There are narratives circling the technology industry that are wearing out their welcome. The primary one, and the one where I wish more intelligent voices would prevail, is the narrative that there can only be one winner in this industry. Namely that for Google’s ecosystem to win, Microsoft and Apple must fail. Or that for Microsoft’s ecosystem to win, Apple and Google need to lose. And of course for Apple to win, Google and Microsoft need to lose.
Perhaps this narrative is best encapsulated in the latest Nokia Lumia smartphone TV ad, which showcases the apparent epic battle between iPhone and Android users. As funny as the commercial is, average consumers — the ones that make up the target market — really don’t care which phone you or I use. Last year I wrote a column on that very subject called “I Chose the iPhone, You Chose Android — So What?”
As far as I can tell, these narratives are rooted in not only a limited view of the technology industry’s history, but also in a very shortsighted one. It seems as though since Microsoft’s Windows platform dominated much of computing for several decades, it must mean it’s inevitable that this domination repeat itself. It seems the expectation from many is that we are simply waiting to see which platform wins. More specifically, which platform will dominate computing market share the way Microsoft did in the past. Let me explain why this is not going to happen.
Big Consumer Markets
The reason I say the “one platform to rule them all” narrative is deeply flawed is that when Microsoft dominated computing, the market was very small from a global standpoint. The market for PCs back then was tiny compared with today’s market for smartphones, for example. Small markets favor fewer players that typically dominate the segment. The global consumer market for technology is massive. Massive global consumer markets can sustain many players, competing for segments of markets, and all making money.
Look at how many automobile companies the global consumer market can sustain. Look at how many clothing companies, types of aspirin, types of cereal, etc., the market can sustain. Believing that for Google to win Apple has to lose — or vice versa — is like believing that for Pepsi to win, Coca-Cola has to lose; for Burger King to win, McDonald’s has to lose; for BMW to win, Mercedes-Benz has to lose. We all know how silly that sounds — and that’s the point.
Interestingly, even though a few major conglomerates own many of the underlying products that make up the variety I mention, each product’s success often transcends the company itself but is wrapped into a larger experience. This larger experience is bound to something central that’s key to that company’s sustainability in the global consumer market: its brand.
Now, if we must get into a discussion about who has the best chance to win or lose, I would argue that it’s not the platform we should be looking at, it’s the brand.
Brands Rule the World
When you look at the global consumer market, you simply will not find a company succeeding and competing on the basis of a product that does not have a strong brand. A strong brand stands out. It is recognizable. It leads to continually high customer satisfaction, loyalty and trust. A strong brand continually re-creates an enjoyable and memorable experience for its customers.
When a company builds a brand that the global consumer market considers valuable, it puts itself in a lasting position. Nike, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, etc., are not in danger of going out of business anytime soon. To predict their demise is as ridiculous as predicting the demise of the strong global consumer brands in the technology industry. Of course, not all brands survive. We have countless examples of mismanaged companies, which lacked the foresight to disrupt themselves and invest in the future. But the time it takes for a brand to unravel is much longer than it is for a company without a strong brand.
A strong brand is not just sustainable, it is also versatile. Brands compete well in their own markets, but a strong brand also allows a company the ability to compete in new markets with new products. A strong brand is one of the strongest, most defensible assets any company has. It is one of the foundational things that often gets overlooked in many analyses.
It’s time to rethink the importance of winners and losers in the technology industry. It’s time to take a more holistic look at which is well positioned to still exist in 20, 30, 50 or even 100 years. Products come and go, but brands have the best chance at standing the test of time.
Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.