“Your Boat Is The Brand”

Once upon a time, Jack Trout was the man. After all, he is the acclaimed author of many marketing classics, including Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Marketing Warfare, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Differentiate or Die. But now he’s come out against word-of-mouth in Forbes, making him look old-fashioned, at best.

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 on how many widgets get sold. 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.
This all brings me to my word-of-mouth on word-of-mouth marketing. It’s not the next big thing. It’s just another tool in your arsenal. If you have a way to get your strategy or point of difference talked about by your customers and prospects, that’s terrific. It will help, but you’re going to have to surround it with a lot of other effort, including, if you’ll pardon the expression, advertising. You just can’t buy mouths the way you can buy media. And mouths can stop talking about you in a heartbeat once something else comes along to talk about.

Trout still sounds reasonable, when taken alone. However, when you examine some of the criticism, it changes the impression considerably.
Here’s Steve Rubel’s:

This is nostalgic thinking. It’s almost like saying that we should go back to using typewriters over computers since we don’t have to worry about getting a virus. With consumers pumping oodles of content onto the Web, marketers have already lost control of their brands whether they like or not. They need to deal.
Marketing today is much more like sailing than driving. Your boat is the brand. If you point your boat in the right direction, follow the winds/currents and steer, you will get the boat to go where you want it. Marketers should become the wind, but accept that they’re at the mercy of the currents and weather. Word of mouth marketing, when done right, is the wind.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.