Jack Trout is the founder and president of the international marketing strategy firm “Trout and Partners”. Jack Trout has written many books on strategic positioning. This interview uncovers the foundational principles from his 35+ years in marketing strategy.


In a hurry? Click this link to ---> download the interview transcription

Alzay Calhoun: Well hello everyone. It's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. I'm here with Mr. Jack Trout. It really is a pleasure to have him on the line today because if we're talking about positioning, he is one of those people that has been a forward mover of the topic. He's written over 15 books on the topic. He's written the book actually called Positioning. He's written Jack Trout on Strategy, a Genie's Wisdom, Big Brands, Big Trouble, Differentiate or Die. I mean, he spent a lot of his career focused on this thing called positioning. He's going to help us understand it. He's going to give us some tools to actually leverage it. We'll dig around here and we'll see if we can't find some insight that's useful for all of us.

Mr. Trout, how are you today?

Jack Trout: I'm fine. I've got a bit of a cold so you'll have to bear with me.

Alzay Calhoun: Fair enough, fair enough. Let's kind of start here. Where would, for someone who may have heard your name but not quite know where they may have heard your name from, where might someone know you from? What are you kind of best known for in the field?

Jack Trout: Well, I've been at this a long time. I'm probably one of the best well known marketing strategy people in the world actually. That's been driven by the many books that I've written on the subject. Let's start with the basic definition of positioning. People have to understand.

It's how you differentiate yourself, your company, whatever you're selling, in the mind of your customer, and your prospect. When I pioneered this idea in 1969, when the world was starting to get competitive, I recognized the fact that you win or lose in the minds of your prospects. What was the perceptions that they have of you, what you stand for, what makes you different. That's the game. I will give you a warning. It's not as easy as it reads. You can read all my books and say, "Here, that's easy."

Essentially I warn people. I say, "It reads easy, but it's not easy to implement." Primarily because people constantly want to grow. They want to get bigger, and they're not willing to sacrifice. You're not willing to give up something to get something. That's the trick, and it's very hard. It's not easy work, but it's critical if you want to separate yourself from your competitors.

Alzay Calhoun: Can you talk a little bit more about what you have to give up? That may not be intuitive for some folks.

Jack Trout: Well, a well known, I've forgotten exactly who wrote it, a very famous marketing, I mean business consultant, said, "We don't have an inordinate need to grow. We have an inordinate desire to grow." In other words, Wall Street is out there pitching various companies, and essentially all they want to see is, "How are you going to grow?" They force people to do stupid things, to get into businesses they shouldn't get into, to not stay with exactly what they are and find a way to just constantly improve it.

That's really what it comes down to. It's a willingness to not be what you shouldn't be. To sacrifice other ideas or businesses that you might want to pursue.

Alzay Calhoun: In terms of positioning, being seen as a market leader, being seen as best in your field, best in class. In your opinion, is this something that a company has to do?

Jack Trout: Yes.

Alzay Calhoun: Or can they get away with being second? Can they get away with being good enough?

Jack Trout: Well, look. In Differentiate or Die, I wrote a lot about this as a strategy. It's a question of where you are in the marketplace. If you're the leader, you reinforce your leadership idea. You continue to tell people that you're the leader. People tend to buy what other people buy. If you're number 2, you have to attack the leader at a weak point. You have to go where they're not. I covered that in great detail in my book called Marketing Warfare.

Then if you're starting something new, then you're in a whole different game. Now you're creating a totally different idea. If you're a small player in a big category, you've got to become a gorilla and understand how gorillas operate. Find a small piece of the jungle that you can find happiness in. Marketing Warfare is your best guide to determining are you defending, are you attacking, are you flanking, or are you a gorilla?

Alzay Calhoun: In your experience, is one of those positions better than the other?

Jack Trout: Sure, leadership. People buy what other people buy. If I could be number 1, I want to stay number 1. I want to continue to dominate and I want to make people aware of the fact that you're dealing with the leader.

Alzay Calhoun: If you choose the number 1 positioning ....

Jack Trout: You don't choose it. You can't choose it. You got to do it. You got to start something. You have to pioneer something if it's a new idea. Whatever it is, you don't choose it. You earn it.

Alzay Calhoun: Okay. All right. Let's talk about how you earn it then. What are the kind of, a moment ago you talked about some of the attitudes you got to take on. What are some of the kind of brass tacks things you've got to do in the marketplace?

Jack Trout: Well, number 1, every program starts with your competition. You have to understand deeply what your competition is about, where are they strong, where are they weak, et cetera. Now, if you're inventing a new category there is no competition. That's, of course, a terrific place to be, but again that's something you'll have to sort of invent something, start something, whatever. Step 1 is, what's the competition? Step 2, you have to determine where they're weak and strong and what position you can achieve. Very important. What idea can I take ownership of?

Number 4, what are my credentials for that idea? In other words, you can't just sort of say, "I'm here and I'm great." You have to have credentials. Is it research? Business you've done? Whatever it is. Then finally you have to communicate that idea. You have to go out in the marketplace and tell your story. Good marketing is good storytelling. That's the game. Those are the 4 key steps. Competition, why idea can I own, how do I back it up and prove it, and then finally, how do I communicate it?

Alzay Calhoun: When it comes to communication, have you found certain strategies to work better? Have you found word of mouth to be better than digital marketing? Have you found print to be better than digital?

Jack Trout: Well, look. Word of mouth is obviously very powerful. That's what's happening in this brave new digital world when all this crap on Facebook and all. You see a lot of word of mouth. Word of mouth used to be harder because it was one neighbor talking to another neighbor. Now you can do it electronically and digitally. The trouble is, a lot of it's how do you sort out the good from the bad? That's your problem. Obviously television, still today, it reaches more people. That's why the Super Bowl commercials. Everybody wants to do one of those, because of the reach of your story.

The problem is, if you look at today's advertising, I look at it and I say, "It's ridiculous." A lot of ads out there are, you have to say, "What the hell are they selling?" It's all about entertainment, getting laughs. The advertising industry, they want to make sure that people sort of watch the commercial. They have fallen into the entertainment trap. They're not selling much, but they're doing a lot of entertaining. That's why so many commercials on television today, you have no idea what they're selling, or you have only a vague idea. The advertising industry is not good at this stuff. That's been one of the ongoing problems. I find this all over the world. That's the problem with advertising. You have to be right on strategy. You got to tell your story. Sure, you have to find a way to dramatize it, sure, make it interesting, but you got to tell your story. You can't fall into the David Oglesbee, many years ago, said, "The trouble with too many creative people that like to play in their sandbox." You see a lot of sandbox play going on right now.

Alzay Calhoun: What should a business leader do in that sense then? If you talk about telling your story, and say, "Well I need some help telling my story so I should go to an advertising agency to help me tell my story." But I agree with you. A lot of advertising agencies don't do this well.

Jack Trout: Correct. That's why when you go to an agency you have to have a clear idea as to what your position is, what your idea is. You say to them, "Don't be creative. I want you to dramatize this idea, this concept. I want you to make it interesting. That's what your job is. Don't give me creativity. Give me dramativity. That's what I want you to do." You have to maintain control. You just don't throw it to these people and say, "What do you want to do?" That's your mistake.

Alzay Calhoun: Very good. I like that, the idea of, "Don't be creative. You can be dramatic." Right?

Jack Trout: Exactly. Dramatize my point.

Alzay Calhoun: Give me drama around what I'm giving you. Right.

Jack Trout: If I have a point of difference I want you to dramatize it.

Alzay Calhoun: Yeah. Excellent. I really appreciate that. What we're saying here is, as the leader of the business you've got to own your own message. You've got to be clear about that before you engage another firm. You've got to tell that firm what you're trying to do. They should help you, enable, that idea versus give you an idea to own. Yeah. Right, right. Great. Are there any big projects that you are working on as a firm, or that your firm is working on that you want to share with us?

Jack Trout: Well, not really. Most of my work is sort of, interesting enough, has moved over to China. China is a large country which is, as you know, going from what I call a manufacturing based economy, making stuff for everybody, to a market based economy. They realize now that they have to begin to try to build brands domestically, obviously. They have to find a way to take this positioning stuff and use it to build brands in China as opposed to just making stuff for everybody. That's been a lot of my recent activity, is doing various projects in China and sort of try to educate them about positioning.

In China, because they think now positioning is their key to success, I'm a rock star in China. If I go to China it's amazing. You know? They see me as the answer to their problem of how do we build brands? This is new to them. They've read all my books. In fact, they took all my books, 15 of them, and published them all, and put them in a box. It's called Trout in a Box. You can buy a box of every book. That's how hard they're working at trying to learn how to build brands.

Alzay Calhoun: I have a follow up question about that. Are these companies, generally speaking, are these the larger manufacturers?

Jack Trout: No, they're the entrepreneurs in China. The smaller players.

Alzay Calhoun: Got you.

Jack Trout: Remember the government runs the big stuff. In China they run the big, big deals, but what they've said, the deal they made for the entrepreneurs, the business class, is, "I'll tell you what. We'll do the big stuff. You guys can do whatever you want and we'll leave you alone on the smaller brands. Go ahead. Be an entrepreneur." Because it's such a big country there's a lot of business for even a smaller player to begin to build a brand. The numbers are so big.

Alzay Calhoun: Very interesting. Very interesting. Well, if someone wants to get in touch with your firm, or get in touch with you, where should they go?

Jack Trout: Go to the website. It's troutandpartners.com.

Alzay Calhoun: Wonderful.

Jack Trout: Trout and Partners. That's the place to go.

Alzay Calhoun: Wonderful. Well is there any parting words for us or anything we should know about before we close out today's interview?

Jack Trout: No. I think the key thing is, number 1, you got to understand your competition. Got to have a clear picture. Then, number 2, you have to find some way to separate yourself from your competition. That's super important. Else guess what you're stuck with? Price. How do I do it cheaper? That's the road to wreck and ruin.

Alzay Calhoun: Right, right. The winner of that game goes to 0 right?

Jack Trout: That's exactly right. That's good. Good look.

Alzay Calhoun: Right. Excellent. I appreciate your time today. I think we've nailed it.

Jack Trout: Yeah.

Alzay Calhoun: I thank you so much for offering your time today. Best of luck to you sir, in the future.

Jack Trout: Okay, thank you. Bye bye.

Alzay Calhoun: All right. Take care.

Save this interview for later. Click this link to ---> download the interview transcription


  1. Milou8 on February 1, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Jack Trout is one of the most important ad/marketing people in history.
    What every marketer needs to do is read, “The 21 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Jack Trout and his partner then, Al Ries. It’s the masterpiece on positioning.
    Positioning is owning your category, being No. 1. (If you can’t be No. 1, be like Avis and brag about being No. 2)
    Here’s ownership of a category, and how the book begins: “Who was the first person to fly from the U S to Europe?” The answer is Charles Lindburgh. The next question: “Who was the second person to fly that route?” Nobody remembers.
    Lindburgh was first person and almost everyone remembers him. Nobody remembers who number two was.
    Who was the first woman to fly it? It was Amerlia Earhart. She owns the category of being the first woman, and she’s remembered too.
    Own your category: Hertz, FedEx, Xerox, Coke. They own their categories and they own words: car rental, overnight, copy, refresh.
    Best regards,

    • Alzay Calhoun on February 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      Jay you are 100% right. If you only take one thing away from his work it should be “own a category”. It’s worth the extra effort to clarify who you are and own that idea in the mind of your audience. If you aren’t unique in any way…then why bother?

Leave a Comment