Not a Jack of Hearts...

04 Jul 2006|Darrel Rhea

Jack Trout has long been a hero of mine, after all, he was writing on branding when I was in high school in the 60’s. But there comes a time when pioneers not only loose their leadership edge, they start looking antiquated. While Trout has introduced or popularized scores of ideas that have influenced how we think of branding, his current thinking is muddled and misses sound marketing basics he has developed such a reputation for.

In his current blog, he questions the value or importance of a brand’s emotional resonance. Trout’s old school positioning is focused on creating differentiation on the basis of functional and economic experiences, and he rejects emotional experiences as providing real value. What is he thinking?

When talking about emotional branding, he cites Wal-Mart’s success and asserts “you can safely conclude that the only thing people really get emotional about is price.” After bashing brands that attempt emotional connections, he added this…”Don’t give me emotion, just give me a reason to buy your brand instead of someone else’s. And if you don’t give me a reason, you better have a low price, because that really gets me excited.” Since when isn’t emotion a reason to buy? Is this the same Jack Trout that 30 years ago said “People buy on emotion and justify with fact”?

Worse, he doesn’t seem to know what an emotion is. He calls “prestige” an emotion, and also throws in “health,” “attracting the opposite sex,” and “fighting aging.”

Yes, having differentiated product based on functional attributes is nice to have, but in today’s world, it is an advantage that you might only have for days. Jack has made a career of preaching simplicity, but he needs to get up to speed with the simple distinctions around experience. A brand can be simply focused and differentiated with based on emotional experiences, but even better, it can create meaningful experiences. By understanding meaning and experience, brand marketers can create powerful brands and products. Jack provided some of the foundation of this thinking, but it is now time for him to catch up.

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