Yesterday, I posited that great marketing is simply great storytelling.
And great stories all begin with an interesting subject to frame a compelling narrative around.
In marketing, that subject is your product (for simplicity’s sake, I’m purposefully conflating products and services, to being simply the “thing” that you’re trying to influence an audience to buy – or buy into).
And while a solid and innovative product is the very beginning of crafting a compelling campaign, it is not sufficient for the success of that product in the marketplace. In fact, I would claim that great products fail almost entirely because their creators didn’t tell their “story” in a way that hit home with their audience… or they told it at a time when their audience wasn’t ready to hear that particular story.
Let’s look at some illustrative brand examples: mobile devices.
The current mobile marketplace is dominated by Samsung (Android) and Apple (iOS). But they were by no means the first companies to market “smart” mobile devices. Who were? Palm, Research in Motion (RIM, neé Blackberry), and Microsoft (in the case of Microsoft, nearly seventeen years ago)!
So – why did Palm, Blackberry, and Microsoft fail to win – or in case of Palm and Blackberry, fail to keep – hearts and minds, while Apple and Samsung (Android) now rule the world?
In the case of Microsoft, they never made the cogent case for why Microsoft CE (their first mobile smart OS) was something that consumers needed to buy. Arguably, the nascent mobile web wasn’t ready ten years ago – from a design and UX standpoint – to make CE an attractive portal for readable web sites. So in a sense, it was a combination of Microsoft not successfully pitching why the devices were needed, and the mobile web not being ready to support a new wave of mobile consumers.
In the cases of both Palm and Blackberry, you have two early market dominators who enjoyed a near monopoly – for a time – but squandered their positioning through poor leadership, lack of innovation, and the inability of each company to successfully innovate and change their product narratives, when new challengers entered their respective markets.
As a result, Palm is history (for all intents and purposes), and Blackberry is a mere shadow of its former self, all in the span of a handful of years.
So – why did Apple and Samsung (Android) succeed (ed: so far), while these other brands stumbled so badly? Because they had a larger story to tell, that was more than simply describing the specs of their product.
Apple was able to leverage a huge installed base of users in an existing ecosystem (with their captive credit card numbers in tow), tethered to their iTunes music store. They were able to tell a story of “everything just works” (true or no – it was a simple and compelling tagline).
Samsung was able to leverage the massive popularity of Android, while touting innovation over their main competitor Apple, playing heavily upon a narrative that iOS is very cool – for your parents. And, they arguably have a successful narrative around doing things “years ahead” of Apple (the phablet form factor, near field communications (NFC), contact sharing, etc.).
There are other recent examples in the mobile space, demonstrating how strong brands can fail, lacking a compelling product narrative – like Nokia; a brand that dominated the “feature phone” handset space globally, that has now virtually ceased to exist as a separate mobile brand, in no small part to idiotic “storytelling“, via their CEO, Stephen Elop, in his “Burning Platform” memo.
These examples all demonstrate that great products can fail, and fail hard – either to take root, as was the case with Windows CE, or to keep marketshare, as was the case with Palm, RIM, and Nokia – because of the lack of a compelling narrative promoting and maintaining their brands.
And, they demonstrate how a strong product stories can elevate what could have been “also ran” products, into the next generation market leaders, which is no mean feat; ask Microsoft, trying to claw their way back into mobile relevance with a very good product (Windows Phone), a superior camera (best in breed, in my opinion) – but a decidedly muddled marketing story.
We’re about to see a similar battle engaged anew, with the announcement of the new Apple Watch. Will Apple be able to create a strong enough narrative as to why their new product is more compelling than the Samsung Gear, the Moto 360, or the Pebble, to possibly create a new market leader?
If past is prologue, I wouldn’t count them out.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss how a brand’s voice is essential to telling a great marketing story.