Commentary by Rance Crain

THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAND DIVERGENCE

New Book Explores the Darwinian Side of Marketing

By Published on .

It seems, at first glance, to make perfect sense for high-tech marketers to devote most of their waking hours to figuring out how to load one gizmo with more and more disparate functions. Ever since the combination of the clock and the radio, the holy grail has been "convergence."

Why not? It's logical, as a convenience, to let multitaskers do their thing with one handy product. And techies fervently believe that if they can do it, they should do it. They've been cheered on by the media because you can't sell newspapers without constant change.

Never mind that most consumers haven't exactly embraced convergence, and that careers have foundered on its shoals. Still, hope springs eternal: The New York Times reported at year's end that "the convergence of media and technology, long predicted but not yet fulfilled, is at last showing signs of happening."

Better off to simplify?
But wouldn't high-tech marketers be better off improving and simplifying stand-alone products? That's the law of nature, and it's the theme of The Origin of Brands, a new book by Al Ries and his daughter Laura to be published in the spring.

Charles Darwin first enunciated in his The Origin of Species that all animals split off from one another like twigs on a tree. Al and Laura contend brands evolve in the same way. "In nature, changes in the environment create the conditions that cause species to diverge. In business, changes in technology and in the cultural environment create the conditions that cause categories to diverge," Al and Laura write.

TV has diverged into analog and digital TV, regular and high-definition TV, rear-projection and flat-screen TV, plus broadcast and cable TV, satellite, pay-per-view. TV didn't converge with another medium such as the computer (as much as everyone wanted it to). It diverged.

"Did you ever see a tree in which two branches converged to form a single branch? Perhaps, but this is highly unlikely in nature. And it's also highly unlikely in products and services," the Rieses contend.

Competition
Two of Darwin's principles of nature also apply to brands. "Competition between individuals (brands) improves the species. Competition between species (categories) drives categories further and further apart," say Al and Laura. "This is an important concept because your instincts might lead you in the opposite direction. If you think of 'the' customer as a single identity (and many companies do), your instincts are to satisfy 'the' customer's every wish. As a result, a portable computer needs to be full-featured, yet ultra-light. In other words, you put yourself right in the mushy middle where there is no market," they state.

The importance of divergence
Al and Laura note Darwin's genius was to see that species such as dogs and cats (and man) might have had a common ancestor but branched off, or diverged, in response to environmental changes. In fact, the differences between species became exaggerated, what Darwin called nature favoring the extremes.

Darwin didn't like to label his great work "evolution" because the divergence principle was equally important. But, as Al and Laura say, the evolution of brands is widely accepted as a marketing concept. "Yet over the long haul, it's divergence, not evolution, that creates the most opportunities to build a brand."

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