Jack Trout Lends Perspective to Word of Mouth
Writing in Forbes, the legendary Jack Trout pokes a hole in the word of mouth bubble claiming its nothing new and in early days basically accomplished the same thing by tapping "early adapters" with traditional marketing to get them to talk up a product. He riffs on both the positives and the negatives of the current flavor of word of mouth and questions the relinquishing of control marketers give up if they plan to enter the word of mouth space writing, "If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can't depend on much else." Certainly the current iteration isn't completely about giving up control as it's filled with tactics and strategies to control, guide, enable and direct the seemingly uncontrollable but, Trout does have a point.
While it may sound "old school," Trout is simply advocating we be very wary about the issue of control and how much of it can be given up without completely losing control of the brand. Now, mash up and consumer-generated media fans will decry this claiming people should morph the brand into what they can better identify with but surely a line is reached at some point when loss of control spirals out of control leaving the brand high and dry. Others will counter and say that's the whole point. With increased participation in brand conversation by both consumers and marketer, everything about the brand self-corrects to the betterment of all involved.
The current concern Trout and others have with this new form of marketing has is very similar to the concerns many had and still have about the web and email as marketing channels. Just as those two channels are filled with familiar dreck called pop ups, adware and spam, word of mouth is filled with inappropriate stealth, comment/blog/forum spam, defacement and shilling. It's a slippery slope for sure - vastly different from the media world of the sixties, seventies and eighties but vastly more exciting, invigorating and, we wholeheartedly believe, vastly more effective for marketers who need to move product.
With all due respect to Mr. Trout, who is a proven marketing expert, he's kind of missing the point. He's right, bad products and services get bad WOM. But that isn't a WOM Marketing problem, it's a product problem. That negative WOM is happening whether we like it or not, the point of WOM Marketing is to be a part of the conversation. WOM isn't just buzz agents and viral emails. It's hearing what the consumer is saying and responding, whether that means improving the product, changing the messaging, or whatever. Like irony? How about the fact that I read his article as a direct result of reading the post on adrants...in other words, WOM led me to his article about WOM being overrated.
The thing is, the advertiser doesn't have control in the first place, so how can you be worried about giving it up? As someone said on another blog, "control is an illusion." The greatest thing that could happen to your brand is for it to be hijacked by the customers. As we always say, "Your brand isn't what you tell others about yourself. Your brand is what others say about you."
This is not another case of either controlling or giving up control.
It is not either or!
The best marketers understand that the future is all about balancing the two forces correctly. Think about it is co-creating or co-collaborating, rather than controlling or giving it away. Think what P&G is doing with innovation -(see this month's HBR)
Some of these old school gurus have a vested interest in protecting the ideas they developed 50 years ago.
Ideas, that sadly for them, are not as relevant as they once used to be.
Thinking about marketing as warfare, (targets, campaigns, etc) is simply the wrong model and the wrong paradigm for the future of this business.
We need to be listening to the new generation of marketing thinkers and their ideas- Godin, Gladwell, Searls, etc...
In response to all the chatter about Jack Trout's comments on word-of-mouth marketing, Jack Trout invited a group of "buzz evangelist" to face off with him on his radio program. Steve Rubel and Rick Murray of Edelman, Emanuel Rosen of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, Seth Godin, Joseph Jaffe and Errol Smith (me....producer of Trout Radio) sat down to deconstruct the buzz around word-of-mouth. I listened to all the arguments before sitting in on the roundtable discussion to end the series and concluded that rumors of Jack's "passing" are indeed greatly exaggerated... You can hear the interviews at the roundtable wrap up at:
and the entire series at:
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