Creating better markets with technology
The customer’s perception is your marketing reality. A lot of businesses do everything to ensure that the impression existing and potential clients have of them is favourable. A “favourable perception” alone is no longer enough. Some go as far as creating what is now popularly termed in the tech world “reality distortion fields.”
The term “reality distortion” was first ascribed to the ability of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc, to get people to believe that an alternate reality was possible. He used it quite successfully to motivate his team at Apple to create ground-breaking yet improbable products. They just had to imagine an alternate reality. This approach went beyond just solving problems. It required a different viewpoint and solution. The field extended beyond the company to its customers to create new markets.
Apple creates a religious and even “cult-like” following in its customer base. It brings unparalleled loyalty to their products even when they now technically lag behind feature wise. How is that possible? I believe it is because they grew a resilient product and customer ecosystem that is larger than each product.
Marcus Giesler is a German-born Marketing Professor and the Founder of “The Big Design Lab.” He describes Marketing as “the art and science of creating better markets.” In a TedX video, he explains how looking beyond your product and thinking of the larger ecosystem can lead to more product success. Apple created better markets for innovative and well-designed products; they defended their dominance in that market by establishing a trust ecosystem. Apple customers simply trust Apple products and the ecosystem, they have little incentive to go elsewhere. I know this because I am one of them.
Uber is also in the reality distortion business. They look beyond just their drivers and riders to the greater market. They look at how negative perception of Uber in the larger society could change as they are trying to create better markets. After their recent leadership woes, Uber hired Bozoma Saint-John a top executive from Apple to become their “Chief Brand Officer.” The perception of the brand in the larger ecosystem is crucial to them. When they launched in London, existing taxi drivers went on strike, and the negative press drove Uber adoption by over 700%. They got banned recently in London, and a multitude rose to their support on the Internet.
In Nigeria, reality distortion fields also exist. Faith-based organizations practice reality distortion successfully. Evangelical movements create an alternate reality from orthodoxy. They enhance it with resilient trust networks. I have often argued that technology companies should observe how African evangelical churches get created, how they grow and proliferate. I am sure that there are a lot of things technology companies need to learn from them. New generation banks followed the model of the churches. They also created a new reality from old generation banks using technology. They scaled to many countries too. I have seen GTBank try and win other banks at reality distortion. GTbank created a new digital market in Nigeria while others were still struggling in old markets. They changed the play again with digital marketing and trust platforms.
A lot of local technology startups try to sell, but a few know how to create better markets. The typical pattern is “all narrative and little action.” A lot of brands tell how good they are at solving problems, but they don’t show it. They do very little beyond trying to promote themselves and their products. Creating resilient trust ecosystems has only been mastered by a few.
Reality distortion by focusing on brand building and perception alone can backfire. Just before Econet Wireless Nigeria launched GSM services, they started the process of customer education in the newspapers, telling people about the technology. When they eventually started, they spent a lot of money building highly visible Econet Stores to enhance their brand. That visibility helped the entire industry by building trust in the technology itself. MTN Nigeria, on the other hand, focused on building out infrastructure and leveraged on the awareness the competitor had created. MTN developed their distribution on existing trust networks in the informal retail sector. Each dealer and vendor that MTN recruited helped enhance their brand far more than adverts or retail stores. Their slogan was “MTN Everywhere You Go,” the ubiquity of infrastructure and distribution met this promise. Trusted networks and high availability made MTN win the Nigerian telco war. MTN only built a better market for their distributors and customers, not just a better brand.
It is very common for technology startups to seek visibility in the media. They feel it is the quickest way to “sell their brand.” Selling is very different from marketing. Using Giesler’s definition again, marketing is about creating better markets. Changing people from status quo requires a lot more effort at reality distortion. Sustaining it requires building ecosystems larger than the company or product. Building an ecosystem is not just by participation, sometimes it could even be about giving and not expecting to receive immediately. I hear a lot of talk in the local technology space about “solving problems, “ but I rarely hear from the streets about how local startups have solved those problems. Local tech can create better markets locally and internationally just like the banks, churches, Apple, and Uber. We just have to learn and master the art.
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