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Beside an enormous amount of media rants and raves, the recent launch of Apple’s tablet teaches us a lot of things about design, innovation and marketing in the era of the real-time Web.
Don’t Ask What They Want, Ask Yourself What They Do
In a recent article, Roberto Vergana suggested that, when creating new products, Apple mainly proposed a vision, staying away from focus groups and user-centered innovation. But is it really the case? In a not-so-far past, Henry Ford said that “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”, but this statement applied in an era of mass consumption, when large scale breakthrough innovation acceptance was mainly a matter of one-way marketing.
Since then, marketers have learned to listen to consumers, through focus groups and panels, as we evolved into an age where building on the existing was their main concern, and leveraged incremental innovation to gain (and retain) competitive advantages. Present opportunities to directly and instantaneously engage with customers through social media is often no more than a speedier way to achieve the same goal, when it should be used even more than to gain insights, to exchange knowledge.
I saw so many products launches relying on insanely great “love this” feedback which were absolute failures, as nobody bought them in the end. Marketing is about knowledge, not about well wishes. Knowledge about what people do, not what they want. And that is exactly what Apple does with its products. Everybody wants phones and computers with removable batteries, but how many people are ACTUALLY changing a product’s battery? A lot of people are ranting about the iPad’s lack of camera or multitasking support, but who would have used them anyway, apart from computer geeks? Apple products are disruptive, not because they fill people’s wishes, but because they bring new dimensions to what people use.
The Whole Is Better Than the Sum of the Parts
Those dimensions are usually more cultural than technological. Apple quite never focused on real cutting-edge technology in its products. They never used the fastest graphic cards, the hypest webcams, the most powerful camera, and when they did (remember the water cooling system on G4 computers), they often failed. Microsoft has probably developed the most innovative multi touch technology, but what did they do with it? A table, where Apple put its own technology into a tablet. Tables are great for airport lounges and night-club entertainment, for sure, while tablets are built to be taken everywhere. Apple builds on our ways to use things to disrupt what we wish, coming up with products which bring and mean much more than an aggregation of technologies usually could.
Disruptive and Emergent Marketing
In a world where marketers have a duty to teach brands that they won’t survive unless they actively engage their customers through social media, Apple is not only disruptive in the insights they capture from customers, but in their whole marketing. While they have no Twitter account, no official Facebook page, they have the most ardent fans basis ever seen. And they don’t even treat them better than everyone else. No bloggers give-away, no ambassadors program, no nothing. I am not even sure they will keep on relying on traditional advertising channels to boost sales. They even treat their customers the worst they can: sky-high prices, backordered products, uneven customer support… This is marketing as the edge of chaos.
There is, of course, no way to generalize this marketing approach. But in our complex, non linear world, traditional marketing funnels are dead ends, and Apple’s unique strategy to leverage customers’ experience to new heights teaches us an important thing: our globally real-time networked world allows (maybe impose) us to find new creative, emergent, way to design and market products. Twitter’s monetization problem, for instance, as Venessa Miemis recently pinpointed on her blog, Emergent by Design, is a perfect example of this upcoming questioning.
What are you thinking about this?