Seems I’ve spent a lot of time in the interviewee chair over the years. Recently, I had a discussion with Jon Brulloths of PM360, a resource for pharma marketers. You’ll see his questions in bold. Our talk began with what should be a central theme for all marketers — brand differentiation…
What can pharma learn from the successes and failures of your many campaigns over the last 40 years?
JACK TROUT: Find a meaningful way to differentiate your product, or in some respects reposition your competition, which is another strategy that can be fairly effective in pharma. But really—it all comes down to that simple concept of how do you differentiate yourself.
What did you learn from your branding flops? Because even though you’re known for numerous successes, I know there must have been some flops in there.
Early on, the biggest lesson I learned is that you can’t change people’s minds. If you inherit a problem—there it sits; you could spend a jillion dollars and you wouldn’t change people’s minds. I made a few mistakes in that direction, trying to resurrect a brand that you just couldn’t resurrect, and it was a painful learning process. The other most important lesson I’ve learned was also learned the hard way. Essentially, if you don’t have the top people involved, you’re done. In my latest book, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change, and Crisis, which is just coming out, I have a chapter that says, “It all begins and ends with the CEO.” It is critical to have that person involved. He or she is the ultimate chief marketing officer. You’re not going to get anywhere unless you get the top people to a) understand the strategy, and b) agree to execute it properly.
What is your new book about?
Many years ago I wrote a book called Positioning. Interestingly, there was a twin to this concept called “Repositioning” whose time has come. That’s why it’s entitled Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change, and Crisis. Repositioning deals with those three C’s that are causing so much trouble for business.
Repositioning is a wonderful tool against those three problems. “Positioning” is establishing a point of difference in the consumer’s mind. “Repositioning” is adjusting perceptions in the consumer’s mind. Its use is if you’ve got new product competition, or you need to evolve a product, or you must deal with a crisis right now. Now how do you adjust your product’s perception to accommodate the financial crisis?
What would you say to a marketer who has a brand in a difficult position?
Here’s an example: Prestige is “out” now, and value is “in.” If you’re trying to sell a prestige product, you’ve got a problem. What do you do? Adjust the consumer’s perceptions. If I was selling a $15,000 watch I would say to the prospect, “This watch is so well made that your grandchildren are going to love this watch.” You are essentially saying this product is an investment. It’s no longer about buying the watch to impress your friends and neighbors.
You’re seeing this more frequently now as these expensive products’ managers are saying, “What am I going to do now? How do I change my strategy?” But you can’t change it—I’m not talking about changing people’s minds. But what you can do is adjust perceptions that already exist in the mind.
What do you feel is the value of brand icons, for instance, the Geico lizard, versus real people in branding a product or service or business?
Well, obviously the Geico thing was born primarily of gecko/Geico. It was a name memory device. It’s grown into, shall we say, the opposite of the Jolly Green Giant. So we have a little guy who’s now the spokesperson. It’s effective because they can use this little lizard to deliver the message. He delivers their saving money idea. But what’s nice about that spokesperson is that it’s really a device that gets people to watch it. Because it’s interesting—watching a gecko talk is kind of fun. But the key is, he says meaningful things, vis-à-vis Geico. It was pretty effective years ago with the Jolly Green Giant.
How would you market a drug that has serious side effects?
You’ve got to admit a negative to get a positive, but only if it’s to address a well-perceived problem. You use the law of candor and admit that this is a drug that has got some real side effects. Sure, there could be a potential problem, but the benefit of this drug overcomes the negative.
Here’s an example from the early Listerine days. Scope came into the market and said, “If you use that stuff, your mouth will smell like a hospital”—and “medicine breath” was the concept Scope hung on Listerine. That was very effective because people said, “Yeah, my mouth does smell like a hospital.” Then Scope set up the positive, which was, “Hey, you don’t have to have it. You have a good-tasting mouthwash here called Scope.” That was a very effective way of getting into the marketplace with the law of candor.
Listerine countered though. They responded, “Yes, the taste you hate twice a day and, if it tastes that bad, it must kill a lot of germs.” That was how they were able to get around that problem, and why Listerine is still the number one mouthwash and Scope is number two.
So what is the single biggest driver of brand success, aside from product quality?
Big brands really tend to own an attribute or a concept—and that can be very, very powerful. BMW owns the word “driving” in the consumer mind; Volvo has “safety” going for them; and Toyota’s got “reliability.” Google owns “search.” It’s now a generic brand—“Google it.”
How do you keep up-to-date?
I read the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune, and The Economist. They enable me to keep current on just about everything. They’re the scorecards to the business world: who’s up, who’s winning, who’s losing, and why.
What career management advice would you give to a marketer today?
Work with smart people. They’re not easy to find, but that’s fundamental. Never work for stupid people because you won’t learn enough. Or you’ll learn the wrong things.
Marketing is not really taught well in schools—you need to learn on the job. The best way to do that is to work with smart people who are confident of their abilities and experience.
They won’t hoard all of the responsibility. They’ll say, “Let’s let them do it”—because they’ll look at a person very quickly and know whether they are doing right or wrong. You listen to them, watch them, and emulate them.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievements?
Putting the concept of “Positioning” into the business world’s lexicon is probably my biggest accomplishment. As to my conceptual work over the years, I would have to say that I am most proud of Papa John’s “Better ingredients. Better pizza.” John (Schnatter) and I cooked that up years ago. That has been one of the most resounding business successes in which I was intimately involved.
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