Capturing the Mind of Your Customer -- Timeless Lessons from Jack Trout

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: Capturing the Mind of Your Customer -- Timeless Lessons from Jack Trout

Jack Trout, a marketing thought leader and legend, recently passed away; however, the lessons he espoused on brand positioning remain timeless.  Jack was a co-founder (with Al Ries) and pioneer of Positioning Theory and Marketing Warfare Theory, which has always inspired me professionally, but his passing was also personal to me.

I first met Jack Trout when he worked for my father, as a Divisional Ad Manager at Uniroyal. Fast forward 25 years to my next encounter:  I was now in the media business and in a meeting with Jack (pictured at top) in his Greenwich offices.  We were seeking positioning and marketing ideas for ActMedia, a young in-store media company whose primary products were ads on supermarket shopping carts and aisle directories.  We were there to talk about a new product we were launching with then Turner Broadcasting called the Checkout Channel, which offered satellite-delivered programming from Turner to TVs in supermarket checkout lanes.

We knew we wanted to promote Checkout Channel's value and differentiate it in our target customer's mind.  We thought we needed a catchy but credible slogan or tag-line.  Jack said that every product and service has a slogan.  "What you need is a position," he told us -- a value proposition that will create a clear and understood position in the mind of your target customer.  This was especially important, as we were selling Checkout Channel against the biggest players in the ad business, network television.

Our position had to be strongly articulated surrounding the fact that we delivered a super-targeted shopper audience 3x each week, cost efficiently, right when they were shopping in a supermarket.  This "metrics" positioning, coupled with the emotional positioning of taking "sight, sound and motion" television creative into the retail environment, where only static messaging had previously existed, allowed us to tell a great story: The purest level of audience targeting for the advertised brands, at less cost, using television creative.  That positioning created a clear value proposition versus the broader and more expensive audience delivery of network television.  Suffice it to say, we hit all of our launch targets, bringing in 15 high-profile national advertisers.

Today, the level of competition in all consumer and business marketing sectors is exponentially greater than ever before.  We also live in a world of "snackable" information, six second ads, ad blocking, influencer marketing and evolving definitions of what quality content actually is.  Change is our ongoing reality, at a pace that is ever accelerating: Adapting to change and all the new rules and ad formats that we have is necessary to effectively compete in the new media and marketing world.  Yet, the constant is that Jack Trout's ideas around positioning remain needed now more than ever before.

Wherever we advertise and message -- via :30s, in personalized news feeds, sponsored and native content, through social media channels and on a multitude of platforms -- our highly fluid, fragmented and "noisy" messaging world we live in makes it more critical than ever to focus first on a positioning strategy.  It is the foundation that drives home those multiple ways we choose to message our company, brands, products or services to increase sales.

So, in addition to conversations focused on content delivery systems, personalized messaging, customized content, trending stories, brand safety, cross-platform measurement and on and on, in today's hyper-competitive marketplace we all will benefit by re-visiting a few of the timeless insights Jack Trout gave to the marketing world.

  1. Positioning is how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect.  You need to find a clear and simple position that will clearly resonate and find a unique space in your prospect's mind.  The biggest competitive mistake usually made is that of trying to be everything to everybody in the mind.
  2. Replace the concept of advertising with the concept storytelling.  You must have a good story that makes an emotional connection, verses your competitors.
  3. Stay nervous.  Paranoia is the key to success.  Constant diligence is critical in a competitive world.  Everyone is after everyone's business, so a good worrier is a good marketer.

Thanks, Jack.

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