Jack Trout’s Marketing

Over the years Jack Trout has written a lot about marketing, and I’ve read a lot of his stuff, too. Not lately, but anyway. I tripped over his column in Forbes today — Is Word Of Mouth All It’s Cracked Up To Be? — and it’s interesting to see how much his perspective has not changed with the times. That’s unfortunate, but I still agree with some of what he says.

For instance, he starts out by lamenting about the latest FAD — word-of-mouth marketing and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and the fact that people are going to conferences for this stuff and the fact that none of this is new, etc. Ok, it’s not necessarily all new, but hey, Jack, lighten up. People want to meet and form communities. Associations and conferences and mail lists and phones and web sites and pagers are all based around the fundamental need for humans to talk to each other and that’s pretty much it. Then Jack launches into a long list of sameness: :

And that’s not all. Now we have a new dictionary to learn. Word-of-mouth is now buzz marketing, viral marketing, community marketing, grassroots marketing, evangelist marketing, product seeding, influencer marketing, cause marketing, conversation creation, brand blogging and referral programs. That’s the good stuff. What isn’t so good is stealth marketing, shilling, infiltration, comment spam, defacement and falsifications.

Totally agree. There’s a lot of marketing out there these days, eh? It cycles through, one FAD after another. He forgot “Web 2.0” though. No big deal, really. Good marketing — just like good anything — will come in different names at different times, but the best practitioners are timeless and always easy to find, even if the practices change. Again, people first. Quality cuts through crap and everyone knows who produces quality within a given community.

So far in the piece, he’s just poking fun (which is fun), but Jack doesn’t like these newer forms of marketing for a much bigger and more threatening reason — control. Although FADs come and go, I do think the giving up of “control” is here to stay and it pervades his “dictionary” of marketing terms up there. I think it’s good, but Jack thinks it bad. Really bad. According to Jack:

Now for the really bad news. There’s no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way. They aren’t getting paid based on how many widgets get sold. If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can’t depend on much else. Not too many mouths will do a stand-up commercial about your product vs. its competitor. Nor will they check with you in advance on what to say.

This all brings me to my word-of-mouth on word-of-mouth marketing. It’s not the next big thing. It’s just another tool in your arsenal. If you have a way to get your strategy or point of difference talked about by your customers and prospects, that’s terrific. It will help, but you’re going to have to surround it with a lot of other effort, including, if you’ll pardon the expression, advertising. You just can’t buy mouths the way you can buy media. And mouths can stop talking about you in a heartbeat once something else comes along to talk about.

Here’s where I leave you, Jack. “Developing positioning” …. “delivering messages” … “no way to control” … “let consumers take over my campaign” … and then ending up with buying advertising? That’s the answer? Wow. I’m glad I don’t live in that old paradigm anymore. There’s much more opportunity for win-win marketing doing business from the perspective of a community culture where things like “positioning, messages, and control” don’t exist and power is distributed among many participants.


9 thoughts on “Jack Trout’s Marketing

  1. Interesting discussion. It of course depends on the product you are talking about. In a B2B world, where a lot of Sun’s products are sold, the message about your brand is delivered by the sales person. The model of brand positioning means very little once the sales person takes over.
    Marketing’s job is to make the phone ring. Once it does, the sales team takes over.


  2. The problem with most of Jack Trout’s approach is that he has had the same opinions for the last 20 years (http://logiclane.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/captain-jack-trout-and-the-old-guard/), with no indication that he is willing to change. I agree with you that good practitioners don’t change, but I think we have been focusing on the wrong sort of marketing for too long. "Positioning" and "branding" focus too deeply on superficial strategies; typically strategy that are based on a lot of guesswork. We need to move back to looking at this culturally and forward to using technology to facilitate cultural interactions.


  3. Hey, Rich, nice to hear from you. I agree with you that he’s fundamentally wrong about the control bit, but I’m uncomfortable with your assertion that community marketing is about messaging and positioning. You and I have gone over this before, too. 🙂 I think the era of messaging and positioning is dying in many areas. I don’t think messaging works with developers, for instance, because developers are used to working in the open, and they too easily see through messaging that is delivered to them from the outside without their direct involvement from the very beginning of the process. So, I don’t think the opportunity for community marketers is to simply understand the community from a psychological point of view; I think the opportunity is for them to directly participate in the community as peer equals along with everyone else. And I think that’s a distinction with a very big difference. Influence still take place, of course, but influence comes as a result of participation, not as the going in desire on the part of the marketer. The marketer needs to join the community, interact with others in the community, earn his/her right to contribute over time, lead and contribute to open conversations, and share in the outcome of any decisions that result from those conversations.


  4. Jaime … I agree. It takes time to open closed systems. Some parts of Sun have always been pretty open; and other parts are just learning now. I think that’s normal for a large organization. To me, I can’t think of working any other way. It’s just easier, to be honest, to be open. Openness cuts through all the BS.


  5. Jaime … I agree. It takes time to open closed systems. Some parts of Sun have always been pretty open; and other parts are just learning now. I think that’s normal for a large organization. To me, I can’t think of working any other way. It’s just easier, to be honest, to be open. Openness cuts through all the BS.


  6. Christopher … I doubt that any marketing team has the ability to use any messaging scheme whatsoever to influence the openness and brutal honesty of community members interacting on mail lists. And I think you nail it: trust. Trust comes from participation, not from delivering advertisements or PR press releases or marketing messages. This is certainly true for developers, but I think it’s becoming more true for more markets all the time.


  7. Hey Jim,
    His problem is that his statement “There’s no way to control that word of mouth.” is fundamentally wrong. Community marketing is absolutely about messaging and positioning, just as all marketing is about influencing people to think certain ways. But with community marketing, we have to actually understand the people we want to influence, what motivates and excites them, and then DO stuff that is meaningful for them. The great thing about community marketing is that it makes you honest – you have to listen and respond to customers on their terms. But it is still marketing, it is still about getting messages and positioning understood viscerally by your audience (I know – look at all those EVIL marketing words in ONE sentence – horrors!!). Marketing is applied psychology. Community marketing is no different. It just uses a different “branch” of psychology that is proving to be more effective in the Participation Age. “Participation Age” – there’s a nice bit of positioning and messaging for you!


  8. I’m actually glad that someone “verbalised” a very common opinion. Actually, you can see that way of thinking everywhere, opening up something is hard and it requires a totally different way of thinking (and a much higher level of confidence). Just to keep this whithin Sun (but examples come from everywhere) I saw a guy complaining that a customer found out some particular piece of information before he did. That is an huge cultural clash and, it’s something we all have to get used to happen more and more often. In an open world, information rules and, no one can control all the information. That simple line carries with it a lot of mentality changes and, we can’t just assume everyone will jump into it overnight.


  9. Jim,

    Looking back on Marketing in the 80s and 90s, what are the lessons to be drawn about what “not to do”?

    besides: He amits being confused by it all.

    He writes: “Not too many mouths will do a stand-up commercial about your product vs. its competitor”
    Excuse me? Commercial? Commercial are sooo 2005. I base my evaluation of products on mailing lists posts. From people I trust. For example, if Guido van Rossum says m2crypto is the bomb, in a mailing psot, then I don’t care about a glossy ad in a glossy mag about a fancy program that does encryption. I’ll just use m2crypto. (Not that he said that, mind you, it’s just an example).

    Now, granted, I don’t talk about toilet paper. I just buy the store brand at Whole Foods.


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