A New Column by Marketing Guru Al Ries


Why It Hurts Marketers and the Economy

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Why is so much advertising so deadly dull? Perhaps it's the lack of real product innovation. Products that are new and different and serve a real need.

One culprit, in our opinion, is the concept of product convergence. Instead of

Typical of the convergence trend is Handspring's new Treo 300. It is a PDA, phone, Internet-accessing browser and e-mail system all in one.
trying to create exciting new products, companies are spending billions trying to combine existing products. Here are some recent examples:

  • The combination handheld computer/mobile phone (Palm, Visor)

  • The combination mobile phone/Internet access (Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson)

  • The combination TV/Internet access (WebTV, Ultimate TV, AOLTV, ZapStation)

  • The combination TV/personal computer (Gateway, Apple, Toshiba, Philips)

In spite of massive marketing programs, none of these convergence products have become big successes in the marketplace.

Consumer products
Convergence thinking is not limited to high tech. Many consumer marketers are enthralled with the possibilities of combining two products (and sometimes two brands) into one. So now we have:

  • Crest toothpaste with Scope mouthwash.

  • Jell-O Oreo No Bake Dessert.

  • The Chevrolet Avalanche and the Cadillac EXT, both models combining a sedan with a truck.

With the press, the pundits and the high-tech community firmly behind the convergence concept, who could possibly doubt that one day it will all happen?

Any student of history, that's who. "Those who cannot remember the past," wrote George Santayana, "are condemned to repeat it."

Remember when TV first appeared on the scene? Everyone thought the future belonged to those companies who could combine magazines and newspapers with TV. Good Housekeeping and many others failed in these efforts, most notably USA Today on TV, which lost $15 million the first year and was canceled during its second season.

'All hat and no cattle'
Remember all the hype about multimedia?

Xerox's WorkCentre Pro 412 is a copier, printer, fax and scanner all in one.
Just what in the world is multimedia? A newspaper is still a newspaper, a magazine is still a magazine, radio is still radio, TV is still TV, a PowerPoint presentation is still the same boring presentation we used to do with slides. But multimedia? As they say in Texas, "All hat and no cattle."

Remember the "all-in-one" computer printer, copier, scanner and fax machine? In spite of all the advertising, most people still have separate computer printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines.

And how come the washer didn't converge with the dryer, the microwave with the oven, the phone with the fax, the VCR with the TV, the printer with the PC?

The truth is, products and services don't converge. They diverge.

Radio used to be just radio. Today we have AM radio and FM radio. Also portable radios, car radios, headset radios, clock radios, cable radio and satellite radio. Radio didn't combine with another medium. It diverged.

TV diverged
TV use to be just TV. Today we have broadcast TV, cable TV, satellite TV and pay-per-view TV. TV didn't combine with another medium. It diverged.

The telephone use to be just the telephone. Today we have regular phones, cordless phones, car phones, mobile phones and satellite phones. Also analog and

Charles Darwin was right about divergence.
digital phones. The telephone didn't combine with another product. It diverged.

The computer used to be just a computer. Today we have mainframe computers, midrange computers, servers, personal computers, notebook computers and handheld computers. The computer didn't combine with another product. It diverged.

Why do things diverge? Divergence is consistent with the laws of nature and convergence is not. New species, reported Charles Darwin, are created by divergence of existing species not by convergence.

Few catdogs and chickenducks
As a result, we have hundreds of varieties of dogs and hundreds of varieties of cats, but very few catdogs or chickenducks or cowhorses.

What would help the economy, the high-tech industry and the marketing community the most is a rejection of the convergence concept and a return to divergence thinking. Thinking that built new markets and new brands.

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Al Ries is the author or co-author of 11 books on marketing; the most recent of which is The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. He and his daughter Laura run the Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries.

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