Law #10: The Law of Division
(This entry is part of a series I am writing on
Immutable Laws of Marketing.)
The Law of Division observes that over time, a category tends to divide
and become two or more categories.
A new market category starts out very broad. For example, in the
beginning of the automobile industry, the only category was "cars". Over
time, categories break up into smaller and more specialized subcategories.
Today, there are quite a few brands of car, each catering to a specialized
This effect is an obvious and natural consequence of other laws. Each
company will try to setup a new category in which it can be #1. Not all of
these categories will end up becoming real, but some will.
This law is a good place to remind ourselves that Ries and Trout primarily
consult for companies like Pepsi, McDonalds, and General Motors, not for small
ISVs. There is a bit of an impedance mismatch between their world and
ours. Those companies do business in mature industries selling
mass market consumer products. Those products are easily
interchangeable. I can switch from Pepsi to Coke with no major costs
associated with the transition and deployment. Categories split into
subcategories over very slight differences in consumer
preference. Brand building is absolutely critical. General
Motors understands that some car buyers want to feel like they are buying
something sporty, whereas others want to feel like they are buying something
conservative. So, they sell basically the same car under the Pontiac and
the Buick name, managing each of these brands very carefully.
The underlying engineering is identical, but the message of these two brands is
Software isn't usually like that. When people are choosing between Dundas Chart and Chart FX, brand can be an issue,
but it is certainly not the only issue. Those two products are
not identical under the hood. They are not completely
interchangeable. There are significant differences in features.
So the Law of Division still matters, but it happens a lot less. In
software, categories don't divide quite as easily as in commodity markets.
But even though categories in software don't usually divide over matters of
pure message, they do still divide, especially over matters of greater
substance. My own market is a decent example. In the beginning,
there was simply "source control". Now, we've got several subcategories
which came as the market divided over lines such as platform, process and