Sunday, July 17, 2005

Should product marketing "solve a problem" or "scratch an itch"?

I just wrote a mini-rant on my Personal Blog about what I saw as Microsoft's marketing cluelessness.

But as I wrote it I realized that the problem is that the Microsoft vs. Apple conversation is really oranges vs. apples. And in their case it seems to be that one company is developing product to meet that traditional goal of "solving customers' problems" whereas the other is developing products to "scratch customers' itches."

You can tell that Microsoft product management is well-trained in seeing product development's goal as problem-solving. How else to explain their reaction to the fact that PCs running Microsoft Windows are so susceptible to spyware and other malicious/intrusive software program? That reaction? To go into business selling more software to combat spyware etc.

Clearly spyware etc. is a major customer problem. For Microsoft OS users. Some might say that customers are having this problem because of a "bug" in the OS, or perhaps a design flaw. In any case, some might say...hey. fix your OS. Microsoft might argue that the reason the Mac OS doesn't have the problem is not that it's such a great, secure OS, but rather that it's such a niche market that the spyware folks don't spend the time to figure out how to inundate Macs the way they have PCs.

That argument doesn't really help the PC customer. And there's no getting around the perception that Microsoft is finding a way to make money off a customer problem that only their customers have.

If we look at Apple marketing, it's much more about solving problems you didn't even know you had...or scratching an itch, rather than bandaging a wound.

How so? Well, great design is something that obviously one needs in furniture, art, any number of items in your home. One could argue that great design doesn't make a computer more functional or useful. Yet, great industrial design is the hallmark of Apple products.

In fact most innovations Apple brings to the market scratch itches. I had a million ways to listen to music...I wasn't sitting around thinking, "Gee, I wish I had a way to take the music from all 1200 CDs I own with me at all times." I didn't realize that inside I really did want to take pictures, if only someone would make it easier to organize, edit and publish my photos, and to turn them into attractive photo albums with a click of the mouse rather than a visit to a scrapbooking store. I never imagine I would have some big desire to play with music samples and create my own compositions...and certainly never would have imagined that lots of other folks would have that inner musician itch to scratch too.

Is this why Apple is really, market-share-wise, a niche-product rather than a market dominator like Microsoft? Probably.

Has dominating a niche market made them unsuccessful? Don't think so.

Do Apple products also solve problems? Of course. Although you'll pay a premium.

Will greater numbers of people ever be willing to pay a premium to have comprehensive coverage of both their problems and their "itches"?

Now, if I knew that...

Hi Elisa,

How are you? I sat in on your blogging WebEx a couple of months ago and now I'm writing a story in our Greenhouse Grower magazine about blogs. And I haven't been able to find one blog on any of our growers' websites! These folks need to know about blogs!

I'm wondering if we could set up a phone interview in the next week or so. If you'd be able to, please e-mail me and I'll give you more details on what we're looking for.

Sara Tambascio
Greenhouse Grower
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