Brands of inertia are deadly for companies, and their customers. A brand becomes a brand of inertia when it’s too set in its ways to change course. The brand acts as a one-trick, one-track monolith that sees the future in terms of the past. We typically find brands of inertia in companies that commanded an innovation years ago but now are happy to coast, fixated on cash rather than customers. They’ve become a means to extract value, rather than create it.
AOL as a brand of inertia
AOL would seem to be a brand of inertia based on this recent piece in the Economist. Its antiquated dial-up Internet service is a dead end, but AOL depends on these customers for revenue, including a “substantial number” paying for a service they don’t really need. The old AOL business is profitable, but the old brand ethos hasn’t helped AOL reinvent itself, which it desperately needs to do.
Brands of inertia aim to harvest customers, not create them
AOL would not be alone as a brand of inertia, of course. Some companies never feel the need to innovate if they think they can make easy money by freezing the brand—and their customers—in time and space. As brands of inertia they aim to harvest customers, not create them. Customers are the cash cow, and the brand is their corral.
Dialing down the brand
Brands of inertia often dial themselves down to the least demanding (or least informed) customers, those willing to pay for the same product year after year out of sheer habit (or sheer ignorance). As the Economist notes, some customers may not realize that they’re paying for a marginal product or service. They don’t know any better, but as far as the brand is concerned, that’s perfectly fine. It’s money in the bank. Brands of inertia don’t rock the boat. And they don’t like ideas that rock the boat.
A brand of inertia condemns the company to inertia
There’s a fatal downside to brands of inertia. They condemn the company to inertia, stifling creativity and innovation, especially on the customer front. Opportunities are grasped elsewhere. Good ideas go elsewhere. Innovators (and employees) go elsewhere. Eventually customers wise up and flock to better brands.