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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.

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