Astute managers should look closely at this week’s storm over Apple’s new Nano iPod. Seth Godin issues a cautionary note about the impact of passionate consumers on the process of innovation. Companies are desperately striving to create customers that care passionately about their products but there are times when these wonderful consumers freak out if the product doesn’t live up to their standards of perfection. It took just one unhappy Apple consumer with one web site to knock the wind out of the launch of Nano. Viral marketing or viral messaging is an incredibly powerful tool. Especially in the hands of passionate customers. In the end, Apple conceded a small percentage of problems with scratches and screens and promised to make amends.
For me, the larger lesson was Apple’s reluctance to quickly respond to the viral tempest. I remember that it was also reluctanct to act when another passionate customer went ballistic over the early iPod batteries, set up a website and lambasted Apple. All the management manuals tell you to quickly embrace criticism, promise quick solutions and follow through with them. Apple appears reluctant to admit anything less than perfection in its products. Is it an Apple cultural thing? I don’t know. Better, I think, to embrace the design philosophy of iteration, even in wonderfully crafted products like the Nano, expect possible problems in very complex products and be prepared to work fast to deal with them if your customers point them out. After all, Apple’s customers, unlike most others, really do love Apple.
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