Smart Books: In Search of the Obvious Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

In Search of the Obvious: The Antidote for Today’s Marketing Mess By Jack Trout

John Wiley & SonsInc. ©2008, 208 pages,$27.95

About the book: “In Search of the Obvious” launches from Jack Trout’s realization that marketing is turning into a complex science of data mining, number slicing, niche segmenting and more, all of which translates into a confusing mess. Trout suggests marketers steer clear of all the distractions and refocus on that simple, obvious differentiating idea.

The author: Jack Trout started his business career in the advertising department of General Electric. He was a divisional advertising manager at Uniroyal before he joined Al Ries in the advertising agency and marketing strategy firm where they worked together for more than 26 years. He published his first best-selling book in 1980 with Ries, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.” Trout, author of several marketing classics, is president of Trout & Partners, a prestigious marketing firm headquartered in Connecticut. For more information, visit

Why you should read it: Jack Trouthas been writing about this topic for years in his books, articles and columns. As an expert, he convincingly encourages readers to get back to thinking in simple, commonsense and obvious terms and also sets a path that can lead to the right marketing strategy. 

Why it’s different: “In Search of the Obvious” offers some thoughts about what’s wrong with marketing today and some thoughts about how to approach it differently. It revisits the importance of customer perception; why a customer should prefer your product, how to dramatize a strategy to better involve the prospects and the need to get back to creating ads that help clients get more business rather than merely serve as entertainment.

Can’t miss: The first chapter outlines the five tests of obviousness, which Trout credits Robert Updegraff with writing in 1916. The rest of the book supports that they are still meaningful.

To share or not to share: As soon as we heard that Jack Trout had written another book, we stalked it. Yes, share it because it’s a Jack Trout book and though you may feel you already know the things he’s talking about, it’s not a bad idea to revisit them in today’s light.

Clarity of focus

Jack Trout doesn’t want you to be confused any longer. The fact of the matter is, marketing your company can get very tricky and can lead to a short career for those leading your marketing group. You’ve no doubt had multicolored spreadsheets and data reports thrust before you, begging thatyou act this way now. To combat that, Trout has hit the streets to separate the confusion from the facts for his book, “In Search of the Obvious.” His goal: Figure out the core of marketing to help people cut the clutter and get back to basics. Here, Trout shares some of the reasons that many marketing programs miss the mark.

Understand the problem

Chief marketing officers have a shorter tenure than National Football League coaches. CEOs may average only 44 months on the job, but CMOs get only 26. The problem is that 70 percent of the companies don’t know what they’re looking for when they recruit a CMO.

Jeff Jones, who was the chief marketer at Gap for two years, reported that he discussed 22 CMO positions over a five-month period. Not one coherently spelled out what he would be accountable for.

I decided to take a closer look at this problem to determine what is going on. Is tarted with a Peter Drucker quote that I’ve often written about that’s worth repeating: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only these two— basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

In other words, what is it that makes the company or product unique and different? That’s the assignment. The idea is the nail. The program is the hammer that drives it into the mind of the prospect. What couldbe simpler?

See the solutions

During my research, I came across an interesting study of 600 senior marketers by Advertising Age. In this research, they asked respondents to rank the marketing concepts that they pay most attention to in their jobs. The top 10 was clouded with more than 80 percent of people responding that it was things like customer satisfaction, customer retention, segmentation, search engine optimization and so on.

That is why CMOs are being fired left and right: Differentiation doesn’t even make it onto the chart. Forget all about data mining or number slicing or niche segmenting. Why should a customer buy your company’s product instead of the 10 or so competitive choices chasing the same customer? That’s the question you should be answering, and you should be building a program around the answer.

Don’t expect the advertising agency to come up with this answer. Chances are they will try to sell you emotion or entertainment or something that doesn’t supply that reason to buy.

Figuring out the right positioning strategy is only the beginning. You’ll have to avoid line extensions that just undermine what the brand stands for in the mind. And you will have to get around the Wall Street focus on quarterly and monthly results.

All you can do to fight off the financialsharks is to point out that without thatpoint of difference, you had better have avery low price. And very low prices meanvery low profits.

SPECIAL AUDIO CONFERENCE OFFER: Soundview Executive Book Summaries will host a 90-minute interactive audio conference with Jack Trout as part of the Beyond the Books series at 1 p.m. (EDT) on Thursday, Jan. 29. To sign your company up for a live connection to this conference so your managers can hear Trout’s advice first hand, call (800) 775-7654; mention Smart Business to earn a special discount or go to