Learnin’ from the big boyz

Big Brands, Big Trouble, by Jack Trout; to be published September, 2001 by John Wiley & Sons; hardcover, 240 pages, approx. $40

Big Brands, Big Trouble, by Jack Trout; to be published September, 2001 by John Wiley & Sons; hardcover, 240 pages, approx. $40

A meandering hodgepodge of wit and wisdom from one of the most influential marketing minds in modern history, Big Brands, Big Trouble reads like the telltale memoirs of a high-powered consultant. Whereas Trout’s earlier book Positioning (co-authored with Al Ries) was an uber concept groundbreaker, this one is more of a told-you-so aimed at some very high-profile former clients who decided not to listen to him.

Trout starts off by listing the brand-killing traps many corporate leaders fall into. For example, they have a me-too product; they assume the truth of the product will eventually out somehow; they attempt ownership of the same concept as a competitor; they try to be all things to all people; they are afraid to cannibalize underperforming product lines; they are weak and lose sight of strategy. Trout also reminds us that marketing is a battle of perceptions, and ‘the mind of the customer is where you win or lose.’

Pretty much what you’d expect from Mr. Positioning.

The mud flies, and the fun starts, when Trout launches into the gory details of how some former clients, like GM, Xerox, AT&T, Levi, Crest and Firestone, have fallen into the aforementioned traps and suffered as a result.

The case studies are on the superficial side, and Trout is devoid of any sense of humility – to the point that his sour grapes tend to get in the way of objectivity.

Nonetheless, Big Brands is a great read. There are plenty of pithy quotes to underline and bring up when someone you know wants to do something stupid. The fundamental concepts of marketing are not really that complicated – it’s the implementation that’s a killer. Studying the mistakes of big boyz is a great way to avoid some serious pitfalls. If it can happen to the best and brightest, it could happen to you.

Unless, of course, you choose to learn from history.

BookMark Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Mark Szabo is an account director with Parallel in Calgary. He is lonely and can be reached at mark.szabo@parallel.ca.