November 15, 2006

Book Review: Differentiate Or Die

Some of the very best books on marketing and public relations I've read in the last few years have come from the desks of either Al Ries or Jack Trout, including "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind", "Marketing Warfare", "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" and "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR". Anybody in the business familiar with customer options, market trends and the battle to make noise in a crowded field will find themselves nodding along through the books' pages - seeing example after example prove their points. As a result, I was eager to read "Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competititon", which Trout issued in 2001 - recent enough to be relevant, but older enough to be amusing, where he managed to get things wrong.

While I again found myself nodding when Trout retold the stories of how GM confused its market, and lost ground against more agile competition, again saw the example of Volvo meaning safety and BMW meaning driving in consumers' minds, I was hoping that this book would "differentiate" itself from all those that preceded it. But it didn't. After getting the message right away that there are more products and line extensions than ever, and that marketing teams need to find those characteristics of their company and products that separate it from the competition, it was the same tired examples that were trotted out in this  book that Trout had used in each of his other books, including his advice that Burger King present itself as the grown-up burger as the alternative to McDonalds, or that Coke had blundered when it changed its tagline from "The Real Thing".

Truth be told, some of the best parts of the book were his comments on Web companies in the era of Web 1.0, where he said would rise above other health sites thanks to his branding, and that eToys would win in online toy shopping. What a difference a few years makes...

Maybe I shouldn't expect that business and marketing advice books such as these can all be read - in the same way I would consume every John Grisham book and Steven King novel. Maybe Jack Trout only has a few dozen stories, and by repackaging them with a new title on the cover is his way of differentiation, but I was hoping that by paying full price for a new book, I would be getting a full book's worth of new stories, examples and advice.

If you haven't read any of Trout's books, "Differentiate or Die" is a good one to start with. If you've already read "Positioning" and "Marketing Warfare", then you've pretty much already read this.