Put yourself in your customer's position for a minute. He wants to purchase something the family can enjoy together, and thinks it might be a spa. You carry several models offering a wide array of features, benefits, options and colors. Your competitor across town carries just as many models with just as many options. He touts the lowest price, while you promise the best service. The spa outlet on the edge of town advertises spas galore — and throws in a free barbecue.

While in your store, Mrs. Customer spots your line of saunas and thinks that might be the way to go, because she really enjoys the one at the gym. Meanwhile, her kids are immediately seduced by your selection of above-ground pools, although Mom saw a much cheaper model at Sprawl-Mart. And, of course, everybody is excited about your competitor's line of swim spas. The Customers are going to have to give it some thought, because they could also treat themselves to the home theater system, new computer, Hawaiian vacation, or off-road motorcycles they also want.

Welcome to what marketing strategist Jack Trout calls the "tyranny of choice." More products, more brands, more models, more features to choose from and a constant influx of the new and improved. "With the enormous competition, markets today are driven by choice," says Trout. "The customer has so many good alternatives that you pay dearly for your mistakes. Your competitors get your business and you don't get it back very easily. Companies that don't understand this will not survive."

As founder and president of the international marketing firm Trout & Associates Ltd., headquartered in Old Greenwich, Conn., Trout has spent more than three decades preaching the gospel of "differentiation," the life preserver that keeps products and companies from drowning in a sea of choice. Now he brings his message, "Differentiate Or Die," to the AQUA Show in November as the featured keynote speaker. His mission will be to inspire and motivate pool and spa dealers to rethink, revitalize and reinvest in their marketing plans to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive, in the competitive 21st century.

Trout describes the level of competition in today's retail market as "ferocious," and predicts the trend will only continue. "Your prospects have a number of places they can go to buy similar products. The trick to survival out there is to find a way to set yourself apart," he says. "To be successful today, you have to establish that point of difference. If you don't, the only alternative is to have the lowest price, and if you want to live in the land of low price — good luck!"

Trout is credited with developing many of the most important approaches to marketing, including "positioning," which has rapidly become the world's No. 1 business strategy. Trout describes it as "the way in which you differentiate yourself in the minds of your customers. The mind is the ultimate battleground in all marketing wars," he says. "Positioning deals with the importance of being first, starting new categories, repositioning the competition, the importance of the name, and the need to sacrifice and focus your efforts."

Trout says he will provide AQUA attendees with the most successful tactics for defining a position in the market that will set them apart from the crowd. Based on the revelations in his best-selling book Differentiate Or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, his keynote will focus on some of the most successful differentiating techniques, including leadership, attribute ownership, heritage, hotness and preference.

Noting that "leadership" is one of the most powerful ways to differentiate yourself, Trout explains, "If you're the No. 1 supplier of a particular product in the marketplace, you should exploit that. People are impressed with leaders; they think, 'They must be doing something right.' Leadership can also be technological leadership or sales leadership. It comes in different forms."

Trout believes pool and spa dealers are in a prime position to capitalize on the differentiation technique known as "market specialty." "People are also impressed with those who concentrate on a specific activity or product. They perceive them as experts," he says, noting that specialists have a definite edge in today's market. "Which retailers are in trouble today?" he asks. "The department stores — the places that sell everything. That's a recipe for disaster because it's very hard to differentiate an 'everything' place."

Today's market offers very little middle ground, according to Trout. It is largely dominated by the mass merchandisers (read: Wal-Mart), who can kill everybody on price, at one end, and successful niche marketers at the other. "The retail world has divided up into more and more specialists who are well-focused, doing what they do very well," he says.

With the current emphasis on home and health, Trout predicts that competition in the "backyard living" category will grow, presenting consumers with more and more options besides the products you sell. Maintaining your position in this flourishing market will require a good marketing plan solidly based on your "difference." "You have to exactly capture what you're about, what you can do, and why potential customers should call you," stresses Trout.

In The Beginning

Jack Trout began his business career in the advertising department at General Electric, and went on to become a divisional advertising manager at Uniroyal before starting his own company. With offices in 13 countries, including ones in Europe, China, Russia, India, and Australia, Trout & Associates has counseled hundreds of successful foreign and domestic companies, including AT&T, IBM, Southwest Airlines, Xerox, Merck, Procter & Gamble and the World Tourism Organization.

A sought-after speaker around the world, Trout is also the best-selling author of several marketing classics, including Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, Marketing Warfare, Big Brands Big Trouble, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and the latest, Trout on Strategy.

With the real estate and home improvement markets booming, Trout feels pool and spa companies are well-positioned to succeed — if they take advantage of his message and get motivated to establish a strong marketing plan. Even if you are not in direct competition with other spa and pool dealers, you are competing against other purveyors of lifestyle products. "Either way," says Trout, "it's an increasingly competitive world, and you have to learn to better cope with competition. That's what I'm going to be talking about — and that's why you should attend this session."

Trout's Keynote

AQUA Show & Conference

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 11:15 a.m. — 12:15 p.m.

Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas

Free admission with Show registration

Ten From Trout

  1. "If you ignore your uniqueness and try to be everything to everybody, you quickly undermine what makes you different."
  2. "Don't try to tell your entire story. Just focus on one powerful differentiating idea and drive it into the mind."
  3. "Where there's a will there's a way to differentiate. You can differentiate anything."
  4. "Quality and customer orientation are rarely a way to differentiate yourself. Quality is a given these days, not a difference."
  5. "Price is often the enemy of differentiation. By definition, being different should be worth something. It's the reason that supports the case for paying a little more — or at least the same — for a product or service."
  6. "To build a logical argument for your difference, you must have the credentials to support your differentiating idea, to make it real and believable. Consumers are skeptical. You can't differentiate with smoke and mirrors."
  7. "Every aspect of your communications should reflect your difference. Your advertising. Your brochures. Your Web site. Your sales presentations. The bottom line: You can't over communicate your difference."
  8. "Having a good differentiating idea is not enough. You have to have the resources to build a communications program that proclaims your difference to the marketplace. An idea without money is worthless."
  9. "When you study the marketing wars, the well-differentiated specialist tends to be the winner. The specialist can focus on one product, one benefit and one message. This focus allows the marketer to put a sharp point on the message that quickly drives it into the mind."
  10. "The best way to enter minds that hate complexity and confusion is to oversimplify your message. Be ruthless about how you edit the story you want to tell. Anything that others could claim just as well as you can, eliminate. Anything that requires a complex analysis to prove, forget. Anything that doesn't fit with your customers' perceptions, avoid."

From: Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000), by Jack Trout with Steve Rivkin.