Is product lust killing strategic thinking?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

This afternoon, Apple will unveil the latest iteration of the iPad, and quite possibly the new version of the little Apple TV box, too. It’ll be another product announcement that both the specialist tech press and the mainstream newspapers will crawl all over, and with good reason. However you might feel about the company, it is the one defining the computing environment of the 21st Century, at least in hardware terms.

This morning, I saw Alan Patrick face to face for the first time in a couple of years, and he pointed out the way that product PR has essentially started to dominate sites like Techmeme. The discussion has moved from the possibilities of technology to the products of technology. In 2005, we were more interested in talking about how blogging would change the society around us, and only a handful of people were obsesses with talking about the relative merits of Blogger versus WordPress versus Movable Type.

All of a sudden we’re talking about what’s the next big shiny thing, rather than what we do with the shiny things we already had. For the last couple of years at RBI, I was constantly being asked “what’s the next Twitter/Facebook…?” as if the future of social discourse and publishing on the web was entirely dominated by products. But there has been a movement that way. The innovations of the late 90s and early 2000s were largely open concepts – like blogging, forums and wikis – where you had a choice of vendors, both commerical and open source. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, we’ve seen the rise of the product-as-platform, be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

I think we’ve lost something in that transition. If we let commercial companies determine how we pubish and communicate entirely, if we hand that responsibility over to them, we lose control of our own destiny. But if we aren’t aware of the way they’re shaping the internet, then we’re an irrelevance, and that’s a difficult line to walk.

I think publishing companies in particular are guilty of ignoring the trends on the internet for too long, and then rolling over and taking it from the big internet companies as soon as they realised that this stuff was going to be important. Strategy first, product second, platform(s) third needs to be the focus, rather than the sudden panic that we should “do something” on Facebook or the iPad. That’s not an excuse for making slow decisions, as speed to market is still an advantage. But it makes sure what you do is dictated by how you business should operate, not how the latest IPO darling of Silicon Valley wants you to see the world.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.