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Sunday, March 23, 2008
 
MUTING THE IMMUTABLE

I've just finished reading a book I picked up at Powell's Books over the holiday break: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, written by father-daughter marketing team Al and Laura Ries. It's actually two books in one... or two concepts in one. The second half of the book is called The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. I read most of the book in February, and the delay owes something to a discrepancy in my estimation of the two halves.

The first half, which unsurprisingly focuses on the brick-and-mortar world and general concepts of establishing a strong brand, is excellent. Rule one, The Law of Expansion, states:
The power of a breand is inversely proportional to its scope.
The first example is Chevrolet, which they rightly identify as a brand without an identity. Why should the Malibu and the Silverado have the same hood ornament? What does either gain by being identified with the other? I've still never understood why GM stopped marketing the Metro as Geo, and made that another Chevy vehicle. The Corvette does not suffer from lack of identification with Chevy, just as Crest toothpaste does not suffer because I had to look up the fact that it's a Procter & Gamble product. And so on. Good stuff.

The second half of the book... a little more hit and miss. Here's part of the problem: It was released in September 2002. Therefore, the book talks up AOL as a success and mentions Google not once. It's not a total disaster; they're right that Monster.com is a better name for a job-hunting website than Business.com is for anything. But other sections are downright comical. Here are two of my favorites:
Apple Computer suffers from a lack of focus. It's the only major personal computer company that tries to market both hardware and software, including its own operating system. Hardware leader Dell Computer doesn't market its own software, and software leader Microsoft doesn't market its own computers.
Ha. Dell has been sliding for some time now, and some are urging Microsoft to abandon Vista and start over on their next iteration of Windows. Meanwhile, according to Wired, the only way to explain Apple's staggering rise over the past decade is that Steve Jobs is some kind of evil genius.

A related rule about modern business thinking is that the drive toward "convergence" is wrong. Therefore, they say:
When asked by Fortune magazine what unique opportunities Compaq was looking at, the new CEO, Michael Capellas, said: "You'll start to see devices converge. Who in the world doesn't want to have their PalmPilot, their telephone, and their CD player all wrapped into one so they don't have to carry three things on their belt?"

It will never happen. Technologies don't converge. They diverge. Yet the hype machine marches on.
Um... right.

Still, they were right to mock Yahoo!'s "all things to all people" approach -- that's a company which is still very successful by most measures, but is nonetheless considered to be in crisis. But that observation is very clearly carried over from the first half of the book and the problems of Chevrolet.

At the risk of looking like a fool myself in a few years, I'll go out on a limb and predict the only immutable law of the Internet is that no prediction about the Internet and technology can survive five years or Apple, whichever comes first.

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