The marketing world is guided by theories – “models” that are expected to explain the key issues we face and help us take action. Without these models, marketing would grind to a halt. Too often, though, we forget that these marketing theories and models lack the strength of true scientific theories.
Scientific theories aren’t accepted unless they can be replicated under controlled circumstances. But in business, there are no controlled circumstances. So marketing theories try to make sense of behavior we’ve observed, but lack the strength and repeatability of science.
With all this in mind, I’ve been looking at Apple’s iPad success. It looks like they broke away from classic tech marketing models. The iPad succeeded without first being released to “tech early adopters”. (For decades, tech marketing theory has focused on a classic type of early adopter who loves gadgetry and the ability to tinker with technology.)
We know about Apple’s success because of some unusual, and slightly flakey, attitudinal research which shows that the earliest iPad buyers weren’t wild eyed tech crazies but core mass market buyers. (While I don’t love this research, it does appear reliable in the finding that iPad buyers generally lack the attitudes of traditional tech early adopters. Other research on early iPad purchasers has focused purely on demographics. But early adopterism is most clearly explained by attitudes and not demographics. This other research has blandly concluded “classic early adopters” but the study findings don’t show one way or another.)
How did Apple pull this off?
First, I doubt that they thought a lot about it. People who change the rules do so because they’re entirely focused on their vision of the end result – not on the idea that they’re changing things.
Second, it appears that a small team at Apple shared a very powerful vision of how mass market consumers would use the iPad and drove product development to satisfy that core audience.
Third, Apple demanded that technology rise to the quality of a consumer good. This is most publicly evident in the statements that have gotten them in hot water with the industry. Apple refuses to support Flash because it degrades the quality of their end users experience. Apple controls the types of Apps approved for their store in order to, again, provide a good user experience. They’ve been pilloried in the press for these choices, but they make the iPad a damn fine product.
Fourth, the iPhone had pre-trained the market to use the iPad successfully. Anyone with iPhone experience can pick up an iPad and be quite capable in a very short time.
As I consider what Apple’s done, it makes me think the traditional model may have been wrong all along – and even been a problem for the industry. Why? Because success with classic early adopters requires a focus on gee-whiz gadgetry. That causes products to be harder to use and may even lead companies into failure with designs that are impossible to change to satisfy mass market requirements.
So should we all now reject the older model? Absolutely not. In any set of circumstances one model or another will be most useful. Marketing wisdom is fundamentally the ability recognize the uniqueness in your situation.
But to follow Apple’s success, most companies will need to learn new skills in order to develop a clear vision of the mass market product and make certain that product development delivers that vision in the first release.
Now back to my premise. Did Apple succeed without early adopters? Of course not. But they dramatically changed the typology of the early adopter – reaching a much broader market than tech has traditionally reached. The exciting news for all of us is that their successful approach leads to much larger successes.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett