But another big reason why I’m transfixed by this track is that I’ve witnessed its creation. It seems that every week I’m struck with another example of how, in this digital age, the making of something is often its most effective marketing.
Typically, creators of everything from songs to sports cars treat the creation process as they would if they were making sausage: we’ll let you know when it’s done and perfect, but by no means are we going to let you witness how its made. As I’ve argued before, I think confidential creation is crazy. Had this song just landed in my iTunes on its own, it would be just another few minutes without context or back story. But, as watch this video, I now know this song as the one that they guy created in one take with the virtuosity to be able to take the time to stroke the side of the machine every now and again. I feel like I know the guy, I’ve got a memory that will get triggered with every listen, and I’m likely to tell someone about the video.
Typically, almost by definition, marketing is thought of as the practice of selling creations (products, services, ideas, art). But I think one of the most fundamental impacts of digital marketing is that, these days, the most effective marketing is the process of creating. Often, the best way to sell a finished product is to allow people to experience the process of creating that product.
It used to be that companies (or musical artists, for that matter) used to lock themselves in a factory/studio/conference room and keep every aspect of a product’s development under lock and key until such time as the product was “finished.” Anything unfinished was a state secret; anything “imperfect” was to be hidden at all costs.
This approach, old school industrial revolution to its core, short sells both the intelligence and the curiosity of consumers and fans. Now, the most vibrant marketers are those who provide exciting ways for fans (and soon-to-be consumers) to glimpse what they will buy as it is being created. The point isn’t to be afraid of something that is unfinished or imperfect; the realization is that these not-yet-finished products serve only to whet your appetite for what will come.
A while back, I shared a J. Cole track that was clearly unfinished and wrote about this very topic. At the time, the unfinished parts of the song didn’t frustrate me– they served to spark my imagination for how it might come to be. And now, as the finished (?) song has been leaked, I don’t just have a song from an emerging artist. I have the denouement to a series of artistic what-ifs that I’ve been entertaining ever since.
Why are new products typically treated like sausage? When developing new products, most companies keep the development process entirely under wraps. Prior to the product launch, everything happens behind a curtain of secrecy until the moment when—voila!—the product is “ready” to be presented in its fully-realized form to the world. As a result, even when we look at those products that we love the most, we know nothing about how the product came to be.
I know there are lots of good reasons why companies shroud their product development in secrecy. One obvious yet still-significant concern is security. If you allow even the slightest peek into product development, there’s a good chance that some plant in Taiwan will have a copycat on the streets in a matter of hours. And I suppose you also surrender some control when you let people behind the curtain: if you show video of a product that hasn’t yet launched, there is a chance the product will flop and be honored with YouTube videos that remix your footage to a circus soundtrack.
But this near-categorical cover-up of the creation process forgets the fact that most adults grew up playing with Legos. Continue reading →