Sunday, November 20, 2011

Death of a really good salesman

Apple did a lot of things right, most important of them, I admit, was to build exquisitely designed products. But a lot of their success owes to a brilliant marketing effort too. It convinced people that they could, at a starting fee of USD 199, join an exclusive club. Even today my twitter feed has a steady stream of smug comments from Mac users subtly indicating that they know something that others don't. The company also perfected perceived obsolescence; you would feel the greatest gratification when you bought their latest device but feel equally unsatisfied when they released the next version, in the process keeping you panting on that hedonic treadmill. In Jeffrey Sachs's words they qualified as a great company because "they manufactured wants".

In typical cult-like response Apple consumers went overboard with their tributes to Jobs when he died. I lost track of the number of people who compared him to Edison. Vaclav Smil does a better job than I could hope to do in putting that claim in perspective, but the best counter came from Prem Panicker "Edison changed lives, Jobs changed lifestyles".

What Occupy Wall Street tells me - early days, of course - is that civilization may finally be reaching that inflection point when people stop identifying themselves primarily as "consumers". In that new order Jobs's legacy might not really age all that well. I think that will be a good thing.

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