Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It


– By Al Ries

It is very likely that many of us would have read books written by Al Ries (alone or with Jack Trout or with his daughter, Laura Ries). Ries and Trout wrote the seminal ‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind’ and followed that with a number of bestselling books. They parted company in the early 1990s; Focus was the first book that Al Ries wrote after the separation with Trout.

Focus starts with this example: ‘The sun is a powerful source of energy. Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy. Yet with a hat and some sunscreen you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

A laser is a weak source of energy. A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light. But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

When you focus a company, you create the same effect. You create a powerful, laser like ability to dominate a market. That’s what focusing is all about.

When a company becomes unfocused, it loses its power. It becomes a sun that dissipates its energy over too many products and too many markets.’

If we look at the current scenario, the sun seems to be winning. Successful companies like Samsung, GE and many, many others tend to negate what Ries (and Trout) have been saying for a long time – that companies (and brands) need to stay focused on their core businesses.

However, while there are examples of companies that have been doing well by being in unrelated businesses, Ries gives the example of many others that have faltered by following a similar strategy. And the companies that have failed include some of the most well known and respected companies.

The key points that Ries makes in Focus are not new – he and others having been making the same points for quite some time:

  1. Globalisation has been responsible for unfocusing many companies by making them broaden their product lines rather than narrowing them.
  2. Categories tend to divide into sub-categories and using the same brand to straddle different sub-categories may not always work.
  3. There is a never-ending enthusiasm for convergence. Categories tend to diverge, not converge, and companies that spend too much time on converging different categories are likely to fail. Ries gives Newton as an example; yet, the phenomenal growth of smartphones does tend to run counter to his argument.
  4. In trying to derive synergies from unrelated categories, companies have ended up destroying value.
  5. As outlined in the book – ‘Positioning – the best route for companies and brands is to embed a unique word about their company/brand in the minds of consumers.
  6. Narrowing your scope and finding a niche for yourself is the best way to succeed.
  7. The same brand name used in two different categories or sub-categories can be counterproductive.
  8. Splitting a large conglomerate may yield far better results than running one giant organisation.

Focus is an interesting book and worth a read. However, please be warned that the points that Ries makes have been made by him (and Trout, together or separately) in many of their books. If you have been an avid reader of books by Ries and Trout, you could give this one a miss. However, if you are new to the two marketing gurus, you will find this book worth your while.

I have reviewed the 1996 edition of the book; there is a newer edition and that is the one you should get hold of.

Rating: A

About author

This article was written by Preeti

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