Jiva Technology

Can you market a product by telling people not to buy?

About a year ago, I bought some new floor coverings. I would have said ‘carpet’, but it seems that things have moved on a little since I last bought floor coverings and, well let’s just say that there are quite a few more options to choose from. Like about a million different options. Wood floor, carpet, tiles, carpet that comes as tiles, tiles that look like wood. When you actually decide that you want wood floors, you have to decide on the timber and the width and the number of millimetres of actual wood on top of the underlying substrate. Time to go home and lie down.

The experience left me exhausted and was about as much fun as the first time I bought a fridge (no fun). But it did get me thinking about why, when I was clearly ready to buy, that companies made it so hard to buy from them. One company even suggested I hire someone to advise me on the purchase. Really?

What struck me was that in a world where every single product and service category seems to be massively over supplied, companies put the onus on me to make a selection. Which is pretty hard when you don’t do it very often. The onus was very firmly on me to determine the relevant merits of the 450,000 different options. Why is that? Part of the problem is that every product available seems to be marketed as high quality, low price and fabulous for the environment. There seems to be a lack of honesty in the communication. Its a bit like the modern footballer in a post game interview, “it was a good game and I thought we showed a lot of good touches and we’ll be learning from the mistakes we made”. No one said to me, “that won’t work for you”. Or in football parlance, “we lost because they were better”.

In a world where everyone is busy and everyone is being marketed to at all the times, I think the onus should be on companies to identify who they think should buy their products. Which in theory is what marketing is all about, but it seems to have got lost in the mix somehow. About the only people who seem to have got this right are the super cool street brands (and maybe night clubs) who make it abundantly clear that if you aren’t cool, don’t buy their product. Which means I won’t. But I like their thinking. We’ll both be happier knowing that we don’t belong together; it saves time.

Perhaps the best way to identify who should buy your product is to start by identifying who shouldn’t. For Tutorhub, things are relatively easy. Don’t use the service if you aren’t looking for tutoring. Don’t use the service if you find the online experience doesn’t work for you. For us, what we do is somewhat baked into the name and where you find us. Maybe from now on we could start a marketing movement thats focused on identifying who shouldn’t buy. It might work.

Our education system and why it has to change

Here’s a simple thought process. The UK’s statistical office estimates that babies born today have a 2/3 chance of living until they’re 100.

They’ll spend the first few years learning the basics, like sitting, standing, talking, learning language and manipulating objects with their hands. All the hard stuff. At around the age of 4 or 5, they’ll head off to school and stay there until they’re 21 if you include university, which is starting to look increasingly like school. At that point, they’re done with learning and they’ll head off to make a career or just make money. Or, depending on who you speak to, work like crazy to avert global climate catastrophe.

The first 20% of your life is spent learning things and then the next 80% of your life will be spent applying what you’ve learnt. Doesn’t this seem a little odd? Isn’t it highly likely that things change in the 60-80 years that follow?

I suppose the point is that we have an education system that was devised for a different age. It seems so blazingly obvious that things have to change, it seems strange that no one if talking about it more openly. It’s a nonsense to suggest that the current cohort of young people leaving school and university have learnt all they need to learn to cope with the world in 2050. For those that need reminding, that’s only 30 years away, or roughly half the time that those skills are supposed to sustain the current crop of school and university leavers. Isn’t it time to start deconstructing our education system, to rethink how things might be approached in a different way?

What difference can just one person make?

It turns out the answer is simple: a lot. Its easy to be pessimistic about the world with mainstream and social media being so heavily weighted towards anger, resentment and bad news, but it turns out there are plenty of people who ignore the naysayers and get on with changing the world one tree at a time. Tony Rinaudo is responsible for the planting of 200 million trees. It’s barely believable.

Next time someone shrugs their shoulders and says, “but what can I do”, I think I might mention Tony. People always need hope that things can change for the better, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. What Tony shows is that with some skill, dedication and a sense of what’s going on around you, it’s always possible to find that difference.

How we consume education

Education is all about school, right? And university? And maybe some professional education if I want to become a lawyer or an accountant. Or maybe some vocational educational if I’m a nurse or a plumber or a digital marketing maven? Once we’ve mastered the basics of reading and writing and some basic maths, it’s all about acquiring higher level skills. And there was a time when those skills had a proper shelf life, like a lifetime. How long do they last now? Even if I train as an accountant, will I need to be proficient in artificial intelligence in 20 years as the software robots take over the profession.

It used to be said (and maybe it still is) that one of the most important aspects of university was learning how to learn. As a narrative, that works well for the people who really love to learn (which generally correlates pretty closely to those who find it easy) but we need to think about the rest of us. What if you don’t love to learn, but you realise it’s an increasingly necessary evil. It sounds almost heretical to talk about education in that way, but perhaps we need to be just a little less uptight about acquiring skills, about getting an education.

Given that everyone seems to have little problem being a consumer and buying stuff, maybe it’s time for skills-acquisition to take the weary path down from its ivory tower and just let people consume education.  Some universities are already heading in that direction, even if they won’t admit it. 3 years at uni: tick. Choice of accommodation to suit your budget: tick. Ready made student activities: tick. Okay, maybe I’m pushing things a little far, but you get the idea.

Britain needs people with the right skills more than ever. The market for jobs is actually a myriad of smaller markets with their own dynamics, some with shortages, some with massive over supply; some with good prospects, some with a dire outlook. It isn’t easy to shift between those markets, but if we apply what we know from mainstream marketing, we know that if we want people to consume we just make it easy to buy. Amazon have famously made it so easy to buy things without moving much more than your finger(s) that it’s turned them into a scary 1 trillion dollar behemoth. How many people have bought things on Amazon by mistake.

About the last thing that you’d say about education is that it’s easy to buy. After the formative experience of being forced to consume our basic education (its against the law not to), there is then almost no way to easily identify what to buy, let alone how to buy it. Sure, many of us all out of school and into university; I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the 50 years that current graduates will likely spend in the work force post-graduation. Want to become the aforementioned digital marketing maven? Where do I pick up the skills? How do we afford the time away from work without an indulgent employer?

These are serious issues, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole. As our economies shift with the advent of longer working lives, climate change and adoption of artificial intelligence, the need for flexibility in the workforce will become ever more important. Maybe it’s time to get our act together?

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