Friday, March 21, 2008

The Flip: Keep It Simple, Stupid

The Flip is the best-selling camcorder device you've never heard of. Slipping beneath the radar of most tech bloggers and media, this $150 device has captured 13% of the camcorder market.

It has been successful not because it has the latest gadgets, the largest memory, or the best picture quality. It's succeeded because it is stupid simple. And in this is a lesson to those of us in Experiential Marketing (XM) who are early tech adopters--the best experience for many consumers is the simplest, not the most powerful.

The New York Times article says it well: "Understanding the appeal of this machine will require you not just to open your mind, but to practically empty it. The screen is tiny (1.5 inches) and doesn't swing out for self-portraits. You can't snap still photos. There are no tapes or discs, so you must offload the videos to a computer when the memory is full. There are no menus, no settings, no video light, no optical viewfinder, no special effects, no headphone jack, no high definition, no lens cap, no memory card. And there's no optical zoom -- only a 2X digital zoom that blows up and degrades the picture."

On paper, The Flip would look like a non-starter to most of us, yet its one-button simplicity, low price point, quick start-up, and embedded USB port have made the camcorder a winner. In short, it's so darn usable that no one cares how it compares to other digital camcorders; it's literally created and owns a new category of product.

This is a valuable lesson to those of us in the XM field. It is tempting to brainstorm every value-adding idea under the sun and load XM programs with every bell and whistle possible. But simple and easy must always trump slick and cool; consumer attention is too difficult to earn and too valuable to lose it because your online or real world experience is overly complex.

I'm not suggesting high-tech, innovative programs are worthless; to suggest that would be to miss the point of The Flip, which is a pretty incredible piece of cutting-edge technology. Instead, the challenge we face is to use all that technology and brainpower to create experiences so simple, engaging, and welcoming that they grab and hold consumers' attention. The goal must be provide an experience so focused on the targeted consumer and the brand that the technologies and complexities seem invisible.

Much like the Nintendo Wii, the Flip provides a meaningful example of how technology can enhance consumer experiences only in combination with careful design and focus on the user.

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