dangerous generalizations by al ries

all apple products

i have read couple of books by al ries and they are quite good. he is an inspiring writer. full stop.

when i read his books i get energy, some new information but this kind of strategic advice not only is not applicable but also very dangerous.

just as people should not do everything that is in movies, tv and video games, they should also not believe or do things explained and suggested in business books.

business books are books, and books are products, words printed on paper, that need to be sold. to be sold they need to inform, entertain and inspire. if you start organizing your business by these books… well, good luck.

i believe there are a lot of mistakes in al ries books. a lot of these mistakes originate from the notion that companies should be brand driven companies. this is nonsense. i also hear hr people saying companies should be hr driven companies. everybody wants to be important and gain power by claiming their relevance on everything. nonsense!

without an engineer who can build a product, company is nothing. without a manager to organize people from design to sale company is nothing. without a person who clears the floor every night after everybody leaves company is nothing. no one single element is more dominant. companies, just like any group of people, are complex socioeconomic organism, and i am yet to hear of a person who understands them.

however advertising, branding and marketing people are particularly arrogant about their importance to everybody else. i guess the more insecure you are about your real value the more you have to shout how valuable you are. engineers hardly every have to be loud about what they make. if you can make a chemical save lives or make 10 tons of steel fly, you do not need to explain more than that.

so al ries definitely makes a serious mistake, like most other marketing and branding writers, that company should be a brand and / or marketing oriented company.

i would like to see him say that to engineers or financial experts. good luck.

another silly thing is brand singularity: claiming that you can do better in business if your brand stands for only one thing. like porsche is only sports cars.

maybe, just maybe, this can work if you have about a billion on your account and you can adopt this snobbish strategy of being singular, or as they say focused. however, here is the problem:

1) all companies are essentially based on human knowledge (expertise) and not products. products are results of human knowledge. humans know how to solve human problems and at certain point in time they turn that knowledge into a solution: a product. so branding a solution of a product instead of an expertise seems more narrow. products and technologies come and go but true value of human society, civilization, organization, whatever is knowledge that is passed from one to another. it is better to sell expertise than products. expertise is much more flexible and allows space for negotiations.

2) the moment you decide to be focused you become inflexible. people will hear you can do something like product A, they will assume that because you know how to do that you can do something else, they will ask you to do that something else, and because you are focused you will say NO. this works great for an investor who invests in 100 companies and 20-30 succeed, or global economy where specialization is rewarded, but it does not work for you as a business owner as you are betting on only one thing with an assumption that doing too many things is hard. you assume itis too many things because you brandded yourself in everybody elses and your mind with a product focus and not an expertise focus.

examples: ibm is a company with knowledge / expertise in technology. full stop. so is apple. ibm is not a company that makes thinkpad or servers. apple is not a company that makes ipod and imac. apple is also a company that does business training and distributes movies and participates in any activity which involves a screen+entertainment. they understand fun and bits. and even this is not correct because they make a lot of other things which are not fun based. it is super unfocused.

so is ibm who are about business+screen. they build on knowledge / expertise and that’s never focused. amazon.com knows how to sell online, coca cola company knows what people like to drink and chew in-between serious meals. etc… it is expertise of people who work. one guy figures something out and teaches someone else before he/she dies. sometimes this is in a company, sometimes somewhere else. there is no focus. its imagination and creative problem solving.

specialization is what marx hated. specialization somehow got confused with evolution and million other things into some kind of a nonsense theory. then come authors of pop books who generalize up to a point of no recognition and fact distortion and totally confuse business people.

“specialize and you will succeed.” they say.

in real life you are never specialized. you have to know million things. you have to know how to clean yourself, make food, travel, exercise, do three jobs, take care of kids. people who see generalized specializations in nature make no sense. its silly. its superficial.

and one last thing – always the same examples: biggest possible usa based consumer brands of which some can be quite irrelevant and inapplicable to most word markets yet books do not state these strategies are particular to usa business. non-usa managers can get carried away and apply such strategies and fail. many examples of that.

so much more to be written on this subject. i hope i am making sense.

again, i will always recommend al ries, great books and great writer.

his consulting i do not know, i never paid for it, maybe one day. he seems cheap. he charges 30.000 usd / day and one document but suggests this is sufficient for a year of work. if this is true it is cheap. i will give it a try one day just to see what i get. i am sure i will learn.