Friday, April 25, 2008

Everything old is new again? Better products as the solution to the marketing crisis!

Have been reading a bunch of presentations/posts/articles on how the future of marketing depends less on advertising and more on making better stuff. Here’s one on Isakson's blog, but you can find similar arguments about marketing as a service at zeus/jones, or brand utility on PSFK or others on the importance of design. What struck me this time on my pass through these next gen positions was that they sounded kind of old-fashioned, denouncing all this hot air and slick salesmanship which we marketers used to see as our stock in trade. “What we need, son, is less talk and a little more spit and elbow grease. Now get in there and dig me up a really beautifully designed keyboard!"

You want to have a successful brand, these arguments go, make a better widget or at least a nicer looking one. It’s why we return over and over again to the same examples: Mac, Starbucks, etc.

The argument for making better and more useful products is fine so far as it goes (a point Paul acknowledges but doesn’t fully address except through the partial solution of “content”), but seems to forget that one of the foundational values of modern marketing is that it’s a substitute for or at least a supplement to product superiority. Advertising is expensive, sure, but much less expensive, often, than R & D or retooling production.

The points about design and utility work best on (again, no surprise here) functional products and utilities like Ebay and Google. They don’t help much when you are selling perfume or vodka. There and in many other places, style and fast-talk still count for a lot.

We all want better widgets, but we are often in the business of selling ones that are less good, or more likely, just as good as every other version. That might be unappetizing to the utopian band of next gen marketers but less unpleasant to those of us who either enjoy the terrible symmetry of business or who have found you can change people's minds by telling them the same thing over and over again.


fiveisbetter said...

It does seem to be quite a cop-out, especially for an industry that was invented to create perceived points of difference that influence what people believe and in turn, how they behave.

As you mention, these days, we're usually trying to influence perceptions about widgets that are less good or as good as every other one on the market. Though that’s assuming that I, as a consumer truly care which one has the superior features in the first place.

If I do, it’ll take me 5 minutes to figure out which one is better. Or more specifically, which one is better for ME and my situation. (like "five" for example.)

So, our job is increasingly about creating compelling emotional points of difference. Which in my opinion are the most fun, and generally have the richest creative potential if done right. (not that there’s not a ton of fantastic feature-benefit work that’s well applied at the right times, like when you're selling a new product with distinct features)

This can make things more challenging creatively and intellectually for sure, but those who can’t crack it get weeded out.

Finally, as a proud PC-user and Peet’s drinker, are Macs and Starbucks really better, or even better looking? Or, have good marketers just made us think so?

sk said...

Maybe it depends on how we like to think about ourselves: many planners these days seem to want to position themselves as apostles of innovation, spreading the good news of better widgets and general community happiness, where others still like see themselves as hidden persuaders and masters of illusion. Both fun ego-ideals, but you probably have to pick one, or at least one at a time.