Catching up with Jack.

Author:McKenna, Joseph F.
Position::First cut

Via the pages of Forbes magazine, I've reacquaint-myself with Jack Trout after 15 years.

If you don't know Jack Trout, point yourself in the direction of Steve Forbes' magazine, a really good bookstore, or the website for Trout & Partners. Master Jack and his colleagues bill themselves as "global leaders in strategic positioning." That's no empty boast on their part, either. Just ask any of their clients--from Aero Mexico to DuPont to Xerox. The name of their game is "positioning," or, as they explain it, "a body of work that figures out how to best position your company, product, or services in the minds of your customers and prospects."

In the marketing world, Trout is considered the prince of positioning. His 2004 book, Trout on Strategy (McGraw-Hill), is the culmination of 25 years of experience. But a lot of business folks know him best for the insights he and Al Ries shared in such books as Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.

Back in 1993, while covering the marketing beat for a management magazine, I had a chance to talk with Trout about those durable marketing laws, including Law No. 3, the law of the mind. As Trout and Ries explain in their business classic, "It is better to be first in the prospect's mind than first into the marketplace.... Being first in the mind is everything in marketing. Being first into the marketplace is important only to the extent that it allows you to get into the mind first."

For the record, Jack Trout also proved to be one of the most affable business gurus around. A four-star raconteur, Trout had me laughing so hard during the interview that our server threatened us with permanent banishment from her restaurant.

All this came back to me as I read his Forbes column about China. He was pointing out that China's "high-speed manufacturing machine" is experiencing globally-generated growing pains. Since China will never really corner the world market on low costs, he observed, it "must consider taking what can be called the 'branding highway.' This takes it to where it can start to build local and international brands that offer more than just...

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