Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Life Is Indeed Too Short

I was a product manager for a long time. I loved it. It's a near perfect fit for how my mind works - sort of halfway between being a total propeller-head-engineer-type and a total laterally-stiff-and-vertically-compliant marketing type. Actually, while I use it as shorthand for marketing functions because it's easy to get the point across that way, I hate the "LSVC" paradigm, since when you get to the end of a very long and tortured trail on that, all it is is a way for a bunch of people to get pretty astounding compensation for doing nothing more than figuratively making food smell better. You smell the food, and you can't get the smell out of your mind, and it smells so freaking good, and all you can think about is going to the restaurant and getting the taste that goes along with the smell. God, IT SMELLS SO FREAKING GOOD! But then you sit down at the table and you order that food and an expensive drink to go along with it (what's the point of cheaping out on the drinks if we're going all in on the meal), and when the food comes to the table, it looks pretty good. It smells outrageously good, but while it looks pretty good, it doesn't look THAT good. And then you taste it, and it's good. Really good. But not "run straight into a burning building to get me some of that" good. And the check that's on the way when you finish the meal is definitely a "run straight into a burning building to get me some of that" check. So while the smell was just unbelievable, and it was really good at both the look and the taste phases, the looks and taste didn't measure up to the smell. And the cost of the whole thing leaves you wondering "what the hell just happened to me, and why do I have a headache, and why are my boxers on backward, and why is there a half empty tub of Vaseline next to my bed?"

There are a lot of things that we do in life where either the rules of physics or the rules of the game dictate that you have to go so far past the inflection point on the cost/benefit curve to get any measurable benefit that it's just ridiculous. The engineers can only make the steak taste so good, so if margins are going to rise, and the investors are going to be sated by another quarter of good results, and a bunch more people than it actually takes to get the work done are going to hold onto their cushy jobs and expensive perks, it's up to the marketing department to make that steak smell so fucking good that you can't stand not having it and you'll pay anything to have it. That's sort of generally what way too much marketing can be described as. Although I'm purposely being vague as hell here, can you think of anything that we do that involves stuff for which this is a passable analogy?

The thing I dig instead is when the interface between the product team/engineers and the consumer comes up with a great fit. Things that fit every dimension - performance, price, aesthetics, ease of delivery and use, etc. That's when you've made people's lives better, and that's what should be rewarded. I won't go all apocalyptic and get into my theory on how what we're going to see in the next decade is the consumerist/capitalist equivalent to the great unwinding of the centrally planned, Soviet-style economies. I'll save that for another day. But I do think we've gotten to a very harmful point along the consumerism curve and I'm happy to be doing something about it. Everyone needs a mission, right?

So you might see some things out there that make you think you're seeing some dickhead being a total jackhole poseur, but that's really not what's going on. Maybe he's trying to figure out a way to get you a steak that smells awesome, looks great, tastes good enough that you're excited to eat it several times a week (if not more), and doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.

In talking about this with a friend, he reassured me with the thought, regarding using stuff that might make people think you're a total jackhole poseur, that life's to short to use stuff that doesn't give you as much of an experience as the stuff that you could use but aren't because of what others might think. And I think he's got a great point. But I'd also add that life is too short to have that "what the hell just happened to me, and why do I have a headache, and why are my boxers on backward, and why is there a half empty tub of Vaseline next to my bed?" feeling.

I think I just broke through a new barrier on the Laffer Curve of Vagueness. Soon enough, all will be revealed, and JHC am I psyched about it. But the cat and the bag need to make a great team for a while longer.

1 comment:

TerribleTerry said...

you're going to start selling a chloroform that doesn't cause headaches and boxers that can be worn forwards or backwards?