When it comes to consumer technologies, I like to employ a simple litmus test: If it works for my four-year-old son and my 64-year-old mother, it’ll probably work for everyone. Take the Flip video camera, for instance: Turn it on, point it at something (hopefully interesting), press the big red button and suddenly you’re the next Martin Scorsese. Or the iPad: Press the “On” button, swipe your finger, and suddenly you’re … well, doing whatever grandmothers and preschoolers do on their iPads — playing games, fiddling with apps, consuming media.
What these mom- and kid-tested and approved gadgets have in common is that they weren’t necessarily the first to market. Pure Digital Technologies, makers of the Flip, initially introduced a rudimentary onetime- use camcorder sold at CVS stores and designed for direct conversion to DVD media. Meanwhile, the iPad can legitimately trace its roots back to Apple’s seminal but ill-fated Newton tablet. Save for a limited but cult following, neither device managed to gain much consumer interest and each was quickly dispatched to the dustbins of first-mover tech missteps.
Today, the Flip and the iPad are heralded as category innovators, but these seemingly ubiquitous tech tools likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day if not for the failure of their precursors. In our “every kid gets a prize” world, the notion of failure doesn’t get the respect that it rightly deserves. Most times, it seems, we learn more from our mistakes than from our triumphs.
That’s clearly the case when it comes to many marketing technologies. First isn’t always best, but it often lays the groundwork for future innovations that are even more useful (and successful) than their predecessors. Being second (or third or fourth) and learning from the prior mistakes of antecedents can be advantageous — transformational even.
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About the author
Kipp Cheng is group director, corporate communications, at G2 Worldwide. Previously he served as an editor and reporter, covering consumer technology at Entertainment Weekly and marketing technology at Adweek.