Marketing Tech Like Consumer Goods: Move Beyond Cool.

Apple is proving that the future requires treating technology like a consumer good. But to get there, we have to start changing our communication And that starts by getting a grip on our use of “cool”.

Today’s tech advertising rarely goes deeper than “cool”. As I walked the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January, I found meaningless cool everywhere. The most obvious was the video version that cluttered the show and might best be called “video wallpaper”. Action, color, and hype… And nothing more.

Many communication suppliers (agencies and production companies) love “cool” because it’s a low risk approach to keeping clients happy while making loads of money. Unfortunately, it’s also the lazy man’s approach and must become secondary as computers move into consumer goods quality products.

For years, we’ve probably gotten away with it since the craziest of early adopters respond to the mere implication that they’re missing something without that new technology. Interestingly, with the iPad Apple seems to have skipped over this group and succeeded by going directly to people who are already across the chasm.

To achieve this success not only requires more mature products but more mature communication. Because the only way across the chasm is with communication that delivers meaningful value. (In research we’re even learning that tech companies have burned consumers so often that cool often implies “gimmick” – positioning the latest advanced technology right next to the Snuggie in the consumer mind.)

“But what about Apple? They’re cool.” They are. But their brand became cool because they deliver highly unique and valuable products with high levels of consumer refinement. Continuing to deliver that value is the primary driver of sales. This doesn’t mean being cool is unimportant for Apple. But my guess is that “cool” plays a minor role – perhaps bringing a 5% to 10% added value.

So here are some thoughts to help guide us through the maze of cool options…

…Tech “cool” has been trained into an entire culture of marketers and executives. And it is the default for every communication team. But cool has a problem because it’s so common that it has become dull and uninteresting. (Just think about this while you walk your next trade show.)

…Cool changes depending on the age of your consumer. If you are marketing tech to adults over 60, cool can raise concerns and dramatically reduce sales. And for “youth” products, there are many flavors of cool so choose yours carefully. Too often mid life art directors deliver work to recapture their own youth and leave out the meaning young markets demand. (Remember that the young consumer is savvy. While they want a flavor of “cool”, they also want value.)

…There are great tech products where “cool” isn’t their school. The Netpliance iOpener press tour bombed when it pitched “cool”. Too bad. The iOpener was a great product that delivered significant benefit. But, it’s technology wasn’t new – it didn’t deliver cool. Editors never saw the value of the product and they panned it. How many tech products have failed because they assumed that “coolness” was their ticket?

…Coolness is just one of many attributes. Where does it fit for your product mix? The CES show was a great place to look around and realize that “cool” companies are a dime a dozen. The truly successful emerging companies have messages that are meaningful. (Sadly, the big boys like Intel and Microsoft too often get away with carpet bombing cool in their booths. But don’t be mis-led. This plays only a small role in their success.)

Truth is, VC’s seem to demand cool because it continues to be important for investors considering a buy-out or an IPO. So be it. Figure out where “cool” delivers meaning with your product and create a strategy for using that “cool”.

Then realize that consumers need a lot more. Deliver the thing that will generate the profit you really need: meaningful advertising that drives sales of a meaningful product.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

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