Feeding a customer a line – the use of numbers to deceive in technology marketing

When you buy a PC there is often a list of numbers, with clock speed (number of cycles per second of the processor) displayed prominently. Many people followed this slavishly, when what really matters is real world performance. Because different chips work in different ways you could have the same performance out of a different chip running at half the speed of the latest Intel chip. The numbers are often meaningless, but provide salespeople and the amateur hour ‘expert’ of the neighbourhood with a reassuring pattter.

As technology has become more pervasive so has the spread of ‘technical’ specifications in product marketing. The New York Times has a great article about a man going out ot purchase a new television set here which shows the uselessness of ‘speeds and feeds’. Note: the article cites the example of the Pentium 4 as specmanship, but chip speed had been used in error for years to claim a performance advantage of PCs over Macs.

As marketers, while technology companies stick to speeds and feeds they are forcing themselves into a commodity business. Does Proctor & Gamble publish washes whiter figures? No, despite some cleaner messages in their ads and marketing material it is emotional values, such as if you use Persil – you’re a good Mum.If you want to buy electronic goods I thought that the following advice would be good:

  • Write down what you need and stick to it
  • Do your home work, you don’t have to subscribe to Which? now. Have a look at customer reviews on Amazon, epinions etc
  • When you find a product name and model number, search for it on Google groups to read feedback
  • Accept that as soon as you purchase your product a newer and better model will come out
  • Don’t be too afraid of own brands, most consumer electtronics are made for well known brands by anonymous companies in Asia with the key components made by only a few suppliers. This has been going on for years.