Topic: Book Club

Ries: When Convergence Equals = Simplicity

Posted by Stephen Denny on 500 Points
We've been discussing the Rise of Divergence and the Inadequacy of Convergence here, but too often the proliferation of divergent strategies creates too many products on the shelf, each with its own small niche.

This proliferation leads to a market desire for simplicity -- and products emerge than combine the former features into a one-stop solution. A convergent strategy, in short. Examples are everywhere -- iPhone, iPod, Roxio Creator, Toast, Smart Phones (Treo, Motorola, Nokia, etc), the PDA industry in general, etc.

Does this refute the central idea of the book that convergence is somehow inferior to divergence and that debating the relative advantage of one over the other is dependent on specific market circumstances that don't lend themselves to over-simplification?

Moderator Note: This discussion refers to the book The Origin of Brands by Al and Laura Ries (topic: branding). Click the title to learn more. Then join the conversation. We'd LOVE for you to participate!
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  • Posted on Accepted
    I think, Stephen, they're saying convergent products tend to become the "missing links." I maintain that companies can sometimes make a very nice living from convergent products. They have a life until divergence renders them obsolete. It might be months, it might be years or decades, depending on trends and technology.
  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Author
    David: interesting idea -- divergence and convergence appear to me like two opposing natural laws, each alternating in a normal lifecycle.

    Divergence means meaningful differentiation -- iTunes was a divergent strategy that rewrote how we bought music. Convergence can mean combination, or 'simplicity' -- the Treo is a PDA plus a phone plus wireless email, a purely converged device that exists because we don't want to carry all that stuff around. One could even argue that its unqiue combination of divergent devices makes it a powerfully differentiated product; a "convergent diverged" device.

    It's likely that something will meaningfully diverge from the Treo/RIM, just as something will converge in the iTunes world (like video-on-demand, which has already begun).

    I get the feeling that we're debating the relative supremacy of white wine versus red. They both work, they both fit, I like them both, but sometimes the white works better with fish. Blankly stating that 'red' is better doesn't work well for me and I get the feeling that this is where the book's premise resides -- so please correct me if I've misinterpreted this point --
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    I think there's a distinction to be made here.

    Convergence doesn't always result in a product becoming more convenient. That's really in the eye of the beholder. Take the iPhone or Blackberry. Where they may be convenient for one person, they can be totally confusing, even frustrating, for someone else. There are a lot of people who carry a Blackberry for email only, and a traditional cell phone for making calls.

    Convergence only means that functionalities have been grouped together. It may have been conceived as more convenient, but maybe, in the end, they're not.
  • Posted on Accepted
    In every category you will always see some convergence and some divergence. The real question is, where is the category likely to go? The answer invariably is divergence.

    Take the smart phone, for example, a combination cellphone and handheld computer. All the stories in the business press have been about the success of the Treo, the Sidekick, the Motorola Q and dozens of other smart-phoneproducts. And the iPhone has been touted as successful and it hasn't even been available on the market.

    I heard Bill Gates on ABC network news say, "The phone is coming together with the computer."

    Yet today smart phones are only 8 percent of the cellphone market.

    Will everybody trade in their cellphones for a smart phone? Highly unlikely. The smart phone is going to be as successful as the Swiss Army knife, a product that captures the imagination, but not the market.

  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Author
    Al: I'm sorry, I don't follow your logic. I do not see how categories "inevitably go to divergence" -- it appears they oscillate between convergence and divergence.

    A quick google tells me that smart phones have about 10% share today projected to grow to 25% in the next 5 years. This against an explosion of cell phone penetration in China (520 million units in use and growing) and the rest of the developing world. Will everyone dump their current phones for smart phones? Only those who have need of browsing and email, which is apparently about 25% in the next five years.

    Further, cellular phones are already in full fledged convergence, as 65% of current cell phones (another quick google) are cell phones plus cameras now.

    Are smart phones a failure? If we choose to belittle a 10% to 25% share, imagine how paltry Red Bull must appear to the entire beverage industry.

    It's logical to see how certain elements logically combine in markets to create successful products (convergence) and how new thinking (divergence) breathes new life into these same markets. I don't think a reasonable person could conclude that 'divergence' is somehow superior to 'convergence'; nor is the opposite true.

    I hate to pile on, so I'll stop here. In short, I feel there have been many off-the-cuff statements being offered up as 'answers' here, where deeper analysis and understanding would have been more helpful.
  • Posted on Accepted
    I like the argument for convergence yielding simplification. Yet, I see it overused in sales pitches and the reason for a product's existence....creating some phantom consumer 'need' for an all-in-one.
  • Posted on Accepted
    "I heard Bill Gates on ABC network news say, "The phone is coming together with the computer."

    Yet today smart phones are only 8 percent of the cellphone market.

    Will everybody trade in their cellphones for a smart phone? Highly unlikely. The smart phone is going to be as successful as the Swiss Army knife, a product that captures the imagination, but not the market."

    Yes but is the smart phone aimed at the entire cellphone market? I think it's aimed at a smaller business-oriented section of the the cellphone market, and it appears to have been very successful in that niche. I don't think it will ever get to the point where teens are trading in their Chocolate phones for a Treo, but the smart phones aren't aimed at them, they are aimed at their executive dads.
  • Posted by Stephen Denny on Author
    Mack, you've just uncovered a very important point. Kids won't trade in their LG Chocolate phones for "smart phones" because the Chocolate is already a "smart phone", with wireless music downloading, email, etc.

    This converged device is anything but "capturing the imagination, but not the market", as V-Cast was the CES product of the year, with Chocolate doing quite well.

    Business devices like Treo/RIM/Moto Q and others are aimed at very intensive mobile email users, not music fans -- and yet the Treo can play music, as well.

    Convergence and divergence are like breathing in and breathing out. Industry growth and evolution happen when things diverge; often, convergence is necessary for products to become marketable and mainstream.
  • Posted on Member
    Well said. Dominant convergent attributes will be designed into each target audience's unique preferences. Ex: Two different scoops of vanilla ice cream get different toppings. Dad gets whipped cream, nuts, melted Godiva chocolate, and a waffle cracker. Son gets whipped cream, sprinkles, butterscotch, and a cherry.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Superiority is a better "=" for convergence than Simplicity.

    Simplicity is sometimes and/or sometimes not the reason for convergence. Superiority is always the reason.

  • Posted on Member
    Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the Marketing Profs Book Club review of our book The Origin of Brands which I co-wrote with my daughter/partner Laura Ries.

    And an extra special thanks to CK for all her hard work and dedication to the improvement of marketing minds everywhere.

    For more branding information and debates check out

    Laura's blog at:

    and CK's at:

    - Al Ries

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