Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ode to an 18 Year Old @MercedesBenz -- A Social Media Primer


I've been in Naples, Florida catching up with family and old friends - hence radio silence interrupted by sporadic tweets and emails. While I've been here, I've had the use of a 1992 Mercedes 300E. I'm not going to lie - it's got some scratches, it's lacking A/C and one of the rear windows doesn't work so to call this pristine would be misleading. But, everything else on this car works. And works incredibly well. I would even suggest that it runs almost as well as it did 18 years ago and that's saying something especially considering that the window and A/C are fixable. So, as warm boiling hot as it's been here, I'm willing to forgive both of those automotive age spots. And that's saying something, too.

After some Googling, I found this glowing, may I say reverent, review of the car. As you can see, I'm not the only one who marvels at all things four door and early 90s boxy. Setting aside the Mercedes idol worship, I thought this sentence was significant:

"... it was one of the most complete Mercedes-Benz cars to incorporate everything that is the Mercedes-Benz brand -- and that encompasses a lot. It's about solidity, longevity, safety, luxury, engineering excellence and of course, prestige."

Why all of these superlatives and why is this car still ticking after all of these years? Well, we have Italian Bruno Sacco, Mercedes' design chief for 24 years, to thank for this piece of German engineering confection. During his 24 year tenure, he was responsible for every bus, car and truck that rolled off a Mercedes assembly line. His point of view on design was different from most: the car product lifecycle should be 30 years. And, he placed equal weight on design as well as function when he considered longevity. I'll share his words:

"The development cycle for a new vehicle is typically three to five years ... This is then followed by a production life of about eight years. The last car off the assembly line will have an average life expectancy of twenty years. That adds up to a product lifecycle of approximately 30 years!"

"But for us, there is no primacy of technology over design or design over technology. The aesthetics of a product can never hope to make up for poor-quality technology."

Folks, as business people (function agnostic), this is a creed and commitment to high performance we should live by. Every time we put pen to paper to devise new products or strategies, we should be thinking longevity and not the quick hit. Living proof: the words solidity, longevity, safety, luxury and engineering excellence in that glowing review exactly reflects what Bruno Sacco wanted you to feel not only when the car rolled off the line but also twenty years later despite scratches and maybe, in my case, no A/C.

I saw a question in a user forum the other day about whether social media is a tactic or a strategy unto itself. I keep seeing variants of this question, it's a fair one to ask and is something that everyone loves to answer. Sometimes, that's not the point. Sometimes, we have to think of the larger picture and the time and discipline required to achieve the big picture. What our products are or aren't and what our brand does or does not represent. This 18 year old car, Bruno Sacco and that social media question remind me of this post that featured a Mitch Joel interview. As he said:

"Marketers want everything ... and they want it fast. ... Yes, you can make fast decisions, but optimal results take time. ... It takes time to build your content, find your voice, develop a community, and earn trust and respect. ... There are no shortcuts to success. ... You become the go-to-person by adding value and building real relationships."

As we develop brands or products, we have to consider the relationship with the customer as well as how they will feel about our brand or product. I've said this before but the relationship can only be developed and solidified based on earning trust and delivering respect both of which are derived from the value that's embedded in the brand or product. How we use channels and dealing with the existential questions of which channel to use (Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, etc.) are meaningless -- simply being present "socially" is the cost of entry these days.

It's the advanced thinking of someone like a Bruno Sacco that's needed to survive in the long term and to still earn accolades even if we are like an 18 year old car with a busted window. How do we apply something like his thirty year product lifecycle to our frame of reference? How do we take the "aesthetics of a product" and ensure that it's backed by features and benefits that are meaningful to our customers? Similarly, how do we ensure that the aesthetics or the "feel good" aspects match up with the features and benefits? 

The short answer is focus.  It's a skill that we could all stand to sharpen regularly.  What's your take?  Feel free to send your thoughts or leave a comment below!  I look forward to hearing from you!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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