Published on February 29, 2012

Progress or the Emperor’s new clothes?

Earlier this week I was in a car being driven to the airport when I noticed that the rear-view mirror had been replaced by a screen linked to a camera somewhere on the back of the car. The screen was located where the rear-view mirror would normally have been, and was the same size and shape.

And that got me to thinking! What is the cost differential between fitting a small piece of mirrored glass versus a complex system of cameras and screens? After all, both deliver exactly the same benefit – of being able to see what is behind you. And at what point did someone decide that a camera and screen would be better than the less expensive mirror?

Now I could understand it more if the screen played DVDs or offered a heads-up display of the satellite navigation, but no, it was just a replacement for the rear-view mirror.

I wonder if the innovation was the result of some market research, although I sadly doubt it! I can’t imagine anyone suggested this as the one thing that would encourage them to buy the car more than if it simply had a mirror!

Sadly this is a prime example of either market research being retro-fitted to justify a product development by the manufacturer, or technology being used for the sake of technology – just because it exists.

And the same can be said in brand marketing. We hear a lot about social media being the only way to grow brands – every brand needs a Facebook page or Twitter feed. Classic marketing techniques are being discarded in pursuit of ‘technological progress’. But I would recommend caution before we all abandon tried and trusted techniques in favour of this new wave of technology.

Please don’t think for one minute I am suggesting social media has NO place in the world of modern marketing – of course it does! It can be, with the right brands, a hugely successful and powerful medium. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most appropriate for ALL brands. It may be that other routes will work better for your brand, or that it should be part of the overall mix but not the main element.

For example, you may find that sampling via healthcare professionals is a critical driver of brand sales. It’s not sexy! But it works! So before we divert budget out of this activity, we need to be sure that the alternative works at least as well.

I’m not advocating we stand in the way of progress – I think we should embrace new technologies if they are right for our brands and our customers.

With healthcare brands our focus should be on patient/sufferer outcomes. If we can genuinely say that adopting new technology can improve patient/sufferer outcomes then let’s embrace it.

If it’s a case of replacing a cost-effective rear-view mirror with a complex and expensive camera and screen, which does EXACTLY the same thing at several times the price then maybe, just maybe we should think twice.

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