My toaster caught fire a few weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about getting a new one. I’ve read the Which? consumer reports, and know that the cheaper ones are actually better than the more expensive ones. That was reinforced by one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts, where he describes the world’s worst toaster in all its microprocessor glory. I’m not quite ready to make a decision yet though. I’ll do a bit more research, ask some friends what toasters they use, and then buy one on Amazon (I don’t like shopping and I don’t like crowds).
Hopefully you’re getting a feel for the type of consumer I am. Spontaneous is not my middle name.
So how the heck did I come back from town on Thursday afternoon with a shiny new MacBook Air?
The Grand Arcade, Cambridge’s new shopping centre, opened on Thursday morning. I was in town, and thought I’d take a peek. I wanted to see what they’d done in the 8 years it had taken to plan and 3 years to build. Besides, it was on the way to my car.
It’s an impressive place. A cathedral built of stone, glass, steel and timber. A different class to the misguided 1970s shithole of a shopping centre it abuts. Most of the shops were empty, or not yet fitted.
And then I saw the Apple store. I’m not sure what drew me in. I’ve managed to walk past Apple stores in London, San Francisco and Newport Beach without succumbing.
The store was packed, but buzzing rather than heaving. People were playing with banks of iPhones, iMacs and MacBooks. I’d already read about the MacBook Air. With its missing ports, low capacity hard drive and lack of horsepower it simply isn’t a serious laptop. Only hardcore Apple fanboys and poseurs would be gulled into paying double the price of a proper laptop for such a toy. Sure, it fits into an envelope, but who carries their laptop around in an envelope?
But seeing it – and touching it – was a different experience. It was sexy, sleek and cool. But there was more to it than that: it was a social experience too. In the same way that horror films are scarier, and comedies funnier, when you’re surrounded by strangers in the darkness of the cinema, playing with the MacBook Air in public, surrounded by like-minded strangers in the hubbub of the store, somehow heightened the emotional experience. And then there was an element of nostalgia, the evoking of long-buried memories of being ten years old, programming the BBC Micros on display in high street shops – the only place I could get my hands on them.
So I bought one. I had to.
The whole caboodle – the shop and the computer – have clearly been designed with one thing in mind. They’re built to bend your mind; to anaesthetise the rational, logical, decision making apparatus of your brain and place it at the mercy of the irrational, emotional, animal bits you cannot control. Derren Brown and L. Ron Hubbard are amateurs in Steve Jobs’s shadow.
And if Steve Jobs can perform this mind trick on me, he can weave his spell on you too. So beware.
There’s another lesson here too. Most people have already got enough stuff. They’re not going to buy even more stuff because they need it. They’re going to buy it because they want it. To stand above your competitors, it’s not enough to compete on feature lists. Provoke an emotional, visceral reaction. Make people yearn for your products.
PS I bought the 1.6GHz version. No way was I going to pay an extra £850 for 200 more megahertz and an underperforming SSD drive. I didn’t go that weak-kneed.