It’s been a few months now since you’ve had a half decent book review from me, although some would question whether there has ever been a decent one ever. So I thought I better catch up on my reading.
And who better to read than Jack Trout and his most recent book, In Search of the Obvious. I picked it up while waiting to travel back from my recent visit to the IDI conference organised by the marvelous DMI crew in New York recently. For those of you who didn’t attend, it was a fascinating day. For me a good conference should always have a little bit of stuff that makes you go “hmmm…I never thought of that” and a little bit of something that makes you go “you have to be kidding.” IDI had all of that.
But, rather stupidly on the flight back, I checked in my copy of Inside Steve’s Brian, the story of Steve Job’s and his rise, fall and rise again. We will leave that for another day. Instead I rushed into Borders before getting on my plane in search of something, anything, to keep me amused. And in my usual way I saw this book in a prominent, eye level position in the business section and picked it up.
I have read some of his other books before and his 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing sits half read on a shelf in my office. Fortunately, having read this book I think I can pretty much say I don’t need to finish that or read any of his other stuff.
Let me do the review bit first. If you don’t like book reviews you can skip the next paragraph, then I will do some thinking you can take to the bank based on the book.
So to me, the book felt like a combination of new and interesting takes on some old ideas. In order to get to that stuff you have to read a lot of regurgitation of these ideas (cheap copy to write because you just copy the stuff you wrote before and paste it again, then sell it as new) and some clear swipes at campaigns and companies that he doesn’t approve of (or pitches he didn’t win?). It’s a great book, but you have to bare with it, in the same way as you bare with my rambling in these articles. Did I mention how cheap it is to regurgitate copy because you just have to copy the stuff you write before? Oh, I did. On a side note I should say that whoever edited the book should have been shot. But that doesn’t make it a bad book.
OK, so this is the bit you can take to the bank, courtesy of Mr Trout. Fundamentally, what the book is about is simplicity in Marketing. What Jack Trout says is that bored marketers spend too much time and energy trying to justify their position to Boards that really only care about this quarters numbers. As a result they tinker.
Trout points to the proliferation of Coke Brands, Mercedes Benz Vehicle ranges and GM’s demise as examples of fidgety marketing departments.
The thesis is to keep things simple. If you are the Real Thing then keep it real. If you are the Ultimate Driving machine, don’t play with it. If Safety is what you do in cars (Volvo), then why create a sports car or a convertible. It all about as relevant as a Manbag.
In between these pages there is some genius stuff that some of the speakers at IDI could really have used. Often, as marketers we spend time trying to think of new and complicated ways to get our message over when, actually what we should be doing it trying to find simple ways to get simple messages over. Twitter, facebook and WOMM are all clever, but getting overly clever about those campaigns will not help a company succeed.
If you are a Newsweek or an HBR or a Nikkei, all of whom presented at IDI, then reading In Search of the Obvious is for you. Sitting in the audience I could not help but believe I was watching the beginning of the end of these organizations. They seem to have forgotten what it is they do and why people subscribe to them. To me it seems obvious and their value proposition also seemed obvious. They own content and great creative writing. If you are HBR, you own some of the most respected comment in the business world; people want to know what you have. You aren’t going to sell more subscriptions by cheapening that brand; you are going to sell them by connecting readers to the content. I subscribed to HBR because it connected me to a body of thinking, not because of the special offer. I stopped subscribing when I stopped reading; I stopped reading because I didn’t connect.
In short, looking for the obvious, the blindingly obvious is not a bad think, it’s a good think. Cutting back to what is simple is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. You should dream of being able so simple.
And so do I