Crazy concepts, savvy scheduling and improved imitations

Were you taken in at the start of the month by Google? I was – almost. Had it not been for the recurring reminder I put in my calendar (‘April 1 – watch out!’) I might just have been tempted to fall for the latest gag coming out of Mountain View. Google Nose. It was almost plausible – mainly because it was the sort of thing that you might expect from the company that brought you the Google Glass project. Let’s face it: specs that let you scroll through Facebook posts and reply to texts are no weirder than virtual scratch and sniff. The best jokes have a grain of truth in them. Detached from reality, they’re not funny. It’s the juxtaposition of the possible and the ridiculous that makes them work. And though I knew Google Nose was a joke, I really wanted to try it. Online supermarket shopping (see previous entry) would never be the same again, if you could enjoy the heady scent of cinnamon bagels, or the seductive aroma of a steaming hot chocolate. Trust me, this is going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. And Google got there first. Yes, it was a joke – but what better way to run an idea up the flagpole? I’m sure I wasn’t the only disappointed sniffer who sent them an email suggesting they do it for real. Lesson 1: great ideas sometimes creep up on you. Don’t ignore them.

Ship of fools

If  you have a great idea, you need to get it out there. Even it it’s still on the drawing board, you have to get people excited and build up momentum. They’ll get a sneak peek of great things to come, and you’ll get that kick up the proverbial that gets ideas off the drawing board and into the shops. But timing is everything. Baidu, the Chinese search engine, has been beavering way on its own glasses. They’ll do pretty much the same thing as the Google ones, but I’m sure they’ll carry a much lower price tag. So far, so good. Except Baidu decided to make their big announcement on the first Monday in April. Which also happened to be the first day of the month. You see the problem. It was taken, like so many other madcap ideas, to be a hoax. Only it wasn’t. But it took days for anybody to realise, by which time the significance of the announcement had been lost in the jamboree of April Fool jokes. Not very clear-sighted of them. Lesson 2: timing is everything. Don’t let your great idea disappear in a sea of mediocre ones.

Good, better, best

One of the things that make great marketing ideas great is their novelty value. If you’re first, then you’ve got that factor – in spades. Yes, you’ve got a bit of explaining to do (How does it work? Does it complement or replace what I’ve already got? Is it reliable? Can I trust it? Is it around to stay or another here-today-gone-tomorrow idea?) but once you’ve addressed the basics, it’s all systems go. It’ll fly, or it’ll fail. But at least you were there first, in the clear blue sky, uncluttered by competition. Until it appears. Because it always does. So make hay while the sun shines (in that clear blue sky, to carry on the metaphor) and get ahead while you can. If, on the other hand, you are the competition, be sure you’ve given the concept a twist. Taken a great idea and made it even better: easier to use, or cheaper, or more integrated, more portable, more compatible. Me-too versions rarely succeed. Just look at Bebo or MySpace. Even the mighty Google gets it wrong sometimes: they recently announced that they’re ditching Google Reader, a clunky, user-unfriendly RSS reader that they’ve done nothing with for years. And Microsoft isn’t averse to jumping on a passing bandwagon, with its oddly named Socl (pronounced ‘social’, in case you didn’t guess). It’s a hybrid of Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, and is one that’s undoubtedly destined for the bit bucket of history. Too late, too derivative, too desperate. Lesson 3: if you’ve got a  great idea, move fast – faster than the competition. And if you’re going to copy a great idea, do it well. Do it better than the original.

Don’t dream it – be it

And one final lesson, whatever your great idea: believe in it. Because if you don’t, they won’t. So even if you have doubts, never, ever let it show in your marketing communication. As with politics, positive thinking is half the battle. In a world where perception is reality, you have one ace up your sleeve: your marketing controls that perception. Like the best April Fool jokes, total commitment and complete believability turns a good idea into a great one. Every day of the year. Find out more: 
  • Time out already. Microsoft’s Socl throws its hat in the social-networking ring.