I had the chance to ask Laura Ries a few questions about her latest book, "The Origin of Brands." I really enjoyed reading the book, but I especially enjoyed hearing Laura's thoughts about our business. Here are my questions, and her answers.
I’m part of the Xbox PR team, and our group is involved in communicating the positioning of the Xbox brand. Even though this book doesn’t go into detail about the role PR plays in evolving a brand, I’d love to hear a summary of “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR” as it relates to “The Origin of Brands.”
1. What should PR do before a brand launches (a divergent brand), and after a brand launches (evolution).
The Xbox generated an enormous amount of publicity, thanks in part to your advance introduction of the brand, some 18 months before it was available for sale. This is the point we made repeatedly in our book, “The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR.”
The Xbox, however, wasn’t the first in the next generation of videogame players. PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were first. To build a strong No. 2 brand, you need to be the opposite of the leader which is one of the key ideas in “The Origin of Brands.” Coca-Cola is for older people, so Pepsi-Cola became the cola for younger people. This is the position the Xbox needs to occupy.
The book points out that Microsoft was first in consumer operating systems, but many of our successful product lines are actually second-place products. I might argue that Office (at the time Word or Excel) WERE divergent because they were based on a GUI (graphical user interface) rather than text (like Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect/WordStar). But other products (Money, Encarta, Picture It!) were #2 in their space, and weren’t necessarily divergent, though they had some innovative features, different design, and perhaps more marketing muscle.
2. How can 2nd place brands become first place products (effectively strengthen the “branch” of a brand) when evolving?
Microsoft perhaps is a special case. Very seldom do No. 2 brands overtake the leader. Burger King did not overtake McDonald’s. Avis did not overtake Hertz.
Microsoft was helped by its enormous market share in operating systems. In addition, many of its competitors made poor marketing decisions. Lotus, for example, wasted years building an OS/2 version of their 1-2-3 spreadsheet when they should have been building a Windows version.
3. Xbox is a strong brand, but it closely competes with another incredibly strong brand, PS2. Apart from a feature or marketing war, how would you recommend designing or marketing the next version of Xbox to most effectively ensure its success? Is this a good case of Microsoft playing in a standards war? Much of the success of Xbox could be explained with our divergence in online game play. For example, our tagline is “it’s good to play together” while PS2’s is “live in your world, play in ours”.
Both taglines are meaningless and could be interchanged. But that’s not untypical. Most taglines are that way.
As far as the next version of Xbox is concerned, Microsoft should think “new generation.” Make the product as different as possible from the current product. You might even give it a new name.
Our suggestion: Zbox.
We hear about “Convergence” all the time (you quote Bill Gates on p. 49). SmartPhones combine mobile phones with PDAs with music players with cameras. Media Center PCs are full PCs that also play and record TV, store music, etc. Even the Xbox has a DVD player and an Ethernet connection for voice and video chat over a broadband connection.
4. How do you explain the strong emphasis on convergence, and the success of some items like camera phones (for example)? Maybe it’s seen as a new kind of phone (diverging from phones), but not really a new or better “camera”, rather than real convergence. Oh, and what about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (“hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”)?
In some cases, convergence is useful because of “convenience.” Almost all gas stations have a mini-mart connected to them. Does that mean all groceries will be sold in convenience stores? No, it’s only a small part of the market.
Invariably convergence products represent only a small part of the market. The camera phone is only about 15 percent of the cellphone market, for example.
5. How can an individual employee make a difference in positioning a company’s brand, especially if they’re not the one responsible for the brand strategy?
That’s your most difficult issue. Give it your best shot. Try as hard as you can to get the brand going in the right direction. If not, you may have to change jobs.
I did. I worked for the advertising agency TBWA and after awhile, I found that the agency and I were going in totally different directions, so I quit. Now I have a great job and a super partner. And as a consultant we get to give companies tough advice about how to best position their brands.
Stay tuned for more of the book tour!
October 11th - 800-CEO-READ
October 12th - John Porcaro
October 13th - David Paull - Dial.Log
October 14th - BusinessPundit
October 15th - CrossRoads Dispatches
October 18th - Learned on Women
October 19th - What's Your Brand Mantra
October 20th - WonderBranding