Big Brands, Big Trouble is a no-holds-barred look at the greatest brand marketing errors of the last three decades in the United States and U.K. Unlike most books about how to be more successful by looking at the winners, this one looks primarily at the people who did it worst in order draw out the lessons for today. Further breaking with tradition, author Jack Trout names names and relates private conversations in which he unsuccessfully attempted to encourage alternatives. From there, he selects prominent consulting firms, boards of directors, and investors interested in profit growth for special scorn in contributing to the debacles. Along the way, management advisor icons like Tom Peters, McKinsey & Company, and Michael Porter are body slammed by Mr. Trout's criticisms.
The book opens with a few key points:
(1) "[P]eople perceive the first brand to enter their mind as superior." So benchmarking against other brands will be misleading. You have to compete with what's in minds, not what's in reality.
(2) Be clear what you are selling if you establish a new category. Calling something an Apple Newton as an example of a PDA doesn't tell much. Calling something similar a Palm Pilot does.
(3) It's hard to change an established brand. Look at new Coke.
(4) Don't try to stretch brands where they won't go. A.1. Poultry Sauce makes no sense.
(5) Focusing on profits leads to mistakes. You will only do unrealistic things, as Miller did in destroying its brand. Instead get profits from doing enough of the right things to strengthen and grow brands.
(6) Attack yourself with new brands from new positions. Don't wait for the competition to do it.
From there, you will follow along discussions of GM's forgetting the basic lessons of segmentation that Alfred Sloan put in place (each brand having a higher price and higher perceived quality), Xerox predicting an office revolution that never occurred and missing the opportunity to become the king of laser printers, DEC ignoring the PC, AT&T moving away from communication into computers and cable, missing the chance to be "the reliable choice," Levi Strauss failing to segment for style, age, and outlet, Crest losing the therapeutic segment to Colgate's Total, Burger King backing away from touting its advantages versus McDonald's in favor of searching for Herb, Firestone trying to fix its battered brand rather than establishing a new one, Mark's & Spenser losing the service and value positioning while becoming less stylish for young people, and Kellogg's heavily promoting generic cereals.
In the end, Mr. Trout argues that it's all about knowing competitors, avoiding your #1 competitor's strength in your marketing focus, exploiting your #1 competitor's weaknesses in your marketing, crushing small competitors as soon as possible, shifting the battlefield to your advantage (shades of Sun Tzu), and paying attention to what's going on in the marketplace as your top priority from the CEO on down. Ultimately, he restates these points as: "it's all about understanding that the mind of the consumer is where you win or lose;" stay in touch; think long term; and "Remember the Titanic." .
Basically, Mr. Trout is arguing that bad decisions come from imagining success from places where you cannot hope to predict what will happen next, pursuing actions that look good in the first year and are a disaster after that (such as endless line extensions), and forecasting volumes that aren't going to happen. You might think of these perspectives as quantified dope-smoking. If you want company, he warns you that neither your consultants nor your board will have the knowledge or guts to warn you from your follow but will gladly accept as much money as you want to spend with them. You, however, will end up holding the bad. It is interesting to note that many of the biggest flops have come from companies that made the biggest use of the most prestigious consulting firms. Somehow the disasters didn't stick to the advisors though.
After you finish this book, I suggest that you take a similar look at your cost reduction efforts. These actions are usually flawed with the same weaknesses and abetted by the same parties.
By the way, do you really want to ask the opinion of someone who may write bad things about you in a future book? I assume Mr. Trout has decided that he doesn't want to attract new clients from companies having problems. I don't quite understand why this approach is good for Mr. Trout's brand. I certainly wouldn't want to hire him, even if I thought he might give me good advice. What do you think?
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