One of the most important areas of marketing, and really all communication, is how good marketing communications focus on the customer, moreso than the business. The key to creating effective marketing and content is to create messages that have relevance for the customer. Check out this picture of Times Square in NYC:
Times Square is the mecca of flashy advertising and marketing messages. They are everywhere!
But look closely at the people in that photo, because they are all doing the very same thing.
Do you see it? Every one of them is completely ignoring all those marketing messages! The marketing that’s all around them is completely irrelevant to them, so they ignore it.
For your marketing to be effective, if has to create relevance for the customer. Today I want to talk about two companies that did this well, and two that didn’t. And when the smoke cleared, one company had created a device that reshaped the music industry forever.
The Birth of the Internet, and Digital Music
The mid to late 1990s saw the mainstream adoption of two world-changing technologies. The first was the internet. By the late 1990s, thanks to online services such as AOL and Compuserve, most of the US had internet access. Around the same time, the MP3 file format began to take form as a way to quickly and easily transfer music files online, or store them offline via a computer’s hard drive, or a CD. Music file-sharing sites such as Napster and Limewire became quite popular during the late 90s.
The combination of the emergence of internet access and digital audio files marked a huge disruption to how people acquired, shared and stored music. Increasingly, people were converting music from the CD format, to MP3 files and storing that music digitally on their computers. As people became more used to playing music digitally on their computers, this created a market for…portable digital music players!
Meet the World’s First MP3 Player, and You’ve Never Heard of It
In 1998, the MP Man, Model F10 was released to the world, becoming the first MP3 player on the market. It came in two versions, one held 32MB of MP3 files, the ‘deluxe’ version held 64MB, or roughly the equivalent of one album.
Later in 1998, another MP3 player hit the market, and you likely haven’t heard of it either. It was the Rio PMP300 from Diamond. And it would only hold 32MB of MP3 files, or roughly eight 3-minute songs you might hear on the radio.
It could be argued that technically, the PMP300 was the inferior product to the MP Man F10. After all, the PMP300 only came in a 32MB version, where the MP Man F10 offered 32MB and 64MB versons.
Yet, the PMP300 had two things going for it. The first was its price, it was roughly half the price of the MP Man.
But what made the PMP300 far more successful than the MP Man was its marketing and positioning. Whenever a new product with new technology comes to market, the company has the responsibility to careful explain to the customer what the product is, what it does, and why the customer should buy it.
The packaging for the MP Man F10 proudly advertises that it is ‘The World’s First MP3 Player In Your Pocket’.
The packaging for the Rio PMP300 states that it offers ‘Internet Music In the Palm Of Your Hand’.
See the difference? The packaging for the MP Man F10 tells you WHAT the product is. The packaging for the Rio PMP300 tells you WHY you want it!
Do you want an MP3 player in your pocket, or do you want internet music in the palm of your hand?
Both devices offered the same technology and convenience. The difference is the marketing for the F10 focused on the product, while the marketing for the PMP300 focused on the customer.
Sales for the PMP300 are thought to have been 10-20 times that of the MP Man F10, making the Rio PMP300 the world’s first commercially successful MP3 player.
Focusing on the customer matters.
The Battle of the Digital Music Players; Round Two
Curiously, we saw this battle for supremacy in the digital music market play out again a few years later. The MP Man and Rio PMP300 both had serious storage limitations. Over time, as consumers became more familiar with digital music and ‘ripping’ and ‘burning’ CDs and working with MP3 files, they needed more storage for their devices.
In 2000, Creative Labs offered its Nomad Jukebox portable digital player to the market. Its main advantage was its massive upgrade in storage over previous offerings. The Nomad Jukebox boasted 6GB of storage, a huge jump over the 32MB that the MP Man and PMP300 offered. Essentially, the market was going from seeing digital players that stored 8 songs, to players that stored 8,000 songs!
A year later, Apple unveiled the first iPod. Yet it only had 5GB of storage, compared Creative’s Nomad Jukebox which had 6GB.
Over the following years, Creative would expand its offerings of digital music players. Its Zen line would win several prestigious awards for product design.
Yet, the player from Apple ended up being the big winner in the digital music player market, not the Creative offerings.
Again, let’s go back to how each product was positioned. I did an image search and I’m looking at the box for one of Creative’s Zen music players. The box has an endless list of features the player offers, and in three languages! Battery life. Storage amount. All the technical information your audiophile heart could desire, even letting you know that playback happens at 98dB. As a bonus, it even touts that the Zen uses Firewire technology to transfer files much faster than USB. The irony is, the Firewire technology was invented by….Apple!
So how did the iPod position itself to counter the technical appeal of the Zen?
1000 Songs In Your Pocket.
That’s it. No endless list of features, no technical, product-focused jargon. If you want 1000 songs in your pocket, then buy an iPod.
The irony is, the Zen offered you MORE than 1000 songs in your pocket, but they didn’t focus on that. Instead, the Zen’s packaging focused on a lot of technical features that likely resonated with the product team at Creative, but in the end they didn’t mean much to their customers.
But Apple’s positioning of ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ was a clear benefit that was dead simple for customers to see the value in.
Focusing on the customer matters.
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