An article on last week’s CNN website both amused me and pissed me off. The amusement came from the fact that my assertion, made last month, about the name “iPad” being a little “feminine hygiene oriented” is now borne out, by – among other signs – the word “iTampon” trending as one of the most tweeted topics for the two weeks following the release of Apple’s newest gadget. Apple has experienced a failure (however temporary one might feel it to be) in branding. That failure may have been driven by some factors that were beyond the company’s control (naming rights, etc), but it was a failure nevertheless. I imagine it will be a short lived offset, as their evangelical fan base is capable of turning water in to wine, when it comes to product adoption.

Apple’s failure was a marketing failure, and while it’s unlikely to lead to a business failure (as they experienced with the Newton, original Mac Mini, and other such ventures), it is a failure in that it missed a major opportunity. The failure was not a failure to push the right name forth, or advertise convincingly enough. These would have been promotional failures, and I would agree with Mr. Ihnatko: in those cases, the failure of a promotional campaign can be inconsequential, when the offering sells itself. However, a product only sells itself when it FULLY MEETS A PREVIOUSLY UNTAPPED NEED.

Apple may end up selling a healthy number of iPads, but I am left wondering how many more they might have sold, had they LISTENED to the consumer more than they are used to doing. Like all great designers, the company created something they “knew” was the best thing, but they based their knowledge on personal aesthetic and creative sensibilities and preferences. If Jobs, Ive, Forstall, and Schiller like it…let’s get real…if JOBS likes it, the world must like it. Thanks to the fact that Jobs has undeniably cool taste and is indeed brilliant (combined with the unquestionably genius skills of Mr. Ive and his team), the result has historically been some pretty darn exciting products…for a relatively small niche of equally specific consumers – People whose personal aesthetic and creative sensibilities and preferences matched those of Messrs Jobs and Ive, in essence.

When you’re trying to create a solution that serves a wider market, however, this doesn’t work so well. Unless competitors such as Microsoft, HP, Blackberry et al fail to deliver market-ready versions of their own prototypes, I predict Apple’s market share for this type of device will be far less than it may otherwise have been.

Now to my irritation, which is not altogether unrelated.

Andy Ihnatko, a tech columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, is quoted in the article I mention above as saying “with the right device, marketing doesn’t really matter.”  I’m not sure what else he said, because all I heard after that was a strange wailing, that I shortly realized was my own cry of frustration at yet another unwitting misinterpretation of the role and value of marketing, within 21st century business strategy and practice.

Having worked with and within a thrilling diversity of businesses and industries, I have learned a lot about, and practiced, an equally wide array of interpretations of the function known as “Marketing”. My experiences, perhaps more than anything else, have irrevocably confirmed for me that this function, when successfully leveraged and executed, is NOT an adjunct or additional engagement, to be activated “when the need arises”. One could argue (subjectively) that Public Relations, Advertising, and Promotions fall in that category, but Marketing is no longer, nor should it ever be, seen as an initiative designed to purely drive sales.

I am now picturing a bevy of Business Unit leaders and financial officers derisively snorting in shareholder-sensitive disdain and contempt at my apparent naïveté…but humor me for a moment longer, please.

For a long time, consumer products companies, consumer electronics companies, and even service and solution providers pursued the notion of “push marketing” with an exponential level of investment.  For a longtime, their methodologies delivered equally, or at least satisfactory, returns on those investments. Make enough noise, grab enough eyeballs, repeat the mantra enough times, and you’ll make the sale. This worked in many instances, but no longer.

The consumer of today belongs to a complex society of social networks. In some cases these networks are consciously inhabited, while in others the consumer participates subconsciously, simply by dint of their purchasing habits or behaviors exhibited, when in possession of, or proximity to, the value offerings in question. To clarify my point, permit me to borrow from the Forrester research ladder metaphor, created four years ago, when social networking was still very much in its mainstreaming infancy.

Since 2006, Facebook has grown its user base by over  5000% (from under 8 million to over 400 million active users). YouTube has experienced a more than 3000% increase in content uploads since 2006. UGC (User Generated Content) and CDP (Consumer  Driven Productization) are not fads. They are inescapable trends, and they are largely inured to the promotional efforts of “old school” advertising agencies and product marketing groups. Taking some of this data as a baseline, I can only *begin* to imagine how Forrester’s 2006 findings have changed in the intervening 4 year period…

In 2006, a full 48% of online consumers over the age of 21 were already actively involved in social networking activities. Consider the above growth curves of Facebook, YouTube et al, what can we imagine is the percentage of adults engaged in social networking today?..

Companies are still able to drive sales in to niche constituencies, simply by investing enough energy and money in the artificial creation of the “illusion of need”. This pseudo-holographic need is only experienced as long as the investment required to uphold that illusion is maintained. If brands truly want to CONNECT with larger market segments, and establish the type of brand recognition and long-term loyalty of which contemporary ad execs can only dream fondly, they need to grasp the concepts of social networking, crowd sourcing, and “Trust” or “Relationship” marketing.

I will delve into these at a later date. For now, however, I would like to offer up a taste of the power of crowd sourcing, and ask you to think how you might consider changing the way you develop and bring to market your next product/solution/service/self…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ2PFoHptK8]

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