Light gets it right; cultural change requires a multidimensional approach to marketing

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Say one thing about Jack Trout: He knows where he stands. But in standing fast to his belief in positioning, he appears to be standing still. Trout's takedown of a recent speech by Larry Light, chief global marketing officer of McDonald's, ends with a gibe at Light's notion of developing different brand stories for different audiences: "I'm sorry, Larry, `brand chronicles' are not the way of the future. It's only a way of turning a brand that stands for something into a brand that stands for nothing" (AA, July 19).

I believe that Light is on to something. Something big-bigger, perhaps, than he knows. The stable mass market that made Trout's "positionista" stance viable is stable no more. Social trends that I've been watching for three decades have led to a fragmentation of the market that shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the branding environment that companies now face is becoming ever more diverse and ever more fluid. Adopting an approach that is "multidimensional, multifaceted, multisegmented" (to quote Light) only makes sense. Add to those trends a wave of new technologies that give consumers direct control of media, and what you get is a situation that neither Trout nor Light quite knows how to handle ...Here's the dangerous little secret that no one wants to hear just yet: It's not about media. It's about culture. What exactly will replace mass-media advertising as the dominant mode of marketing? That's up for grabs. But whatever it is, it will involve weaving the strands of a brand directly into the strands of the culture in a way that consumers find relevant.

In a world where consumers do not sit still, the mere resolve to "stand for something" won't get you very far. The reason is simple: Trying to be one thing to all consumer groups means being not especially relevant to any of them. Larry Light gets that. Trout says, "Positioning is how you different-iate yourself." Maybe so, but differentiation is beside the point. What matters to consumers today is how you connect with them, not how you separate yourself from competitors. And once connection trumps differentiation as the watchword of marketing, the logic of Trout's whole world view falls apart. Put it this way: If you stake out a position that no one cares about, what keeps it from being just a pose?

Granted, the future implicit in that question will seem a little scary to some. As for me, I'm lovin' it.

Faith Popcorn


Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve

New York

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