Advertising still key to marketing, but keep it simple: Trout

JAIPUR: “What’s the similarity between Jack Trout and the Kama Sutra: Positioning.”

That was how quiz master par excellence Derek O’Brien introduced the marketing legend, who made the opening address on the last day of what has been an exhausting week for anyone trying to take it all in. Too much of a good thing might just about describe it.

Jack Trout

Trout made three key positioning statements in his presentation. These were:

*Differentiate or die;

*CEOs must get involved in marketing strategy and not just be led by Wall Street and the numbers game;

*While the key element of marketing remains advertising, advertisers need to get a grip on the message. In the effort to be entertaining, the aim of the communication is getting diluted..

Trout began his presentation with a warning: “Before you break the rules, you have to know the rules.”

He suggested that for those looking to make a mark in emerging markets like India, which presented not only big opportunities but also challenges, the US market should be viewed as a competitive laboratory.

Trout stressed that having a clear and different brand positioning was even more critical today in this “age of tyranny of choice” as he called it. An example he gave was of dog food, of which there are 180 competing brands in the US (they sure love their dogs there).

An immediate advantage that the brand would have was if it took ownership of a basic attribute, said Trout, giving examples like Visa (present everywhere) and Volvo (safety).

Trout spent a lot of time expounding on how critical was the role of the CEO. The principal thing company CEOs should do was think long term, and not be “led by Wall Street,” he said, adding, “If you live by the numbers you can die by the numbers.”

He gave the example of car giant General Motors to make his point. In 1921 chairman Alfred P Sloan Jr decided that GM would have five basic brands all clearly differentiated in price and that worked brilliantly for the company taking it to 50 per cent of US market share. According to Buffet, the company went into decline after Buffet Jr passed away because the finance guys took over. He also gave the example of billionaire investor Warren Buffet who has been on record as saying that his role was to building businesses, not the share price.

On the subject of CEOs, Trout had one rather strange point of view, CEOs should not try and predict the future because nine times out of ten they would get it wrong. Question: Isn’t looking at future scenarios a part of developing long-term strategy?

Trout is also the votary of the evolutionary philosophy to brands. He believes constant reinvention of brands rather than frequently introducing new products is a better option.

On the subject of advertising, Trout said there was too much being made of concepts like emotional bonding with the consumer which he termed a “A load of crap.” The Trout principle: ads should offer a simple message - reason to associate.

“Be sure to supply a reason to buy,” says Trout, of the communication. And that is not be sticking the product at the very end of a 30-second commercial. At least 15 seconds of brand pitch should be there in 30 seconds of advertising, he believes.

Trout is not one for catch lines and company logos either. Surprise, surprise: he wasn’t impressed with Nike’s “Just Do It” tag line. A meaningless slogan is how he termed it. When this writer asked him to suggest an alternative he suggested this line: “What the World’s Best Wears”. Ho-hum.

Of course there was sensible logic being applied here. Trout said the message that 4,000 of the world’s best athletes sport Nike apparel. When it was put to him that the line was targeted at a young audience who related well to the imageries and associations “Just Do it” evoked, Trout said a middle path of having both in the ad, so that both messages got through..

Brand India needs fresh leadership, ideas: What Trout had to say about Brand India, around which there has been much talk these last few days, would no doubt have raised some hackles. He said the poor level of infrastructure as well as education did not augur well for the country.

But his harshest criticism was against the political leadership who he indicated were too old and set in a mould to be able to lead the way for the changes that were needed.

He said new thinking and fresh blood in the leadership was what was required.

A possible way out could lie in mending fences with Pakistan so that funds being wasted in the arms race could be made available for development, he said. Sounds great, but try telling that to Musharraf or the many hawks on both sides of the border.

Trout concluded by saying that the American market didn’t offer much spoke as it was full up as it were. It is in the emerging markets that the opportunities are there waiting to be tapped, according to Trout.

Kazakhistan anyone?

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