Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is your product essential?

what would you say, if asked "how many products are truly essential to your life?" 2 percent of the market shelves? 1 percent?

few brands are blessed with truly essential products. we marketers may attempt to convince consumers that products are essential and at the very least provide a benefit to one's life. but really, what do you (if you're a marketer) promote that one truly can't live without or might actually be essential to life? the percentage is low.

i was bouldering last night when i decided to take a quick "break" and do some top rope climbing. compare the two above photos, one of an ice climber and the following of a boulderer and you quickly get where i'm going with this post. the ice climber is sporting darn near essential products exclusively. from his crampons to his harness to his helmet and maybe most specifically, each bolt he sets on lead. the woman, however, relies mainly on her own strength, strategy and stamina, as her distance from the ground is not fatal (note the crashpad, a smart idea and in my mind essential).

my point on essential products wasn't realized in the more romantic way of being 30 feet up on a wall while my belay partner picked up the slack from the ground. it came when i was the belayer, carefully pulling slack and lowering the climber and seeing the value in the belay device that held the climber between feat and fall.

and i got to thinking about climbing products' genesis and obviously turned my focus to Yvon Chouinard and Chouinard Equipment - the Patagonia founder's first venture, which revolutionized sport climbing and environmental sustainability. each piton Chouinard forged was a link between life and death. each piece of equipment was relied on by climbers not only to be effective and provide functional benefits, but to ensure safety.

we can't all produce essential products. not every brand is in the business of creating essential friction between a climber and belayer. and i am certainly not advocating marketers bend their bounds to create an essential need when none exists.

but using the concept of essential as a filter surely will make our messages more focused and relevant. surely it can strip the superfluous from strategies and design.

clothing is not essential. organic clothing, however, could have a case made for being essential to the environment.
beef is not essential. naturally-raised, locally-produced beef, however, could be far more essential to consumer health than mass-produced/packed/shipped products that are gaining an unfortunate amount of attention.
cars aren't essential, safety is.

you see where i'm going with this. no, we may not work on the Petzel account, but we can add an element of focus, reason for importance and maybe even a case for essential to the way products work and are produced. this is a conversation far past "marketing." it's about design...which is a conversation that's becoming increasingly essential for marketers to have.

(above photo credit, Jimmy Chin)

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