Big Brands Big Trouble: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Big Brands Big Trouble: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

by Jack Trout
     
 

In today's supercompetitive marketplace, all it takes is one mistake to hand your business over to your competitors. And once it's gone, your chances of getting it back are very slim. What's worse is that there are not one or two but an entire army of competitors out there to take advantage of your misstep. It wasn't long ago when Levi's, AT&T, Crest, Xerox, and

Overview

In today's supercompetitive marketplace, all it takes is one mistake to hand your business over to your competitors. And once it's gone, your chances of getting it back are very slim. What's worse is that there are not one or two but an entire army of competitors out there to take advantage of your misstep. It wasn't long ago when Levi's, AT&T, Crest, Xerox, and Firestone were all at the top of their game, dominating the market with hardly a threat in sight. What happened to undermine their standing, as well as those of other superbrands?

In this important and controversial new book, the "king of positioning" Jack Trout reveals the disastrous marketing and strategy blunders that led to the trouble at some of the most recognized superbrands. And he provides candid analyses as to how those mistakes could have been avoided. Scrutinizing many of the world's most renowned companies under the microscope, Big Brands, Big Trouble provides in-depth case studies that chronicle the events leading up to the fall from grace of such mega-names as Xerox, Levi's, Miller Brewing, Digital Equipment, Burger King, and many others.

This page-turner also presents a set of expert guidelines on how to build, protect, manage, and expand your company's brand while avoiding some of the most common brand-killing blunders that can hurl you from the pinnacle of success to a scramble to stay afloat. Writing in his signature straight-from-the-hip style, Trout reveals some of the most common misconceptions about carving a niche for yourself in the consumers' minds, including why benchmarking doesn't really work (Pepsi's Sierra Mist); marketing research can be misleading (Xerox); line extension just makes your message increasingly fuzzy (A1-Poultry Sauce); shooting for profits rather than market share will get you in trouble (General Motors); and many others.

Trout will also reveal the most prevalent blunders in today's hypercompetitive world, such as:

• The "What are you selling?" mistake: The importance of defining the product category in a simple, understandable way.

• The "Truth will out" mistake: In the minds of consumers, perception is reality. Truth has no bearing on the subject.

• The "We're very successful" mistake: Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure.

• The "Everything for everybody" mistake: When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up becoming nothing.

By outlining the all-too-common marketing and strategy pitfalls, Big Brands, Big Trouble clearly demonstrates what can commonly go wrong and how to learn from the mistakes of others.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Trout, popularizer of "positioning" and president of a prestigious marketing firm (Trout and Partners), uses real-world examples of marketing and management gone wrong. After examining companies like Levi Strauss, AT&T, Xerox, Burger King, and Miller Brewing, Trout identifies the ten most common mistakes made by these big brands and develops a set of expert guidelines for managers and marketers to use to build, protect, manage, and expand their companies as well as compete in today's fierce global economy. One of the most interesting chapters is titled "Trouble in the Wind: Brands with Unresolved Problems," in which Trout briefly discusses the current problems of four well-known companies. These companies, like others, have made unnecessary mistakes and have shattered consumer perceptions. Business practitioners, researchers, and students will all use insights and learn techniques gleaned the case studies presented here. For CEO's, Trout's message is summed up in his final sentence: "Remember the Titanic." For all business collections. —Susan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque (Library Journal, August 2001)

Trout (Differentiate or Die) does the obvious in his latest book, rehashing the demise of well-known failures such as Xerox and Miller Brewing, and his redundant preaching of unoriginal strategies may irritate. But readers will find salvation in his straightforward, engaging prose and the constant hammering home of lessons (GM failed because it lost touch with the market, and AT&T tanked when it lost its focus). The book's first part is an excellent reminder of what managers should and should not do with a brand, making this a primer for the uninitiated. (Oct.) (Publishers Weekly, October 1, 2001)

The basic message of this snappy, readable book is nothing new, particularly for readers of the author's previous books. Success with consumers comes from clearly differentiating your product from competitors' and then relentlessly focusing your marketing and product development efforts on the differences. But here the long case studies add richness to the argument. In earlier decades, Trout explains, strong brands commanded a far bigger share of the marketplace than they do now. As affluent consumer became increasingly choosy about their purchases, the market segmented into far smaller groups. To maintain their reach, managers quite naturally turned to product extension, but that inevitably weakened the appeal of the base brands and helped turn their industries into low-margin commodity business. For brand managers under corporate pressure to grow rather than retrench, Trout has no answer other than urging discipline. But the colorful stories of failure and the hardheaded, concrete advice make for an engaging sermon. (Harvard Business Review, October 2001)

Business Book of the Week (Money Week, 23 November 2001)

"...a fabulous collection of mistakes..Trout finishes this book with good-humoured attitude...even if you learn little from this book it is still worth reading for the delicious schadenfreude it will give you." (Brand Strategy, December 2001)

"...Trout may be a humble marketing advisor, but he knows what ails big-brand America - and he has the remedy...it may be one of the longest business pitches in history, but it's a great read for all that." (Sunday Times - Book of the Week, 2 December 2001)

"...he provides in depth case studies and the book clearly demonstrates what can commonly go wrong..." (Business Monthly, November 2001)

"In Big Brands, Big Trouble he gives striaght-to-the-point advice on how to maintain leadership and exploit opportunities using in-depth case studies." (Ambassador, February/March 2002)

"...a valuable starting point for us all..." (Professional Manager, March 2002)

"...its a great refresher course for marketers and sound grounding for chief executives...brilliantly insightful..." (Marketing Mix, 18 September 2003)

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
Marketing guru Jack Trout sounds a wake-up call for big brands: rest on your laurels, and your unique identity as well as your market dominance could soon disappear -- as Levi-Strauss, among other companies, can attest to. Trout backs up his admittedly dogmatic approach with an in-depth look at, among other things, the management and model evolution of General Motors and the troubles of such companies as Sears and Crest. Throughout the book, he tempers his sometimes abrupt and sweeping statements ("Ego is the enemy of successful marketing") with a broad and compelling historical perspective.

Trout begins by laying out what he thinks are the most common big-name-business mistakes and indicates what they cost the companies that make them. He follows that with ten fascinating and sometimes lurid object lessons, involving corporate behemoths such as AT&T, Firestone, and Xerox -- some of which are on the client list at Trout's marketing firm, Trout and Partners. Then he looks behind the brands, at the consultants, boards, analysts, and CEOs he sees as overstepping or underperforming on their way to marketing disasters.

Company by company, Trout sheds light on popular myths of big-brand dominance, providing not only clarification but interesting insights into the fallibility of big names. Big Brands Big Trouble will make good reading for everyone from the marketing student to the CEOs of the companies Trout takes to task.

A scholarly and historical -- and often divergent -- take on some of these same issues and companies can be found in Gerard J. Tellis and Peter N. Golder's Will and Vision: How Latecomers Grow to Dominate Markets. (Magdalen Powers)

Publishers Weekly
Trout (Differentiate or Die) does the obvious in his latest book, rehashing the demise of well-known failures such as Xerox and Miller Brewing, and his redundant preaching of unoriginal strategies may irritate. But readers will find salvation in his straightforward, engaging prose and the constant hammering home of lessons (GM failed because it lost touch with the market, and AT&T tanked when it lost its focus). The book's first part is an excellent reminder of what managers should and should not do with a brand, making this a primer for the uninitiated. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Trout, popularizer of "positioning" and president of a prestigious marketing firm (Trout and Partners), uses real-world examples of marketing and management gone wrong. After examining companies like Levi Strauss, AT&T, Xerox, Burger King, and Miller Brewing, Trout identifies the ten most common mistakes made by these big brands and develops a set of expert guidelines for managers and marketers to use to build, protect, manage, and expand their companies as well as compete in today's fierce global economy. One of the most interesting chapters is titled "Trouble in the Wind: Brands with Unresolved Problems," in which Trout briefly discusses the current problems of four well-known companies. These companies, like others, have made unnecessary mistakes and have shattered consumer perceptions. Business practitioners, researchers, and students will all use insights and learn techniques gleaned from the case studies presented here. For CEOs, Trout's message is summed up in his final sentence: "Remember the Titanic." For all business collections. Susan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Rather than extol the successes of well known companies, Trout, president of a marketing company, details their failures as a guide to avoiding pitfalls. He does not reveal deep, dark secrets, but notes that there are many disasters to choose from these days. He does not provide a bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Why Bad Things Happen To Famous Names
As the president of one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the United States, Jack Trout watches the marketplace from a front-row seat - and in Big Brands Big Trouble: Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Trout has much to say about the gaffs and missteps of big companies that have floundered despite their past successes.

With a no-holds-barred attitude and an uncompromising perspective, Trout digs beneath the surface of more than a dozen companies to examine their biggest mistakes. By gathering a plethora of useful information about their bad moves and decisions, he offers ways for other organizations to avoid these mistakes in the future. The in-depth case studies that he provides detail the steps that have taken these companies over the edge of success into dramatic falls from grace. Included in his unyielding spotlight are companies like AT&T, Levi's, Miller Brewing, Digital Equipment, Burger King, Xerox, and many others.

A Sample of Mistakes
For every failure and downward plummet that Trout highlights, he offers his master marketer's opinion on the matter.

When he describes the importance of finding a unique word or idea to base a marketing campaign around, he points out the disasters that resulted when Burger King tried to sell itself as "fast" when McDonald's already firmly holds that distinction in consumers' minds. He writes that Volvo has preempted the concept of "safety," and Mercedes-Benz and General Motors cannot take that perception from consumers, no matter how hard they try -, in the same way that the Energizer bunny cannot take the idea of "long-lasting" from Duracell. His advice: "It'smuch better to search for an opposite attribute that allows you to play off against the leader. The key word here is opposite - similar won't do."

Lessons Learned
Throughout the book, Trout plays branding guru by posting lessons that every big company should heed, and spends time describing why these messages are essential to a company's longevity. His lessons are as simple as:

  • Beware of success. "Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure." Trout believes the prestige of owning a Buick or an Oldsmobile was undermined when these companies developed cheaper models.
  • Leaders have to block. Leaders must win once to become the leader, and win again when they copy a competitor's move, before the attacking company gets a foothold.
  • Don't lose touch. When CEOs lose touch with the front lines, they can be lulled into a sense of security by middle managers who tell them what they want to hear. Top executives should keep a trustworthy soul or two around who can deliver the unvarnished truth.
  • If you're known for one thing, the market will not give you another thing. History taught Xerox that the company cannot reach beyond copiers with computers, Ethernet or Team Xerox. Trout writes, "People will give you what made you famous, no more."
  • You can't predict the future. When the technology predictions published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Business Week, Fortune and Forbes between 1958 and 1989 were analyzed, 80 percent were wrong.
  • Lack of leadership is often the problem. If a CEO does not take an active role in keeping a company focused on what made it successful and developing strategy, bad things can happen.
  • Never underestimate a bigger competitor. Always take a big competitor's moves seriously. The bigger they are, the more serious the threat. If their success could have a serious impact on your business, strike first to preempt their strategy.
  • Perilous times require perilous action. The best leaders know when they must retreat.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Written in plain, blunt language, Big Brands, Big Trouble dissects the concept of branding with expert insight and a vast wealth of experience.

Trout's words of wisdom are followed by many valuable stories from the front lines. Having played a pivotal role in some of the largest marketing campaigns ever launched, Trout has lived the lessons he imparts, and has the credibility of success to back up his advice. His stories about massive marketing disasters and the occasional stunning recovery provide a gripping framework for his messages, and provide unlimited food for thought for his readers about the wars that are constantly being waged behind the scenes of a volatile marketplace. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471414322
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
10/05/2001
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.69(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Once again, Jack Trout manages to get to the very heart of what makes companies great and what makes them fail. Unlike so many others, Jack seems to write with the CEO in mind frank, straight-forward, and dead-on." —Rick Fersch, President and CEO, Eddie Bauer Inc.

"Everything Jack Trout writes makes so much sense." —John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's Pizza

"You're holding the Aesop's (Business) Fables for this age of discontinuity. Jack Trout's observations ring true for EMC where we've managed to stay out of trouble by anticipating the next thing." —Mike Ruettgers, Executive Chairman, EMC

"It's 'True Trout', clear, concise and actionable. It's the best book I've read on stewarding big brands in today's competitive environment." —Bob Waldron, Vice President, Marketing, General Mills, Inc.

"A must read for marketing managers. In today's hyper-competitive markets there is little room for error." —John Spotts, Vice President, Marketing, Woolrich, Inc.

"Big Brands Big Trouble is a crisp indictment of marketing executives who ought to be shouldering more responsibility. It is packed with useful insights about how to manage innovation." —Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Companies to Fail

Meet the Author

JACK TROUT is President of Trout & Partners, one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the United States, with offices in twelve countries and a client list that includes AT&T, IBM, Merrill Lynch, Southwest Airlines, and other Fortune 500 companies. Recognized as one of the influential gurus of marketing, Trout was the first to popularize the idea of "positioning" products and ideas in the minds of consumers. A sought-after speaker, he is the author of numerous marketing classics, including the bestselling Differentiate or Die (Wiley), Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, and The Power of Simplicity. Please visit Jack Trout at www.troutandpartners.com

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