Christopher on Eric on Ries and Trout

Eric Sink has been doing something very cool for the past few days: he’s posting an opinion piece each day about one chapter of the Al Ries & Jack Trout classic, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. As anyone who knows me can attest, this is one of my favorite books.

Anyway, Eric hit a sour note with me today. 😛 I feel compelled to razz him a little bit in response to his assertion that:

“We underestimate the value of mindshare when we try to change the minds of people. Ries and Trout say that "The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is to change a mind." I would love to know how much it will eventually cost to convince the world’s VB6 programmers to move to VB.NET. The audacity of this move is simply amazing. For any other company in the history of the earth, it would be suicide to try and change the minds of several million of your own customers.”

Now, I won’t challenge the premise that the industry often underestimates the value of mindshare. But using MS as an example just doesn’t fly.

No other company in the history of the Earth has ever had so much control over the environment in which customers use the company’s product as MS has right now, and that makes all the difference. Sure, the transition from VB6 to VB.NE will be expensive – but the end result is a lock; given sufficient time, most VB6 programmers WILL end up using VB.NET. The issue is not so much one of cost as it is one of value; however much it will eventually cost to force the transition, MS must think it will be worth it.

My point is that MS is not a good example to illustrate underestimating the value of mindshare because the consequences of that underestimation are miniscule for them. A company that attempted such a radical shift with the prospect of severe consequences might have been a better example.

Suppose (for example) that Pacific Bell tried to force all their residential customers to abandon their landlines and go cellular. Would they be guaranteed to retain all or most of their customers, even if they were handing out free phones? Probably not. Cellular service is largely undifferentiated between providers (they all suck equally), so rather than getting any kind of lock-in, Pacific Bell would lose a lot of customers.

But when you are a VB6 programmer who is largely dependant upon Microsoft’s operating system and IDE to do your work, who else can you turn to in the "operating systems and development tools for creating and deploying VB6 programs" market for the gear you need to continue being a VB6 programmer once there are no more flavors of Windows or Visual Studio that support VB6? I can’t think of anyone. Can you, Eric? 😉