end of analog TV. "With the consumer's shift to online, media barons will become a thing of the past," said Palmer.

Palmer posited that distribution is completely democratized, and production is as democratic as it will be. "Yet, promotion is not democratic. We are in a period of transition. The game is the same, there's just a longer deliverables list."

Panelist Lori Schwartz, SVP, director of emerging media at IPG said, "There is a tremendous opportunity to open the dialog between consumers and brands." She has observed that clients are concerned because they don't know how to control the conversation, but maintains there is need to remain open to the possibilities that relinquishing control can open up. "It's insanely powerful, once brands know how to work with it," she said.

Eric Patterson, VP and GM of consumer services at the controversial peer-to-peer service BitTorrent, admitted that part of control means accepting the potential for abuse and dealing with the resulting issues of rights management and ease of use.

Palmer raised the issue that once you give away the store, you may be faced with having a brand, but not a whole lot of money. He then asked the panelists what they felt the best techniques were for having brands stand for what they stand for while using technology to control the transition.

Schwartz again looked to patterns of consumer interaction with both technology and others to strike this balance. "Google helps you find what you already know you want. When you don't know what you want, you go to friends, or other knowledgeable people. The relationship media tries to create will only be as strong as the trust in that model."

Schwartz also stressed the need to incorporate prior learnings into plans for new media delivery, reminding attendees that just because there are new tools, we shouldn't have to forget existing marketing intelligence. "Remember what you do know, and use that to move forward."

Patterson agreed, remarking that consumers still want access to professionally-created media content, they just want it in other ways. Yet, he argued that current models of delivery like pay-per-episode just penalize people for wanting to follow and collect TV episodes. However, David Watson, VP of the Disney ABC Television Group, countered that consumers who take advantage of pay-access to content are paying for convenience; they are not being punished.

Palmer then led the discussion down another road: "I appreciate that content is king, but the context is what provides value. Context is king." The question isn't necessarily whether one is more valuable than another. "It's about how they co-exist and monetize context, conversation, relevance and engagement," said Palmer.

Jodi Harris is managing editor of iMedia Connection's Entertainment Spot. Read full bio.

Sales reps

Sales reps can definitely be underappreciated. You get 19 "nos" for every "yes" -- and that's if you're lucky. While your colleagues are home in time for dinner, you are the road warriors who take the red-eye to Des Moines only to be deprioritized and cancelled at the last moment. And if you actually get the meeting, there's a good chance that some of the prospects in the room will be more interested in checking their Facebook app than paying attention.

Add in complications such as flight delays or tech woes, and some days would probably wear anyone down. But these folks get up, dust themselves off, and keep hunting for the good of the company. The silver lining is that the very best sales reps are actually the most appreciated peers in our business; they bring in the business that allows everyone else to keep their jobs.


Big data, big data, big data. It's been such a buzz phrase recently. But ask someone on the analytics team just how big the appetite actually is. Analysts live in a structured world with deep math and statistics that most of the organization just doesn't have the skill set to figure out. Many times, there's a lot of head nodding and lip service to how important the data is, but then, for some reason, the executive team makes a decision that is counterintuitive to what the data is showing.

Actually, one of the most important skills analysts can have is the ability to bridge the knowledge gap for their peers and distill the data down to smart, transformative insights. If you're in the analytics department and you want to be more appreciated, try doing a better job of delivering your message in a way that the rest of your colleagues can better understand. They'll love you for it.

Agency rookies

Being an agency rookie is a thankless job. You'll most likely work harder in your first two years than you will during the rest of your career. Everyone put their time in so now it's your turn to work long hours, be relegated to the most menial, repetitive tasks, and be paid a fraction of your worth.

For those who complain and moan about how little they're appreciated, just be glad you have your foot in the door. But, just as with life, the opportunity is what you make of it. Show your company's executive team that you're a go-getter and willing to pay your dues, and your hard work will be rewarded. There's not a single agency manager who didn't go through the same ordeal, and many of them might have had it worse than you do. If you want to be appreciated, you have to earn it.

Tech support

Tech support in any industry inherently means that your day is spent dealing with problems, problems, problems. No smiles, just frowns. This industry's infrastructure is software, and the fact is that even at 99.9 percent uptime, there's still going to be issues 0.1 percent of the time.

When you pick up the phone, there's a good chance you'll be talking to someone who's on the border of irritated and irate. Most people don't have the patience for tech hiccups even if your platform has been solid the other 364 days of the year. And, remember, the tech support team members rarely have contributed to the issue you're having -- so to get angry with them is misguided. Show that you're a good partner and that these folks don't deserve to be the target of your rage. They can help you faster when you're calm and not in complain-mode.

Chief financial officers

It's almost a requirement that the CFO has to be a hard ass. Everyone feels that they don't get enough of the budget. Marketing wants more. Sales teams want more. R&D wants more. Someone has to keep the fiscal realities in check, and that's the CFO's job. In fact, if you're not comfortable with saying no and being the bad cop, you probably won't be a successful CFO.

Talk about a thankless job! This doesn't mean that CFOs have to be jerks -- in fact, the good ones are very calm and collected and are able to use tact when explaining why the numbers aren't feasible for every pet project that comes across their desk. Next time you feel your CFO isn't listening to you, put yourself in that person's shoes and realize that your company would be out of business in a month if there wasn't a disciplined approach to budget allocation.

International satellite office employees

Working in the international satellite office can sometimes feel very far removed from the action. Although on one hand it can be empowering to be the lone wolf out on the hunt, the flip side means it can get lonely not having the daily interaction with the rest of the team. It's also difficult to build up the equity with your colleagues and benefit from the natural knowledge sharing that comes with the organic face time at the home office.

Dealing with time zone issues can mean meetings where everyone else is bright eyed in the sunshine and don't comprehend why you might not be energized at 2 a.m. your time. People who thrive on trailblazing push right through the under-appreciation and love the challenge of building up a book of business so that the satellite office turns into a fully staffed, important component of the broader international strategy.

Josh Dreller is director or marketing research at Kenshoo.

On Twitter? Follow Dreller at @mediatechguy. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Young business woman show ok" image via Shutterstock.


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