Emerging Platforms

Are You Selling Bibles Or Religion?

Posted by Rob Rose on January 30th, 2010 at 12:00 am

Well I think we can all agree that this last week was a good week for buzz.   We had, of course, the almost completely frantic, breathless rumors leading up to Wednesday's Apple announcement (you might have heard they launched a new product).

That was followed up with the equally buzzworthy State of the Union address; which was (by many accounts) one of the more interesting SOU speeches in recent years.  When was the last time a Supreme Court Justice mouthed off during one of these.

Certainly, the social media universe as well as the main stream media were all excited about both.

But was there a unifying thread for us marketers?

Yeah, I think there was - and I think it's a very interesting reminder for us.   In both cases these two men - Steve Jobs and Barack O'Bama - were marketing something much bigger than what was in their hand.   In their respective messages, and in a drive to speak to both their fanboys and to those they're trying to convert - they weren't selling bibles - they were selling religion.

Apple and the Reality Distortion Field

If you haven't heard of Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field - understand that it's a meme that's been around since the early 80's - and has become almost legendary.  Basically, it's the idea that Jobs and his charisma and bluster are big enough to distort an audience's sense of proportion.   Basically, incremental product improvements become "breakthroughs" and new products like the iPad become... ahem... "magical".

Like the Mac and iPod before it, the iPad is not a revolutionary device.  It's a tablet computer that has seen numerous incarnations.  Does anybody remember, by the way, that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmerintroduced a number of tablet computers at CES only three weeks ago? 

Anyway, the point is that Apple isn't selling an incremental improvement to an already in-market device. They're selling a new way of living your life.    Apple doesn't care to tell you how much RAM is in the machine, how fast it is (and all reports are that it's amazingly fast) or what any of the technical specs are. In fact, often to the frustration of the tech pundits, it's hard to know exactly what's "under the hood".   Steve Jobs stood on the stage (actually sat for a good piece of it) and showed you how your lives will change with his new "magical" device.

O'Bama's CTRL ALT Delete

So, getting beyond the politics and specific proposals of the speech, Obama was not selling an incremental improvement in his product in his State of the Union address - he was rebooting his entire administration.  For those who voted for him, he had sweeping, feisty, intelligent rhetoric reminding you why you voted for him.   For those who didn't, he was "lecturing", reminding you of what he "walked in the door" and found.

But unlike so many SOU's, it was a pitch with a definite point of view.  He chided himself, his own party and the opposition - while simultaneously lifting his core message of "change" back into the spotlight.  Basically, in a very similar set of stagecraft, Obama stood at the podium and sold a vision of how lives can be changed with his new "magical" set of services.

Be Distinctive - And Sell The Dream Not The Device

Now, certainly the base of these concepts aren't new.  The idea of selling the "lifestyle" or the "big idea" and not the product is a core piece of our learning as marketers. Coke didn't sell us a soft drink in the seventies - "they taught the world to sing".  Apple didn't sell us a 2GHz, Desktop Computer, they sold us a "computer for the rest of us".  The iPod isn't an MP3 Player, it's "1,000 songs in your pocket". And of course, Obama isn't/wasn't selling a specific proposal - he's selling "a  change we can believe in".

But here's what is new. As our marketing strategies fundamentally shift this year into a more "real-time" mode - it's easy for us to slip into a groove of marketing our "speeds and feeds".   Why is that? 

Well, were moving damn fast these days.  It's very tempting to want to take "shortcuts" and just move to the next new thing, rather than work a process and our content and be remarkable.  It can be easier to look for the existing leaders who have already blazed a trail or the competitor from whom we can copy the template.  Put simply, selling bibles is short and easy and less risky and selling religion is a longer process, with a harder ROI to pin down - and tends to be much mushier.

But, if Apple and the POTUS gave us anything this week, it was to remind us how huge the payoff can be.  It's a great kick in our butts at how to build a remarkable strategy. 

Remember though, "remarkable" doesn't necessarily mean "good".  So, just because it was remarkable, doesn't mean that you have to agree with it.  As Seth Godin says so wonderfully "remarkability lies in the edges.  The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult.  It doesn't always matter which edge, more that you're at (or beyond) the edge". 

In fact, there's also a wonderful line in Seth Godin's "Purple Cow" where he says "We've created a world where most products are invisible.  The traditional approaches are now obsolete, though.  One hundred years of marketing thought are gone.  Alternative approaches aren't a novelty - they are all we've got left."  

In today's information flood, we just simply can't follow.  We've got to be bigger. We've got to get the word out, have a distinct point of view, develop our evangelists, and most of all - be remarkable.

No go out there and start selling religion... 

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