I Kissed Medusa: When marketing glitz goes over the line
Where would we be without marketing?
I subscribe to magazines such as Men’s Journal, Esquire and GQ, mostly because many of the authors are top-shelf. I love Matt Tiabbi (Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone), whose father is noted Emmy award winning television journalist Mike Tiabbi. Matt’s profane look at politics and sports will cause him to forever sit with his back to the wall in saloons*. One priceless example appeared in Men’s Journal, contrasting Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis against the Yankee’s Mark Teixeira:
“Whereas a guy like Teixeira was born with a swing so gorgeous you want to paint it, Youkilis fighting a middle reliever to a nine-pitch walk looks like a rhinoceros trying to (mate with) a washing machine.”
But the journalism in such periodicals serves as bait to draw the eye to the magazine’s bread and butter—fashion. Fashion so obscenely priced that my apoplexy would have been less severe had I been set up on a blind date with Medusa herself. Hey, that shirt looks nice but, wait, $700? Once my heart rate dipped below infarction-teasing levels, my eyes were drawn to a pair of shoes. Ah, those Berluti court shoes look pretty tasty, let’s see…OMG $1,980!
Assuming someone could possibly slip me enough of a hallucinogen to cause me to PayPal those hooves to my crib, I’m certain the normally arid Denver skies would crack open and drench my feet the next day.
Here’s the thing: I know there is a difference between a $300 shoe and a $2,000 shoe, but how many people could tell the difference?
Let’s turn to electronics; something standing a far better chance of penetrating my bank account than Berluti.
A couple of years ago, after much research, I plunked down a couple of Grover on a massive flat screen television. The gleeful salesman, sensing blood in the water, circled in for the inevitable up-sell of peripherals and warranties.
I live for such confrontations.
“Well, you’ve bought yourself a fine television. You want the absolute best picture, right?” He pulled a beautifully-packaged set of HDMI cables from the wall—one each for my TV and Blu Ray player. “Just $75 each for peace of mind.”
“Why of course. Brian is it?”
“Yes. Here are the best cables in the business. Top-of-the-line. Rated for a bandwidth of 21 Gbps. You’ll need that or you’ll see artifacts on your screen, and your sound from your Blu Ray will be compromised.”
His brochure-speak was a finely-honed thing of beauty.
“Really? Can I ask you a question?”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“Did you eat lead paint chips as a child?”
“Do you have these cables?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Ah, so you were ripped off too.”
“I can assure you I know the specs on these. I…”
I dismissed him with a wave of my hand. “Brian, let’s make it interesting.” I pointed to the massive wall of plywood-sized flat screens. “Do those sets have these cables?”
“Of course,” he replied with confidence.
“Good. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to walk over to that Target store next door. I’ll buy 10 HDMI cables for 7 bucks each. I’ll walk behind that wall with your best sets and plug them into ten TVs. You assemble all the salespeople, managers, and technical staff and if your team can collectively identify even three of the sets I swapped the cheap cables into, I’ll buy the TV, the Blu Ray, two cables, and I’ll even take your 3-year extended warranty that you guys return pennies on the dollar for.”
“And if your staff of audio-visual wonks can’t find three seven buck cables amongst your gold-tipped beauties, I get the television for free. How does that sound?”
“Our manager will never go for that,” he said finally.
“Why? He must buy into this BS as well. Look, three hits, that’s all I’m asking. Here…” I handed him my Amex, “you hold onto this while I stroll over to Target.”
“No, I can’t.”
“OK, Brian,” my eyes narrowed on his, “we both know why you won’t even broach this with your manager, right?”
He said nothing, his eyes sagging to the ground.
“Because you know damned well those cables sitting over at Target ten feet from the Hallmark greeting cards will perform absolutely the same. Don’t tell me about Gbps, don’t tell me about audio quality, and don’t tell me about their lifetime guarantee. And please don’t try to violate the laws of physics by telling me about the speed of data transfer. We understand each other, Brian?”
He said nothing.
I guess the greater goal of marketing is to convince us we desperately need something we probably don’t. How many people have the ears to tell a $5,000 audio receiver from a $10,000 unit? How many people can tell the difference between an $800 watch and a $20,000 watch? How many people will pay hundreds of dollars more for a lawnmower with a 2” longer blade because it will “save time”?
The list is endless.
Let’s talk informatics solutions. How many companies take the time to look at the end value they will receive for their money versus jumping on the bandwagon of what appears to be a slick user interface, or perhaps a nifty little workflow automation tool that looks great, but will never be used?
Indeed. Companies tend to task internal business analysts with developing user requirements for an enterprise system. In turn, those folks canvass the lab personnel for those requirements, and they, in turn, may either cull useful features from existing systems, or perhaps wave a handful of hardcopy reports in the air and warning the business analysts, “Here, this is what I need! If I don’t have these, I won’t use the system!”
And then, after many thousands of dollars in internal costs, vendor demonstration day arrives, and the team has been beset with demo fatigue. After the third or fourth demo in a couple of days, the team says, “Ah, to hell with it. Let’s take those first guys.”
Cynical? I wish. Over the years I have seen vendors thrown out because the sales guy wore a bad looking sport coat, or the demo person interrupted someone a little too abruptly. In the final analysis, many complex products look very much the same, but what will the customer’s experience be six months hence?
And that’s the real question, isn’t it? In for a penny, in for a pound. Six months after a contract is inked and a few hundred thousand dollars have exchanged hands is a very inopportune time to discover that the application and the people delivering it aren’t working out as planned.
When upper management starts to see faltering progress reports, budget overruns, and no sign of a working system, steel-eyed questions are asked. Frequently, the project manager in charge of system selection takes the first hits, and often looks for companionship to dilute the blame. In many cases, eyes turn to the vendor. In many more cases, those upper managers don’t care.
The determination of value often is a product of functionality, ease of communication, expectations setting and management, and, well, trust. Those flashy screens that sailed across the projector screen may have nothing to do with any of these, yet they often sway a decision one way or another.
Let’s examine my electronics retailer experience against these points. The functionality was exaggerated; the expectations were falsified; and I didn’t trust the salesperson any farther than I could hurl him through the washer and dryer aisle. Yes, I bought a TV and a Blu Ray player that have worked flawlessly, but I knew what I was getting and I had done my homework.
*See Hickok, Wild Bill
Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.