Computers and cereal.
Before getting involved with marketing computers in 1969 for Digital Equipment Corporation, I was a consultant with Management Science Associates for five years. We worked with companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Scott Paper, General Foods, Hunt-Wesson, and General Mills. Our specialty was new product positioning and forecasting.
Today, many computer manufacturers are convinced that marketing computers is the same as marketing cereal or toilet tissue. Maybe this is coming, but it is certainly not true today. Why not?
Mass market products--toothpaste, cereal, automobiles, records--are things with which virtually everyone is familiar. Because we are familiar with them and use them regularly, we feel competent to make up our own minds on which one to buy. People decide on a particular brand in many ways--what their mothers used to buy, magazine and TV advertising, word of mouth, magazine reviews, price, packaging, or just impulse.
This is not true with computers. Most people are not familiar with them. Few, if any people can be sold on a particular computer by a TV and alone. Mr. Average American is willing to plunk down ten grand for a Buick, but is not sure whether he should spend $500 for a home computer. Even if he is willing to spend the money, he isn't willing to decide on his own which one to get.
So how are all these computers being sold? Two ways. First, to a relatively small group of knowledgeable people--readers of Creative Computing, Byte, and the well-established personal computing magazines with a good renewal base and long-term readership. Second, to a much larger group of people who are influenced by the first group.
Think about it. How many people have asked you what computer to buy in the past year? Quite a few I'm willing to bet.
Sure, some people are willing to buy a computer based on a TV ad or on a review in one of the novice-focus magazines, but this is a small fraction of the total market. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that TV advertising is a waste of money. It is, however, a waste for a computer manufacturer to spend money on TV if they are not also placing advertising and making an effort to get their product reviewed in magazines such as Creative.
I hate to name names in print; it has a way of backfiring. However, let me go out on a short limb. These are some manufacturers that, in my opinion, have done things right. They first established a strong advertising program in established personal computer magazines and made machines available for review. They include Apple, IBM, TI, Radio Shack, Osborne, and Atari. The newest member of this group is SpectraVideo; I predict they will succeed.
On the other hand, a handful of new manufacturers think that TV advertising and mass distribution alone is the answer. Even though some of them are big companies, I predict they will find the personal computer market rough sledding because they have not recognized the incredible importance of you folks, called by The Wall Street Journal, "influencers." In this group we find, among others, Mattel, Coleco, Panasonic, NEC, Sanyo, and Casio. I hope they come around before it is too late.