Monday, April 21, 2008

Focus vs. Innovation?

Idris Mootee recently blogged a response to an AdAge article (paid subscription required) by Al Ries.

Here are some excerpts from the Ries article:
  • "What makes a powerful automobile brand today is not innovation, but a narrow focus on an attribute or a segment of the market."
  • "Innovations outside of a brand’s core position can undermine a brand."
  • "Most brands don't need innovations; they need focus. They need to figure out what they stand for and then what they need to sacrifice to get there."
Yep, sounds like vintage Ries. But Mootee disagrees:
Mr. Ries is so wrong on this one.
Mootee counters:
What the automobile industry needs today is NOT a narrow focus or an attribute or another brand. They have been doing that for decades and look at Detroit today.
Really? When I ponder the Detroit automobile industry, I think "scattered", not "focused". This counterexample from Mootee is not convincing. As a matter of fact, it tends to support Ries's point.

Next, Mootee cites Samsung as an example of company that innovated outside its focus and thereby established a powerful brand:
The company focused on product innovation that was not limited by their brand, and saw a meteoric rise in sales and brand value in just a few years and is not a serious threat to big boys like Sony.
Maybe. I don't know much about Samsung.

But I don't think you measure the power of a brand by the success of the company. A company can be hugely successful despite a weak brand, and vice-versa. I don't think you measure the power of a brand by mere recognition, either. Brand recognition is only one ingredient of a brand's power.

How many people go out and buy a Samsung as a result of their perceptions of the brand? The Samsung brand means nothing to me; I buy Samsung products only when their commoditized products come out on top in my feature and price comparisons.

Finally, Mootee avers:
Brand strategy and marketing can only give them a Botox, innovation brings new life.
But Ries hasn't argued against innovation. He has merely argued that innovation is most effective when it establishes or reinforces a focused brand position.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Enable Your Product Manager to Be Strategic

Pragmatic Marketing's Steve Johnson has written an e-book, The Strategic Role of Product Management. In it, Steve argues that strong product management is key to the success of a company when it is strategic and focuses on identifying and solving market problems.

A key graph from the book is:
Increasingly we see companies creating a VP of Product Management, a department at the same level in the company as the other major departments. This VP focuses the product management group on the business of the product. The product management group interviews existing and potential customers, articulates and quantifies market problems in the business case and market requirements, defines standard procedures for product delivery and launch, supports the creation of collateral and sales tools by Marketing Communications, and trains the sales teams on the market and product. Product Management looks at the needs of the entire business and the entire market.
What can you, as a corporate executive, do to enable the strategic product management that will contribute to your company's success?
  1. Create a product management department in your company.
  2. Ask your product managers to lead the company's positioning efforts.
  3. Hire interaction designers and user interface designers that free your product managers to focus on documenting market requirements.
  4. Support your product managers' efforts to call and visit both prospective and existing customers.
  5. Make sure your QA team tests not just against technical specifications, but also tests that your products solve the problems your product managers identify in the market.
  6. Make sure your product managers are experts in the principles governing positioning, pricing, and naming.
Above all, stand up for the strategic recommendations of your product managers. In the face of interdepartmental paralysis, effective product management requires strong executive support.