Should we blame tech companies for marketing flawed products?

Like twenty million other people this week, I got an email from LinkedIn lauding my popularity on the site.  I am purportedly in the top 5% of viewed profiles, which puts me somewhere between the two-millionth and ten-millionth most popular (or most mysterious) person on LinkedIn.

I found it quite odd that LinkedIn would try to leverage a gamification tactic like this to get people to spend more time on site, particularly given its specific utility.  And it got me wondering if we’re so accustomed to the velocity of change with technology that traditional product marketing may seem out-of place?

The curious case of Bing

When Microsoft brought in Mark Penn last year to increase Bing’s share of search, it seemed like an odd hire.  Penn has a background in public relations.  A few months later the “Bing it On” campaign was thrust upon the world, no doubt predicated upon the notion that Bing and Google (in their current iterations) are nearly indistinguishable from each other….. and 50% is better than 30%.  This doesn’t appear to be as effective as Bing hoped, but the strategy is illustrative.

Think about the changes that Bing made.  They incorporated social signals, they simplified their design, they partnered with Klout, they created their own confusing, unnecessary social network ( among other changes…. and their share of market barely deviated.

Now Bill Gates is deployed to Reddit proclaiming Bing’s superiority to Google (really, Bill?) and Microsoft extends their attack on Google to Gmail contrasting Gmail’s privacy to Bing-integrated  In each case illustrating features that have been around for months (in some cases years) or are possibly (in the case of Bing’s undeniable superiority) exaggerations or untruths.

The reality is that all of Bing’s changes didn’t take a lot of traffic from Google.  Domestically they took some traffic from their “partner” Yahoo, but Google’s share of search is as strong as when Bing came on the scene.  So, the question becomes whether to continue adding bells and whistles to the product or to try and boost awareness of what they’ve previously done.

LinkedIn is in the same boat.  Maybe a gamification strategy makes some sense to drive traffic to some of the new content that they’ve put together, or the new layout, or their new “endorsements” feature.  But it has very little do with its core competency of business connections and career transitioning.  Maybe it would seem a little less gimmicky if the email didn’t remind you that each percentage point of 200 million users is 2 million users.   But, LinkedIn (like Bing) has a lot of new-ish features that most people aren’t necessarily aware of.

Winner winner chicken dinner

Awareness / redundance that you don’t bat an eye at

Here in beautiful Cincinnati, Proctor and Gamble is home to some iconic brands: Crest, Scope, Pampers and my all-time favorite detergent, Tide.  When you see advertising for these brands it’s a non-event.  For a moment these familiar brands are top of mind until the next reminder.  They don’t have to change formulations every three months, in fact it would be pretty reckless for them to do so.  So, why are tech companies held to a different standard?

Does Bing need to reinvent the search engine every time they have a conversation about it?  Does LinkedIn need to double down on Richard Branson blog posts for the privilege of asking for your attention?  And if you were in the top 5% of Tide users (a metric determined by number of children x their propensity to get dirty x your motivation to take action), would it mean more to you than being a part of LinkedIn’s top 20 million users?  For me it might, and I don’t know how to reconcile the double-standard.

What do you think?  Are tech companies help to a different standard when it comes to marketing and advertising their products?  And if you disagree with the premise of the piece, just leave a note to share how much you love Tide…

Photo Credit

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Alex Joseph

    That’s a great question. Tech companies seem to struggle with adding more features that most people don’t care about, once the product core use case is mature and the user opinion is set (e.g., Office or Facebook). However, companies still have to try to use potential decision moments to persuade people to switch from entrenched products. As much as I dislike the Microsoft GMail Man ad, it was probably planted at the time when people were increasingly concerned about Google privacy practices.

    I also think LinkedIn gamification attempts have not been bad – endorsements made it much easier and fun than recommendations; the top 1% message did make me feel a bit special etc. – howmuchever lame they are (if you think rationally)!

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Alex! It doesn’t surprise me at all that you are in the elite circles of LinkedIn! And I agree that the top % messages would have been a ton better if they didn’t affix it with the number of users! 😀

  • Ben Barden

    Hi Jim,

    I think there’s a blogging parallel that can be drawn here. Should bloggers promote posts from their archives, or only promote new or fairly recent content?

    I’d say that some content goes out of date, and is therefore not really worth re-publicising. But if the post is still as relevant as it was, say, six or 12 months ago – repurposing the post, or even just linking to it, can bring new eyes to old content.

    So what does this have to do with tech companies? Well, just because a feature has been in the wild for however many months, doesn’t mean everybody is aware of it. Nor does it mean there aren’t ways to improve the feature, or share tips for pro users. So if a really handy improvement is made to Facebook pages or groups, promoting that feature makes sense. But it could be equally as useful to showcase good uses of pages or groups.

    A blogger who publishes Twitter tips doesn’t only look at the new features. They might look at the “core” feature set, such as retweets, mentions, lists, or hashtags. They might have tips for running multiple accounts or using an app to enhance your experience. Tips can be a great way for companies to leverage interest in existing features and show why they’re worth using.

    Just my views :)

    • jimdougherty

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Ben. At my kid’s soccer pictures yesterday, the lady taking payments was taking it with Square and was so enamored with the technology that she wanted to show me everything, and it reminded me how there is a life cycle for these technologies and people who follow them closely will inevitably be at forefront. It’s hard to bear that in mind though! Thanks for your great comment!