In Search of the Obvious Book Summary, by JACK TROUT

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1-Page Summary of In Search of the Obvious

The Era of Commoditization

There are too many products that are becoming commodities. A New York research firm found that only 21% of the 1,847 products and services in 75 categories had features that made them stand out from one another. Of 48 leading brands, 40 were becoming more alike. When branded products resemble each other, they lose their identity. This leaves them competing only on price which further commoditizes them.

As companies grow, their marketing departments tend to become increasingly commoditized. This leads to frequent turnover of CMOs as they’re hired and fired every two years. The reason for this is that marketers are not doing what they need to do: recognize the obvious rather than trying new things that don’t work.

If you are a marketer and want to sell a product, then an obvious approach is good. This is not something new or revolutionary. Robert R. Updegraff said that in 1916 with his book Obvious Adams: The Story of a Successful Businessman. He says that simple solutions are the best ones because they’re easy to see.

  • Ideas should be easy to understand by everyone. If it’s not, then the idea is too complex and will not be easily implemented or accepted. The right ideas are simple enough to explain in short words and sentences that people can immediately grasp.

  • A good idea is timely. This means that if you develop an idea that’s ahead of its time, it will be worth nothing to the world until a need has been established for it. A good example of this would be the Internet in 1995—no one had any use for it yet because there was no way to access information on the web and there were no websites at all. But now we have smartphones and tablets with apps that allow us to get information from anywhere at any time, so now we can appreciate what people saw as a great invention back then.

Unfortunately, business schools teach students to avoid common sense. They focus on things that are not practical or realistic. One example is the Xerox Corporation’s entry into the computer market at a time when it should have stayed in its core business of copiers. Another example is how economists use jargon instead of focusing on what people actually do and need in their everyday lives. To be successful, study reality rather than your ego and listen to others’ opinions before you make decisions about what’s best for them.

Common-Sense CEOs

A company’s success starts with the CEO. The CEO must make many decisions, but they should not overlook a simple concept: Customers’ perceptions affect their opinions about your products and services. CEOs can influence how companies operate, but customers might have already made up their minds about what they think of you or your competitors. A former General Motors CEO once said that GM had too many brands. He should have listened to his own advice because years later the marketplace proved him right by showing that he was wrong.

In addition to consumer pressure, Wall Street pressures companies to expand. This growth is not always good for the company because it can overextend itself and hurt its bottom line. Krispy Kreme’s stock rose and fell quickly as a result of this demand from Wall Street for dramatic growth.

A lot of businesses are misled by research that leads them to false assumptions. For example, marketers often confuse product or brand awareness with sales. The two factors aren’t related. People may be aware of GM cars, but they don’t necessarily buy them. Segmentation studies identify overlooked market segments, but do those segments really make sense? Research is also subject to fads such as visual ethnology and galvanic skin testing which aren’t predictive at all. Research works when it gives a quick picture of how customers view your product and the competition’s products. Getting into their deeper thoughts isn’t helpful.

In Search of the Obvious Book Summary, by JACK TROUT

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