Here are the questions I asked Laura Ries about her book The Origin of Brands.
1) Throughout the book, you use brands and products interchangeably. A key point of the book seems to be that new product launches should result in new brands. Does success require the divergence of both product and brand? Or could someone launch a convergent product under a new divergent brand? Would that be successful?
You're right. We should perhaps be more specific about what we are referring to. We often will use the word product when we mean the brand and the product. There are brands, products and categories and each has a slightly different meaning.
Convergence is a lot like line extension. It captures the imagination of the marketplace and sometimes it does work.
Take the Swiss Army knife. Millions are sold every year and very few are ever used.
If the did launch a convergence product under a different name, it would definitely have a better chance of success. It's unlikely, however, to become a mainstream product.
2) If you launch a divergent product, should you find other markets for it or is that a move towards convergence? For instance, should Dell stick with computer equipment or is a move into electronics a good one?
This is a tactical issue. Perhaps Dell should move into consumer electronics and maybe not. In any case, it would not build the brand. What built the Dell brand was the fact that it was the first personal computer brand sold direct.
3) Early in your book you write "Launching a new product the traditional way includes market research, test marketing, and a big advertising budget. We are opposed to all three of these activities." In Chapter 16 you discuss how to launch a new brand, but never get back to an issue addressed by the quote. Without market research and test marketing, how do you know if you will have a successful product?
You don't. Our point is that market research and test marketing don't tell you either. You need to follow your instincts.
There are many products that tested very poorly, yet became enormous successes. The Xerox plain-paper copier, for example. Should Xerox have not introduced the product because market research suggested there was no market for a plain-paper copier?
The same holds true for the mainframe computer.
4) Evolution may favor specialization, but haven't humans been successful because we are generalists? Will brands move in the same direction one day?
The human race maybe generalists, but individuals are specialists. The success of human civilization has been the move from "hunter/gathers" to specialists. Read "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond.
added note – I have read Guns, Germs and Steel and would highly recommend it.5) My long-term goal is to start an Artificial Intelligence company. If we released a robot or some other machine with human-like abilities, it would be able to do many different things. It would be a generalist robot that can adapt to the tasks of its owner. Is this a potential branding problem?
Yes. The only success that robots have had is when they are designed to do specialist tasks. For example, welding on an automobile assembly line.
A better direction for you to consider might be a robot designed to do one task extremely well. If you are successful, then you can possibly add additional tasks to your robot machine.
Thanks for your answers Laura. Readers please fill free to comment on these answers or ask additional questions.