Marketing execs love product quality for good reason. A well made product is far easier to promote than one that falls apart in a matter of minutes. But today’s products are becoming so well made that the need to replace them is moving further into the future. This latest recession proved the point. People who would normally replace their cars, computers, appliances etc every few years, didn’t. Many will have come to realize that the car they are driving doesn’t need replacing. People are realizing that their existing product will actually last a very long time (thanks to its quality) and so many people are simply not seeing a need to change or upgrade. It’s for this reason that many PC makers will have heaved a huge sigh of relief when Windows 7 emerged. While Windows 7 runs fine on older PCs, it runs much better on newer, more powerful machines. But there is no Windows 7 for cars, or appliances. Better gas mileage is a plus but if you have an older Honda, the cost of moving to a newer one far outways the savings on gas. For car makers like Honda who have a good track record on product quality this creates a problem. Their customer’s existing product is still working just fine and does 99% of what the new model does. So how do they convince people to swap? Indeed, should they even bother? Of course they have to try and get people to buy their new cars but I wonder how many of the marketing execs wish that the cars on the street were a little less well made?
My wife is convinced I have ADD. She may have a point in that I struggle to stay focused on anything for longer than 20 minutes and in truth I struggle to read most newspaper articles in their entirety without my mind wandering off. Part of my problem is that I struggle with content that doesn’t grab my attention and then make a serious attempt to hang on to it. Like my own blog for instance. I need content that gets me thinking, makes me laugh, cry etc. A good book, movie or TV show can do this for millions but what is it about this content that keeps us engaged while other content causes us to head for the coffee maker? The answer to this question has enormous importance for people in marketing and yet when I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, asked this question to marketers they, like me, have no real answer. Like me they tend to… well, make something up.
If like me, you decide to look up on the web what keeps people’s attention you will find some pretty weird blog posts that tell you to use the word ‘and’ a lot and to put confetti in your envelopes (I pray that doesn’t happen to me). Indeed it seems that to holding people’s attention either nobody has written the definitive work, OR the person that has figured it out is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.
And yet, just as we all like to get attention we all love to give our undivided attention to great content. Just think about the number of times when talking to friends to talk about books, TV shows, movies and concerts you’ve seen, read etc. It seems we like both the process of being engaged AND the process of reliving that engagement. When I started work the founders of my company spent hours each week recounting lines from various Monty Python films or shows. They derived huge satisfaction from this, much more in fact than they did from the actual work as far as I can tell. That level of engagement is a marketers dream. Yet I doubt for a second that anyone who had responsibility for the Python franchise knew why people loved their content. They just knew they did and they made every effort to take advantage of that.
Of course it may be that trying to capture engagement in a bottle and analyze it is a fruitless exercise. It may be that the ingredients of fun are a secret we shouldn’t learn. That said, authors, movie makers and comedians do have formulas they use to create successful products. We all know that these formulas fail from time to time though. Witness the Bruno movie that repeated the Borat formula. In other words even the best of us know only parts of the formula. As a result the secret ingredient that makes an idea work either shows up and turns it in to good work, or takes a vacation and leaves us bored and rather annoyed.
What is clear is that humans love to be entertained and engaged. We love a book (Kindle) that we can’t put down. We love a movie that makes us laugh for days afterwards. I for one have no idea why we crave this in the same way we crave food that is bad for us but we do. We seek out great content as if it were that food. Unlike fattening food, however, this content stimulates our brain and gets us thinking. Sometimes it gets us to think about profound issues, and sometimes it gets us to think about topics so irrelevant we get to escape our daily lives for a few minutes.
In short, therefore, it seems clear to me that the marketer who could figure out some magic formula for grabbing and keeping our attention will make billions. Until then we will all keep guessing at that formula time and time again. Sometimes we will succeed and other times we will fail. But at least we’ll have fun trying!
Unlike recent posts I want to congratulate Apple for something – namely the launch of the mighty mouse. It’s a great addition to the product lineup. It’s a bit of a pain to install and to make use of all of its features requires everything to be updated – including the mouse software for some reason. Anyway, despite an install that reminded me of what Microsoft products used to be like to install, it is a great product and shows that Apple can reinvent technologies, even peripheral ones.
PS – the Motorola/Verizon/Google Droid officially launched today. That means we won’t be seeing any more of the teaser ads. But has anyone really paid attention. I stopped by Best Buy at lunch today and saw one person playing with the new phone. Not exactly the mania a new iPhone creates…
Thanks to a tweet by Joe Kingsbury I picked up on a news story on Street Insider which claims that in the first four days since the iPhone went on sale in China a mere 5,000 have been sold. If that’s true it suggests that Apple’s largest potential market isn’t as in love with the device as western markets. Now if someone else were to market a smart phone that did become a hit in China, such as Nokia or Motorola, then perhaps Apple would start to feel the pressure in western markets before long.
Earlier today I was pondering the fact that someone will inevitably produce a better iPhone. I have no clue whether that product is the Droid. I very much doubt it. But it may be. At this point in the game Apple holds most of the cards. It has a well designed product, reasonable customer service and the iPhone links to that wonderfully closed world call iTunes. Google is trying to do an end run around all that with its own links to music producers and it may well get somewhere. The Android technology also looks like it will be good enough to keep some Verizon customers who would have shifted to the Apple/ATT world. But Google has a huge mountain to climb. The noise level around the iPhone is still huge. A Google news search shows there are roughly 87,000 news stories about the iPhone versus a little under 10,000 for the Android phone. The stats on YouTube are even more in the iPhone’s favor with just 11,200 hits for the Android versus 385,000 for the iPhone. But I expect things to change on that front and change quickly. I have two reasons for believing this:
1. Verizon has to throw a lot behind the launch of the Droid and when that happens the US public will know that the Droid is a real competitor to the iPhone.
2. I think the world is ready for someone to compete with the iPhone. Innovation on the iPhone seems to have stalled. I own one and I love it but the 3GS isn’t that much better than the original. The battery life is still dreadful.
All this makes me wonder whether there really is such a thing as an enduring brand anymore. Competition is more fierce than ever and the tools for competitors to compete using social media mean that any weakness can be exploited and any opportunity grabbed.
We may well have seen Apple’s peak, or we may have seen another competitor try and fail. We’ll know all too soon.