Remembering Lessons for TV and Radio from Jack Trout, Co-Father of “Positioning”

Remembering Lessons for TV and Radio from Jack Trout, Co-Father of “Positioning”

I was saddened to learn of the death of marketing guru Jack Trout this week. Trout rewrote the rules on marketing with the books “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” and “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.”

Although those books were published in the 80s and 90s, most of the lessons within remain true to this day. In fact, you would find strands of DNA from Jack throughout the strategic research, brand analysis and other research services we provide to radio and TV.

I last visited Jack in 2007 at Jack’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut. I dug up notes from our conversation and find much of his analysis of and advice for media brand development is apropos to this day.

Specifically, he has some “tough love” talk for radio and TV. While television has encountered massive disruption, he pointed out back then that musings of TV’s demise are premature, because it is about the quality of the content, just like for radio.

Trout gives a lot to chew on as he singles out a few issues that we have discussed passionately with our clients – including ways to develop a deeper emotional connection with your audience, molding trustworthy and engaging personalities and developing informative and entertaining content. HOW consumers see and hear your product isn’t as important as HOW GOOD that content and those personalities are.

Jack: Well look, you only have one defense – it’s all about programming for the most part, it’s all about programming and personality. It’s what’s also happening with network television. A lot of people say “Well television is going to die,” but a lot of people watch “Desperate Housewives,” and it’s about all the reality shows, it’s all about programming, and that to me is the answer. Howard Stern goes over to satellite and they pay him a lot of money because he is a brand. People want to listen to him and that is the key.

I have always felt that the radio industry got a little lost when it drifted away into simple music positioning, because anybody can get the music anywhere. It’s the personalities that are going to differentiate the music. It’s what’s happening in newspapers. Let me tell you, the personalities are going to save the New York Times. It’s Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman, it’s the big name writers that I want to go see and read everyday. I think that is so important and that’s what television has is programming.

Hal: One of the issues that you raise in your book “Trout on Strategy” is being better or being different. It is so tempting to go up against a competitor head-on and say “We play better music or we have a better morning TV show”.

Jack: It’s better to be first than be better, that is the key. In terms of the format, do you remember when “All Sports Radio” was born? That was a unique idea. To me, you can’t win in the “I’m going to be better” game. It takes you nowhere because you just get in this terrific fight, which also doesn’t help the medium if you have guys slugging it out saying “I am better than they are.” I’ve always felt that is a waste of money and time.

Hal: – Radio and TV are such emotional mediums and our company is using Brand DNA research to try to measure those emotional feelings that listeners have for brands, and you know it’s more of an emotional bond than consumers have with other products.

Jack: A lot of that revolves around the personalities. It really does, it is the same with TV news. When TV had Brokaw, Jennings, or Rather, that was an emotional thing starting back with Cronkite. You trusted these people. You’re right, you can establish (an emotional bond with the audience) if you have a personality and people want to spend time with these personalities. It’s sort of like you get to know them over a period of time, – listeners sort of feel a bond and that’s what Stern had, a whole following.

Jack: The savior is programming and personalities, programming interesting stuff. I’m there for the program that’s the deal. I’m going to watch and I don’t care (how I receive the content) — I’m watching because of the show.

Hal: –What questions should a broadcaster be asking themselves when they are evaluating a brand strategy?

Jack: I would say number one – Where are they vs. the competition, especially in terms of perceptions in the market place. Every brand has attributes depending on the format, timely news, local news, weather, and/or interesting personalities. A human being is comprised of attributes, like a product. Once you line up the attributes you take what you consider are your key competitors and see where you have a competitive advantage. Then you reinforce the stuff that listeners give and you don’t try to do stuff that listeners don’t give you.

Hal: In other words don’t try to change their mind.

Jack: Don’t try to change their mind. People don’t want to change their minds, they hate it.

Hal: When is it a good idea for a media brand to say we are new and improved? And then when should you avoid that?

Jack: You should do that if you’ve screwed up. If you’ve been doing some stupid things and you’ve lost audience for whatever reasons. That’s the time to step up and say “under new management” or “new and improved.” That’s an old retail trick, if you screw up and customers stop coming to you, you put up a sign that said “Under New Management.” That’s the deal. That’s the time. Now you have to be careful – the only trouble is if you damage yourself to such a degree or you’re sitting on a category that has just sort of evaporated, then you kind of have to think about a new way and a new idea so that is what you have to figure out. Will this horse run, is this horse dead, do I have to shift horses?

Hal: That is what we tell our radio station clients – as media fragments and new competition arrives, these new competitors won’t hurt you if you have a strong brand and great content and personalities.

Jack: Basic Form. If you have a strong brand and you have some terrific programming, or if people go to you because of a long history of being connected to the local community, you are well on your way.

Jack: I worship simplicity and I just hate complexity, because it just always tends to be nothing but problems. If you have to spend a ton of money and effort just explaining (your brand position), you have a real problem on your hands.

I will have some of Jack’s other fantastic insights on another post on our blog. Sign up for alerts when new blog articles are posted!

Thanks for reading,

Hal Rood
Partner / EVP
Strategic Solutions Research
Twitter / LinkedIn: @halrood