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Immutable Laws For a Mutable Internet

by Alf Nucifora

The Ries & Ries team is at it again. This time with, "The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding." In format and style, it's an easy read. The marketing maestro and his talented daughter apply their unique strategic insights to the chaotic world of the online brand and the web domain.

The Law of Either/Or
Here the authors ask the question, "For my product or service, is the Internet going to be a business or a medium?" They believe that if the Internet is to be defined as a medium, then use of an existing brand name is okay. In essence, it becomes a complement to or a replacement for existing media, e.g. television, radio, print. If, on the other hand, the Internet is going to be a business, then it requires starting from scratch with a new name, new strategy and new business paradigm. How does one tell the difference between the two? Ask the following questions....

Q: Is the brand tangible or intangible?
A: For tangible products, it's likely to be a medium; for intangible, a business

Q: Is the brand fashionable or not?
A: For fashionable products, a medium; for other products, a business

Q: Is the product available in thousands of variations?
A: If so, it tends to be a business, e.g. books

Q: Is low price a significant factor in the brand's purchase?
A: If so, it's probably a business, e.g. Priceline.com

Q: Are shipping costs a significant factor as compared to the purchase price?
A: If so, it tends to be a medium as in the case of online grocery shopping

The Law of Interactivity
For Ries & Ries, interactivity is the key to successful Internet branding... it has to be built into the site. Without it, failure is guaranteed. Interactivity covers the field including typing instructions to receive information, handling pricing situations instantaneously, performing tests, conducting auctions and diagnosing situations. "Interactivity" they write, "is a powerful metaphor for the patient-doctor or the student-teacher relationship."

The Law of the Common Name
Absent the visual element in a url or web site address, naming becomes critical. The authors believe that most Internet brand names are terrible because they resort to the common name, e.g. flower.com, gifts.com. Their solution? Seek a distinctive, proper noun, one that demands attention, e.g. yahoo.com, amazon.com, bluemountain.com.

The Law of the Proper Name
Ries & Ries provide eight guidelines for developing an effective proper name:

  • Keep it short, e.g. CNET.com
  • Keep it simple, not confusing; not like autobuytel.com
  • Make it suggestive of the category, e.g. WebMD.com
  • Make it unique, e.g. AskJeeves.com
  • Try to be alliterative, e.g. frogdog.com
  • It should be speakable. Don't mix numbers and letters.
  • Go for shock value, e.g. hotmail.com, dogpile.com
  • Personalize it, e.g. dell.com, schwab.com

The Law of Singularity
According to the authors, great Internet brands get out in front and never lose that dominant position. "On the Internet, monopolies will rule,"... just as they do in computer software, e.g. Windows, Word, Powerpoint, Excel. The Law of Singularity demands that the brand be first in a new category and that that opportunity can always be created by narrowing the focus. For example, if you can't beat Amazon.com at its own game, narrow the focus to business books only.

The Law of Advertising
Ries & Ries believe that the Internet will be the first new medium not dominated by advertising. They support this claim with a recitation of the usual facts, e.g. declining click-through rates, ability of Internet user to reject and/disregard the ad, etc. The real growth according to the authors will be in "off the Net" advertising which directs the user to a specific site. They go one step further to suggest that radio will be the primary medium for dot.com advertising.

The Law of Globalism
Ultimately, the Internet will achieve what classic offline marketers have been unable to deliver... "one interconnected global economy" together with homogenization of the world's cultures.

The Law of Time
"You need to move exceptionally fast. Be quick or dead." advise Ries & Ries. And, at the expense of getting it right the first time around. They prove it by example. Yahoo! outsourced its search engine technology in order to get there first, even if it meant not doing it better.

The Law of Vanity
Internet mavens, egos inflated by cover stories and stratospheric IPO values, take their eye off the ball. Instead, say Ries & Ries, "Keep you brand focused, increase share of market, grow the market, look at global opportunity and, ultimately, dominate the category."

The Law of Divergence
To Ries & Ries, "Technologies don't converge, they diverge." That's why, for instance, they believe that Bill Gates has made a number of monumental errors by virtue of his convergent-seeking investments in WebTV and AT&T.

The Law of Transformation
They save the best for last. Some of their predictions? Paper directories are doomed. Paper catalogs face an uncertain future. The expensive 4-color brochure will become rare. Classified advertising will shift to the web. Financial services will shift to the Web. Parcel delivery will soar. Internet retailing will become a price game. Search engines will decline in importance.

Buy this book. It helps demystify much of the chaos, confusion and cant that surrounds the online world.

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