book review part 2: Conley’s OBD: branding vs. innovation

In a very nice comment, Frank mentions a link to weakening relationships from buzz marketing, and digs into deeper branding versus innovation, which is another important part of Lucas Conley’s argument in OBD, which I only briefly mentioned in my original post. Marketing has become more focused on brand positioning and re-packaging then developing new and useful changes to the products.

As Conley states, when entire product categories such as laundry detergent or paper towels have been improved to be effectively the same, long standing brands such as Tide and Bounty (which I have used for decades, mostly likely because they are the ones I grew up with) are left with marketing strategies to differential themselves. I will admit that some of the packaging strategies are useful improvements, and while I like the form factor of the glass ketchup bottle, Heinz squeezable plastic one does work better. However, for each of these useful cases, we have dozens of brand extensions. Conley cites the five (and counting) versions of the Swifter, as an example.

This feature creep, where new add-ons clutter shelfs with orange juice with calcium, Kleenex with aloe, and toothpaste with breathe strips. A second related effect is that customers get used to a product, only to find them discontinued with new product lines when they try to replace them. How many more blades that they fit on a razor? I wouldn’t mind if 5 or 6 or 7 are available, if they would still make the older models (with a mere 2 blades) that I liked and are increasingly harder to find.

All these marketing efforts come at the price of true innovation advances in the underlying technology of these products. However, innovation is of course, hard. It is not at all surprising that marketing is chosen over innovation. These kinds of changes are risky and costly, and more new products are failures than successes. For every iPod, there are zunes, Newtons, and new Cokes. These risks make companies more defensive and concerned about protecting market share. But why can’t a paper towel be a paper towel until sometime better comes along?

What are we, as consumers, to do? It’s hard when use your purchasing power when companies discontinue the

When Apple releases a new product, Apple fans exception industry shattering, paradigm shifting innovations on the scale of the iPod. The light-weight mini-laptop Air got some harsh reactions. But the funny thing is that people don’t remember that the iPod didn’t instantly create the American mp3 market or change the way we conceptual our entire music collection as mobile. Rather, it took time for people out exactly what the iPod was.

Similarly, while Apple is predicted to sell 10-13 millions iPhones this year, Nokia sold 115.2 million of the 294.3 million phones sold globally in the *first* quarter of 2008.

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