Humor is a difficult art. If you've been reading this column for any length of time, you know that; I don't always manage to pull off the funny, even when I'm really working for it. Parody is an especially difficult form of humor, because to be really successful, it has to achieve the same tone as its subject, imitating and poking fun at it simultaneously.
In recent years, we've seen a few fields where parody has been sharpened to a razor's edge; news broadcasts and product/service advertisements are two of the more notable ones. Since I recently wrote about some of the negative effects of a materialist society [CRM December 2014, "The Age of Entitled Consumers"], I'll start with the latter.
For the past several years, the world of retail electronics has turned on one axis: the latest gadget updates from Apple. Countless news reports, blogs, and magazine articles are dedicated every year to speculating about what the newest iPhone will be like or drooling over the specs of this year's MacBook. Leaked details about the latest iPad or—gasp!—a rumor about somebody leaving a prototype in a public place can push wars and natural disasters off the front page.
Then along came IKEA. Trust the Swedish home furnishings company, with its clean-lined, affordable products, to cut to the heart of the Apple hype machine. Back in September (yes, I realize that was six months ago, but I can't monitor all of the culture all of the time), IKEA announced and released its 2015 catalog. This is usually a minor event, because while IKEA fans are fairly passionate about the company's wares, it's not to the sycophantic levels of some Apple worshipers. Rather than a simple announcement, IKEA produced a product video for the 2015 "BookBook." Just Google "IKEA Apple parody" and you'll find it.
The video absolutely nails the Apple product vibe, and skewers it with that nail. From the fawning tone of Chief Design Guru Jorgen Eghammer to the revelation of features such as eternal battery life, expandable viewing area (by opening the book), and no lag while loading pages, it tells us everything that's right about Apple's advertising strategy, even as it shows what's wrong with a world where getting rid of last year's model in favor of one that's half a millimeter thinner is considered reasonable.
This is not to say that Apple and other manufacturers don't make products of great beauty and utility. They certainly do, and the fact that these sleek devices have changed the way we live and work in a matter of years is a sign of that. But we're being taught to obsess over details and variations that just don't matter. Customer distraction takes the place of real innovation.
While I might be overstating the issue, there's a possibility of this happening with enterprise applications as well. We've spent many years refining the CRM tools we use, and for the moment seem to have arrived at a plateau. Vendors know what works, and what businesses use, so CRM seems commoditized. If every product in a given category can do more or less the same thing, vendors have to look to any element that differentiates them to buyers. When it's all one looks at, this sort of distraction can make buyers forget just why they're investing in a product in the first place.
Let's try to prevent that from happening. Every time you see a minor feature hyped as a CRM software revolution, I urge you to think of Apple and IKEA. Then ask yourself which side of the line that hype falls on.
Marshall Lager is the founder and managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, where he writes CRM articles that are funny—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Judge for yourself at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.