#TBT: Why Ben & Jerry’s Doesn’t Sell Hardware

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Why Ben and Jerry’s Doesn’t Sell Hardware.

We recently had a very interesting conversation with Greg Sandow about the future of classical music [December 2009].

Photo Credit: Larisa Birta via Unsplash

What didn’t come up was the fact that Greg is writing a book on the topic and has gathered a group of informal advisers to give him input as he goes along. It’s a very interesting group from a number of disciplines loosely organized around (but not limited to) classical music.

Recently, somebody in the group (and I’m going to keep everyone’s identity private) was talking about how his experience with a major symphony orchestra recently had been frustrating. They’d done all the research and gone to all the trouble to figure out different types of potential patrons for the symphony, all of whom had slightly different wants and needs. On the one end, you had the traditional classical people, who want to sit quietly and listen to Mozart and Brahms, clap politely and leave. On the other end, you had more of an alt-classical crowd who wanted a more laid back, high-tech experience, and maybe a drink in their hand during the show.

So they created different performances and announced which ones would feature which style of experience.

That’s smart, energetic marketing.

But there’s just one problem.

No one paid any attention to which performances were which, and then people complained when they saw a performance in a style they didn’t like.

And then it hit me.

It’s about brand.

(Warning: As a rule, if you ever find yourself in a conversation wherein somebody starts talking about “brand,” there’s a better than good chance that person has no idea what they’re talking about. In this case, you’re just going to have to take your chances.)

A brand is like a container. That is, inside a brand is a meaning. For example, inside the “Ben & Jerry’s” brand is high-quality ice cream, socially conscious business practices and the faint whiff of patchouli from the hippies who make it all happen.

But what if I told you Ben & Jerry’s also made hardware?

That’s a problem because the Ben & Jerry’s brand does not and cannot contain hardware. The truth is, it can’t even contain cookies. And hippies or not, they’re smart enough to steer clear of it.

This is what marketing genius Al Ries (and his daughter Laura) called his First Immutable Law of Branding, and it is thus:

The Law of Expansion: The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope. Trying to be all things to all people undermines the power of the brand. The strength of brands lies in becoming synonymous with a single category. Brands that spread themselves across categories lose brand focus, identity, and ultimately market share.”

Looked at differently, suppose the Altadena Symphony Orchestra has built a nice following for traditional classical music, but is now concerned that its audience has an average age that qualifies for social security. What should it do?

Should it mix things up and do a variety of well-thought out and researched programs that include some of the features that younger people want as part of its season?

No, absolutely not.

It should, once it identifies a segment it wants, create a separate brand to address them. The Altadena Symphony Orchestra (which doesn’t exist, as our greatest cultural asset in Altadena is the Quiznos) should create a completely new thing to address that younger market.

Call it Purple Onion. They play contemporary pieces, the bar stays open throughout the performance and the dress code is casual. Whatever. I don’t have the research to come up with the specifics that work, but the point is you can’t put the product that works for this audience into the Altadena Symphony Orchestra container.

But the organization can build another container, and it then becomes the manager of a portfolio of brands. Over time, the older brand may decline, but that’s OK because if you’ve done a good job with Purple Onion (or whatever), it is on the rise.

And that is how it should be done.

If, on the other hand, organizations insist on stuffing a bunch of new meaning into very traditional brands, it will continue to have tepid results at best and lead to extinction at worst.

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