A Marketing Lesson and Trivia Question

A Marketing Lesson for New-Product Innovation

“How do you create a market for stuff that people don’t understand?” asked Jeffrey L. Cruikshank last month in a special Sunday feature in The Washington Post. A Boston-based business writer, he is the author of “The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (But True) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century” (Harvard Business Review Press).

Cruikshank drew the comparison of Lasker and Apple CEO Steve Jobs: “Both lived through periods of incredible technological innovation. Both figured out how to bring a mass market along for the ride. If we are indeed on the verge of yet another riot of innovation, what can we learn from the Lasker and Jobs playbooks?

He starts with “the product.” In the same way that content is king, Cruikshank said that “no amount of hype and hoopla can make up for a junky product.” And the iPad, he says, is a great product. “A second thing that both Lasker and Jobs would say about a revolutionary new product is that you’d better plan to trade margin for market share,” Cruikshank wrote. He points to the wildly unsuccessful Apple Newton back in 1993 that started selling at $700. “Apple purposefully set the iPad price point low ($499 for the base model) to make it easy for people to take a plunge into the unknown.”

Cruikshank wrote about the marketing of Kotex and the ways that Lasker went about making something previously taboo to talk about available in women’s rest rooms across the country. “Lasker consistently argued for low price points so that ‘his’ company (he owned stock in Kimberley-Clark) could dominate the sanitary-napkin market”

TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE DAY:
What sports entity did Albert Lasker sell to William Wrigley, Jr., in 1925?
Hint for our global readers: their record of futility goes back further
than the last Englishman to win Wimbledon. (answer at the bottom)

The next key to marketing success is “that you have to give them a reason why.” Here, Cruikshank says that Lasker had it much easier than Jobs. “It’s like ‘holding the Internet in your hands,’ [Jobs] told the crowd, cuddling the 1.5-pound device in his arms. ‘It’s so much more intimate than a laptop, and so much more capable than a smart phone.’ Then he spent 20 near-flawless minutes showing exactly what this new thing did.”

They talked about the “magic” of the product. In the short product-launch video, “Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president for industrial design, carried the theme forward: ‘When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical. And that’s exactly what the iPad is. It’s hard to see how something so simple, so thin and so light could possibly be so capable.’ ”

“Finally,” Cruikshank wrote, “both Lasker and Jobs would subscribe to the notion that the revolution will go more easily if it includes a healthy dose of evolution.” The iPad had to look like the next in a line of great products. Lasker did the same with Kleenex, which came along next and “was purposefully positioned to draw on the halo [cottony] effect of its older sibling.”

Cruikshank wrote that he did not intend to buy an iPad. But “as I stood at the iPad display table at an Apple Store on a Saturday afternoon, watching adults fumble and kids dive effortlessly into the world of iPad-based gaming, I realized that I was looking at a technological revolution – one that might well make my laptop and my BlackBerry obsolete. Don’t start the revolution without me!”

“In a consumer revolution—as Lasker well understood—the challenge,” Cruikshank wrote, “lies as much in education as in persuasion.”

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Trivia Question Answer: the Chicago Cubs

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