The Future of Focus

Posted by Kate Jurras on Tue, Jan 22, 2013

Ryan Morrow resized 600This is the time of year when we reflect on the past, and look to the future. Through the end of this month, we'll be sharing guest blog posts in our the annual Predictions & Reflections series. We asked some of our smartest guest writers to reflect on the past year and look to the upcoming year. This post is by Ryan McMorrow specializes in digital marketing strategy, analytics, and user experience research/design at ten24 Web Solutions, a web development company located in Northborough, Massachusetts. When he’s not helping organizations give the best experience to their visitors on the web, Ryan can be found training for his next road race or brainstorming the latest addition to his standing desk. For more information, check out Ryan McMorrow’s website or follow him on Twitter.

When considering the marketing landscape in the next five years, my mind jumps towards the future’s revolutionary technologies, exciting ways to grow brand communities, and more agile businesses. However, in spite of all these things, I am continually struck by the fact that no matter how many things change, core marketing concepts stay the same. To understand the future, let’s study the lessons of the past.

The year was 1994. Wal-Mart had just expanded its operations to New England, the dot-com bubble was 5 years away, and Al Ries, with the help of Jack Trout, wrote an easy read titled “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” While the landscape of business and culture has changed since this book was written, the central tenets in this book still ring true today. I’ve utilized their thoughts below.

Perception isn’t just half the battle, it’s ALL the battle.

First, let me say that I thoroughly understand that having a solid product or service is a necessity to the longevity of any organization. However, if consumers don’t understand this reality, or more importantly its benefits, you’re not likely to get very far. This is where marketing, specifically a cohesive positioning campaign, can help.

Take a trip down memory lane with me to discuss the Volkswagen’s ill-fated “Phaeton.” In 2002, Volkswagen, always positioned as an affordable mid-level option for the common man, thought it was time to begin chipping away at the luxury car market. The Phaeton came out to wide critical acclaim. Mototrend, in a comparison of luxury sedans (including Lexus and Audi), gave the car third prize overall. What could go wrong?

The problem, it turned out, was Volkswagen’s positioning strategy. Having done a tremendous job at positioning for the mid-market, there was no prestige in owning a Phaeton, regardless of the superior quality. Why pay the price of a BMW and not get to show it off? Sales were more than disappointing – the car cost the organization millions of dollars and hurt the overall Volkswagen brand perception. The vehicle was discontinued in 2006.

As we look towards the future, expect great organizations to hammer the right perception into the minds of its consumers. The rest will be destined to sell Pepsi brand yogurt (who wisely changed their positioning strategy at the last second) and wonder why sales are slumping.

Every “iPhone Killer” reinforces why the iPhone still stands.

Since it’s on every person’s mind anyway, let’s talk about the iPhone. In 2004, the cell phone market was a glut of the same old story. There would be new features: a keyboard here, an internal antenna there, but each phone offered similar features for a similar price. Apple reinvented the entire category. Placing an emphasis on apps and capabilities, the iPhone not only built a market from scratch, but built a strong perception while doing it. In the words of Ries and Trout, “it’s better to be first than it is to be better.”

Every product that claims to be the next iPhone killer is simply trying to do things better than Apple already does them. Even if it were true, the only way to truly kill the iPhone is to revolutionize the market again and make the iPhone irrelevant – in other words, be the first player in a new, game-changing, market.

Incumbents can also attempt to gain share by further segmenting the market -- the “only smartphone focused specifically on the business person’s needs [i.e. productivity, security, accessibility]” (Blackberry, I’m looking at you to refocus!), or an “interactive cell phone for elders” (I hear rumbling that this is already in development). Regardless, I don’t see any “iPhone killer” wiping Apple off the planet anytime soon.


As we look to the future, pay close attention to the lessons of the past. While technology, attention spans, and businesses may change, core concepts like focus and perception will not. If an organization is looking to succeed in marketing and in business in general, it first must develop a strategy established firmly in these ideas. It then must implement in a way that makes sense to the target audience through a marketing mix of social, digital, traditional, etc.