When I first read Ries’ ?22 Immutable Laws of Marketing?, I remember comparing it to Microsoft’s own experience of marketing and wondering, ?if Microsoft violates so many of these laws, why are we so successful?? Microsoft has a long history of attempting to ?extend? the ?Windows Brand? into other categories, one of the more severe violations of immutable law. People involved with enterprise sales at Microsoft will have anecdotes about overcoming customer concerns about stability in the Windows Server (?if NT is completely different codefrom Windows 95, and it doesn’t crash, then why do you call it ‘Windows’?). And the examples of renaming ?Windows CE? to ?Pocket PC?, or launching ?Xbox? instead of ?Windows Gaming Console? convinced me that Ries was correct. I recall a recent decision to rename ?Mira? to ?Windows CE for Smart Displays?; so the urge toward brand extension has not been extinguished.
I also read ?Positioning?, and ?22 Immutable Laws of Branding? when they came out; both were excellent, and provided many intuitions about things I observed. Over the years, I’ve often found myself referring to these books in conversation, or holding imaginary debates with the authors when thinking about particular marketing challenges (not that I get paid to think about marketing, but…).
So reading the blogs, I see thatJohn Porcaro asked Laura Ries her for some of her thoughts on Microsoft and branding. The answers were just as interesting as I would have expected. Al Ries responded with a comment on John’s blog, and then the conversation continued over on Brand Mantra, where Jennifer Rice asked Laura the ultimate question: ?If Microsoft so flagrantly abuses brand extension…? How cool is this? Laura and Al Ries are having a conversation about a bunch of the issues that I’ve wondered about, and it’s not even in my imagination.
Of course, I’ve developed some of my own opinions about that specific question: why Microsoft sometimes gets away with seeming violations of the immutable laws of branding. As Luigi Pirandello in ?Six Characters in Search of an Author? says, ?Some things, no matter how improbable they may seem, require no explanation; because they are.? But we make up excuses anyway. My theory is that ?brand extension? has sometimes worked (or at least avoided punishment) simply because some of the other immutable laws were applied so effectively. The simple mission of ?A computer on every desktop, running Microsoft Software? was crisp and clean enough that Microsoft became equated in people’s minds with ?the software that runs on my computer?. It’s what people thought of the company, because it’s all the company focused on, like a laser beam.This period inMicrosoft historyof such single-minded mission is a case study from ?Built to Last?. As the authors have pointed out, having a clear, unambiguous mission fora brandgoes a long way toward developing a clear unambiguous mapping between brand and value in the customers’ minds. Even once the original mission had been largely achieved, I can recall several instances where Steve Ballmer communicated unambiguous goals for a particular brand. For example,?I want Office to bethe single must-have piece of software that atypical knowledge worker can’t live without. Ifshe can get her work done on a typical day without ever having to leavethe Office suite, we’ve succeeded?.This is audacious, but simple. This issomething the whole team canfocus on like a laser beam. Although people like to point to things like Microsoft?leveraging? market share, or ?embracing and extending? others’ innovations, I think focus on such crisp missions more than anything else is the success factor that explains the initiatives that have succeeded.