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March 07, 2006

George Knocks Trout Out of the Water

George Silverman has come out swinging with knockout blows directed towards Jack Trout’s Forbes column on why Word-of-Mouth (WOM) marketing isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Check out this tasty touché from George’s must-read “Jack Trout Attacks WOM marketing” blog posting.

“In a dazzlingly out-of-touch article for, Jack Trout has attacked word-of-mouth marketing. This probably means that word-of-mouth marketing is now a big enough threat to the establishment that it is worthy of attack. It's rather sad to see such a venerable old-line marketer so out of touch. It's also sad to think that a lot of old-line companies are going to listen to him.”

You go George ... read more HERE.

My beef with Trout’s take on WOM is that Trout wants to control every aspect of every consumer conversation about a product. Trout writes the following,

“There’s no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way. They aren’t getting paid based upon how many widgets get sold. If I go to all this trouble delivering 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.”

Jack … it’s not about you. It’s not about how you, or any one marketer or one company for that matter, can control consumers with marketing missives. It is about how consumers can help marketers spread marketing messages.

In today’s multi-channel, multi-dimensional environment, marketers cannot begin to place marketing messages everywhere consumers are. The costs do so are way too prohibitive. WE NEED HELP. WE NEED TO ENLIST THE HELP OF CONSUMERS TO HELP US. The game has changed from when and where marketing messages are delivered to HOW and WHY marketing messages are delivered. Some companies get this (Apple, YouTube, Google, Scion, Skype) and some companies don’t (AT&T).

Trout has been touting the marketing concept of positioning for over three decades now. I’ve studied his writings on the topic and I’m a firm believer in this positioning concept. But I believe that if a marketer has properly designed a positioning strategy for a product/service, WOM will not only get people mentioning the product’s name … WOM will also get people mentioning why that product/service matters. Dig?

Ya know … when it comes to meaningful words on Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Trout is a fish out of water.


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As every parent knows, "control" is an illusion.

A few months ago, Forbes' target was bloggers. Sadly, "out of touch" rings pretty true when it comes to Forbes these days.

Trout has definitely put his foot in his mouth on word of mouth. He is missing the point about isn't his to give up. He's on the way back machine and it doesn't sound like he will be returning....

I think you are missing his point: with WOMA you don't have any say in the message being passed along. Doesn't matter how you position your service, the sneezer passes on the message he/she wants. If you notice any review sites (like the apartment reviews) and the Amazon book reviews, it is the extremes mainly - either people who love it or people who hate. Because it takes passion to write/talk about something. The problem is that there is always more negatives than positives.

When Trout says: "You've got to have a product or service people want to talk about in a positive way, and there aren't many of these around." He is saying the same thing that you and Seth say: Make something REMARKABLE.

Peter ... I agree 100% when Jack says you gotta have a product that is worthy of talking positively about. I’ve said this many, many, many times on Brand Autopsy. But to think we marketers can still control what people say and when people say it is outdated.

We used to be able to do that much better when people lacked the tools to communicate beyond their circle of influence within their actual neighborhood. These days, people have the tools to extend their circle of influence within our virtual neighborhood. Big difference. Big enough of difference to totally upend the command and control marketing warfare rules Trout touts.

Is WOM the only strategy a marketer should follow? Heck no. I agree with Trout when he says, WOM is another tool in a marketer’s toolkit.

Bravo John and George. One of the first marketing books I read in college was Jack Trout's book on positioning. And the most influential book I've read as a marketing professional is George's book. "The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing" made me re-think and change from developing a teen based anti-smoking campaign, to a teen owned anti-smoking movement. The first would have won some creative awards, gained some awareness and died when the state stopped funding the campaign. The movement that was created instead has continued without state funding for over 2 years. Because the teens own it. Pardon my bluntness but the consumer is on top now, and I don't think they want to change the view.

As experienced as he is in marketing, Trout is a WOM/evangelism atheist. Maybe he'll see the light one day, on his own terms.

I agree with the post. However, based on what Ben at Church of the customer wrote, why does so many modern-day marketing authors ask Jack Trout and Al Ries to write testimonies on the back cover of their books?

Some of the best books on the topic too! "Purple Cow" "Creating Customer Evanglists" "A Clear Eye for Branding."

I really don't know the answer but my guess is many people who are out-of-touch with the new marketing practices of today still recognize Ries and Trout as a household name in the marketing world.

Regardless, these guys are like typewriters. They were great when they first came out but lost relevance when the computer came along. Of course, the computer being WOM.

"... these guys are like typewriters." -- nice take Steve. Since you make a lot of smart comments ... when are you gonna start posting them on YOUR blog?

Thanks John. I thought about starting a blog but the only stuff I'd come up with would be an echo of what you, Seth, Ben (Church of Customer, Tom (Clear Eye) and Kathy (Passionate Users) talk about on a daily basis.

You guys are in the big leagues man! I'm just a fan ejoying the show and soaking it all in....

I'm a bit late to this post, but here I go again...

I'm not against WOMA. Far from it. But it's at least step 4 or 5 in a series of 10 things you have to do. Maybe even step 8. I don't know. I'm a pint short of where I need to be on coffee.

Word-of-mouth should/can certainly be *part* of your plan, if it works with your product, campaign, strategy, etc. But Trout's point is that there has to be a "there" there before there's anything to buzz about. And that "there" is created by us -- marketers -- 99% of the time.

If you think that Apple *relies* on WOMA as the chief driver of its success, you're high on crack. In fact, when it has done so in the past, it has failed miserably.

And if you think WOMA only started as a tactic with the advent of technologies that let people yakkity yak on the Internet, you're also wrong. Word-of-mouth propelled the success of products like long-time category winner Hershey's chocolate, that went 60+ years without any advertising whatsoever.

Yes, WOMA can be powerful. Yes, it can happen "organically." But you simply can NOT plan on that happening without putting some serious bones into a program that pushes a consistent marketing message that makes sense with your product. Otherwise -- and this is I think Trout's point -- you run the risk of "bad buzz." If "the marketplace" (i.e., customers, bloggers, competitors, mainstream media, kids on skateboards, your mom) has more control of the flavor, content, style, meat, meaning, direction, etc. of your message than you do... that's really bad.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, as marketers, we're responsible. People lose their jobs when we suck. Shareholders lose investment value. If we toss crap over the wall and say, "The market will take care of buzzing this or not... the vox populii is in charge now... not my responsibility..." that's a huge cop out.

If we want to incorporate WOMA into a fully realized, multi-dimensional campaign; great. If you want to treat WOMA as, essentially, another medium, super. Put it on a grid next to your interactive, email,TV, radio, print, DM and out-door spends and calendar spreadhseets. Look at how you *plan* for those media to impact your WOMA. Ask yourself how the AUDIENCE of a word-of-mouth campaign (i.e., the "ear-of-mouth") will react to what you think/hope the vehicle (the "mouth") will say.

Treat "the mouth" like a medium. Measure the ROI. If I were your client and you were trying to sell me a line-item on your consulting bill for a WOMA campaign, I'd say, "Cool. How we gonna measure the impact on an advertising cost-per-acquisition basis against me throwing that money into doing a better radio spot? Convince me, Johnny..."

The "wisdom of crowds" brought us The single, great advertising mind (Ridley Scott) brought us the "1984" Apple Mac commercial, which is the single greatest success story in advertising history.

TV's still got a big mouth. Word.

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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