Don’t be a carboat

I’m reading this interesting book on branding I picked up called, The Origin of Brands by Al and Laura Ries.

When I bought it, I didn’t know anything about the Ries pair (father / daughter), and I must admit I was actually looking to pick up Godin’s new book. But the theme of the book caught my attention and it’s been a fascinating read so far.

The book is modeled on Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In it, the Rieses argue that brands, much like nature, are driven by diverging forces.

Divergence is tough for us to grasp. When we’re talking about the future, it’s natural to think in terms of combining existing products or services.

We get goofy and think to ourselves, People use ink pens. People use pencils. What if we combined the two? People would only need one writing utensil!

What we learn after loads of money and time spent on R&D is that you end up with a crappy pen and a crappy pencil, sandwiched into one awkward stick. We’re left with a product that nobody thinks of when they want to doodle or take notes or sign a check.

Instead of convergent efforts, the Rieses promote divergent thinking in the form of establishing new brands in new categories.

So instead of trying to jam ink and lead together, think like Sharpie. Or develop gel pens. Or maybe some edible paint. Whatever it is – make it something that isn’t already out there. Something that people don’t even know they need.

And when you do it, don’t dilute your existing brand by dragging it along with your creation. If your brand is known for making pencils – no matter how much you think people love you and how much “respect” the name carries – don’t slap it on your new line of quirky paper products. You’re better off establishing a new brand, hopefully to be known as the kick-ass, obsessive-about-quirky-paper brand.

And perhaps my favorite example from the book is the carboat. The German company Amphicar introduced their autoboat in 1961 to much publicity. Say the Rieses:

Like all convergence products, the Amphicar performed neither function well. Drives like a boat, floats like a car, was the buyers’ verdict.

So think differently. Be the first. Start new categories. Stand for something specific. Don’t be a carboat.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Don’t be a carboat

  1. Pingback: Sales tips we can all use « The Rally Flag

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