By Yonatan Gordon
This article took over five years to complete. The idea for the Product Flip Cycle–a ground-breaking new product life-cycle model–was first thought out after listening to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh’s seminar entitled “Beyond the Physical Universe.” Over the span of three days, from March 18-20, 2007, Rabbi Ginsburgh explained many concepts in modern physics through the lens of Kabbalah. The topic presented at the start of that seminar, the place of counter-intuition in modern physics, became the source material for the Product Flip Cycle.
Now that the e-book version of the seminar is set to be released in the next few days on InnerMedia.org, we have decided that it was now the right time to publish this article. The examples presented below were updated to reflect the latest developments in product marketing and branding strategy; but the basis of this article has remained largely unchanged over the past five plus years.
Also if anyone would like to professionally illustrate the chart at the end, I would be happy to give you proper credit. While rudimentary, hopefully it is still beneficial in its present “sharpie” form.
So without further ado, we would like to introduce you to the:
New Product Life-Cycle Model
Today’s world of marketing is going through a rebirth. An industry once dominated by 30 second TV spots and jingles, is now facing the crunch of the digital age. While there are many terms people use to describe this shift, most everyone agrees that it is a shift from marketing to message. In order to draw customers in, you need to tell them a story. Some compelling bit of insight that changes their day, and makes them want to tell their friends. You need to sell the content behind the brand, not the brand itself.
Traditionally the Product Life Cycle & Adoption were depicted as this:
According to this model, by the time the previous version of a product dips in sales, the next version will have already been released to the market. Like in the waxing and waning of the moon, a product rises to full glory, and then fades away for the next product to begin anew. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really explain why the first product dipped to begin with. What is this fascination with newness that drives the public to seek newer models, versions and upgrades of their favorite items? Why is it that people get tired of things? This is true especially with electronics like iPhones and iPads, but how many restaurants does one city really need? What causes the boredom that propels the resolve for something new and different?
The Pleasure and Will Principles
The only way to clearly explain this paradigm is by weighing two elements against each other: Pleasure and Will. Pleasure is obviously the desire for something, while Will is the drive to attain it. When something becomes too difficult to obtain, when the effort outweighs the Pleasure, then the desire for the product wanes. This is not just a function of price. As we know, the fact that new iPhones or iPads are priced higher when they first come to the market is a minimal deterrent for Innovators and Early Adopters.
The desire to purchase the newest version, however, is not just about dissonance with the old. It’s because the concept, message or symbolism behind the product has been obfuscated. Now that the faster, thinner model has come out … their smartphone no longer looks so smart anymore. As we began this article, people today are attracted more to the concept or message behind the product than the marketing. Although many marketing experts have spoken about this shift, I haven’t yet seen anyone relate this shift to the products themselves. Today’s consumer is more interested in the concept behind the product than the product themselves (this is something we discussed at length in our Apple Turnaround Series).
Is it any wonder then why marketers have not openly stated this? What business would hire someone who publicly declares that their products are secondary to the message behind them? But it is the truth. The reason tablets are so successful is because people are attracted to having knowledge and inspiration at hand. Once the tech sites broke the story that the new iPad 5 was coming out March 2013, the current iPad 4 didn’t seem so inspirational anymore.
The reason for this is not because of decline in interest. It is because of a much underused term called “flipping.” Instead of the waxing and waning of the product life cycle, products rise to prominence then flip into the next version or replacement. Products are prominently in the spotlight when the public is most connected to the concept. When interest in the product falls, it’s because buyer dissonance has set in. While this occurrence has been well documented, I have not seen anyone define the fall and rise of the next product as a flip … and that’s a shame.
Flipping to the New
We mentioned earlier that the two basic motivations to purchase products are Pleasure and Will. Now let’s add that when the story of a new product is announced, my Pleasure or attraction changes direction. Once my attraction shifts, then my will or drive to acquire it shifts to match. In an instant, the iPad 4 is now but a vestige of its former glory. The concept of portable wisdom, knowledge and inspiration has been flipped; it’s now more symbolized by the iPad 5. The basis of this thought was first written up and emailed to a certain well-known marketer on September 25th, 2008 (our present convention is not to overtly mention his name within articles).
On October 3rd, 2008 he wrote about this pastry shop on Rodeo Drive:
“Things flip… It’s a tricky line to walk. Perhaps this pastry shop on Rodeo Drive is concerned that competitors will take photos of all the pastries and then copy them. Of course, all the competitor has to do is buy a pastry, so I’m not sure that’s a real problem. Some museums forbid all photography, even without a flash, for no other reason than fear. Clearly a famous painting is worth more than an unknown one–and just as clearly, the artist who painted the image probably wanted other people to see it.This is a hard flip for people to make. Largely it’s about control. It’s your pastry, after all…”
Although my submission to him and this blog post were a week apart, I don’t know if my writings inspired it. To be honest, it doesn’t make any difference. What’s important to realize is that public admission is the beginning of the product flip. What would have happened if this pastry shop would have made the recipe public? They would have had to come up with an even better recipe.
Aside from the natural passage of time, the main reason people get tired of the iPad 4 sooner is because the ingredients are revealed to be inferior. Once news of the thinner, faster iPad 5 is announced, my iPad 4 looks thick and slow in comparison. In truth, there is no end to product upgrades because portable, handheld knowledge is something that by nature is intangible. You can’t buy it in a store, just like you will never find the “perfect” pastry (for more details about what “intangible product” Apple sells, please read Part 5 of our Apple Turnaround Series).
Product Flip Cycle
When I first wrote to him, I explained that instead of Sales and Time, the two main components of the Product Flip Cycle are Pleasure (The Feeling of Connection to the Concept) and Will (Belief that the Concept is Attainable). When the Pleasure is highest, the connection with the concept behind the product is also at its highest. Those that are the most ambitious and adventurous (primarily the younger generation) also have the greatest degree of Will to attain this Pleasure principle.
The rush to be the first in line at the Apple store is where newness comes into the equation. The newness of a product is at its highest when people most think that it can deliver the concept. While the iPad 4 didn’t deliver the consumer portable knowledge, perhaps the iPad 5 will? The Innovators and Early Adopters of Apple products are also some of the most optimistic people you will ever meet. This is because of their continued belief that someday vast storehouses of knowledge will be readily accessible to them. It is for this that they line up time and time again.
Managing the Product Flip Cycle
What happens when news of the iPad 5 comes out? The newness of the iPad 4 dissipates dramatically. While things naturally get old over time, news stories accelerate the feeling of dissonance from the product’s concept. Once the newness fades, so does the consumer’s belief that this product will deliver them true, portable knowledge. The only rational result then is to flip to the next version.
How do you manage the flip of a product? This returns us back to where we began. To be successful today, you have to be willing to tumble your way forward; to do things that seem counter-intuitive and counter-productive to make money. I read an article a few weeks back that the best online ads of 2012 weren’t ads at all.
He brings as one of his top seven list of examples, Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” day. On August 12, 2012, Nike encouraged 8.5 millions customers and others to “Go Run, Go Play, Get Moving.” The campaign was a huge success. The fact that so many people readily accepted a “greatness” campaign from Nike shows that “greatness” must be pretty close to the concept behind the Nike product brand. This is not just because they stand for athletics, but the check mark “swoosh” logo and “Just Do It.” tagline further emphasize the point. The concept behind the Nike brand is to get out and do something with your day.
Ingredients for Success
What difference does this product flip revelation make? By applying the principles above, we can predict very easily the rise and fall of any product. When Nike says the new Air Max+ 2013 ID is “the most flexible Nike Air Max ever,” they are also saying that the Air Max that you have won’t help you discover your greatness like this new version. This form of advertising is similar to when news agencies break stories of the latest iPad release. If you want to be great, you need the most flexible version. If you want to feel like you are a walking encyclopedia with a vast storehouse of knowledge and inspiration, then you need to buy the iPad 5. It would have been more advisable for Nike to have promoted flexibility. They could have launched a contest encouraging fans to send YouTube videos of being “flexible” with the shoes. Also, in addition to Greatness Day, why not also promote a Flexibility Day devoted to going beyond your comfort zone?
Can You Flip Without the Product?
As we mentioned earlier, if the consumer is more attracted to the concept than the product itself, then do we need Apple to be knowledgeable or Nike to be great? The result of the product flipping model is not to embark on a life of aestheticism, but to appreciate product for what they are … products. As long as products remind us of positive concepts, then by all means, a person should be happy with having nice things. The problem is when they become the end itself, instead of the means to the end.
A good marketer understands the importance of keeping the concept at the forefront. Marketing the product as the final solution only leads to distaste. When you tell someone that this is all you need, then six months later proclaim the same thing for the newer version, people may just leave your brand completely. As Nike learned with their “Find Your Greatness” day, when you connect people to the concept or inspiration behind the brand, then people will keep coming back no matter how many versions you release.
Our moment of clarity over five years ago was when we realized that the concept of counter-intuition within modern physics related to the product life cycle. In the “Beyond the Physical Universe” excerpt below you will also see a clearer explanation for why concepts progress. People get bored with one “world” or level of consciousness, and start looking for the next. It’s not the iPad that going from version to version, it’s the universal concepts of thinness, speed, portability of knowledge, etc…
The Product Flip Cycle in diagram form:
About the Diagram: Perhaps the most noticeable aspect is that the right-hand side of the chart overlays perfectly with the standard Product Life Cycle & Acquisition model. The main distinction here is with the portrayal of the Sales and Time coordinates as relating to the buyer’s “Feeling of Connection to Concept” (Pleasure) and “Belief in Concept Attainability” (Will). When buyers feel most connected to the concept behind the product, then sales are also at their highest. When the belief in attaining the concept wanes because of the passage of time, or the announcement of a new version or replacement breaks, then that also propels sales downward. The Innovators are also the most optimistic consumer. They have the highest level of belief in the ability to acquire concepts (e.g. to one day have portable knowledge even greater than an iPad). This is followed by the Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and the Laggards.
BEYOND THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE EXCERPT
Modern Physics is Counter-Intuitive
It is a simple and well-known fact that all of the most important and successful theories presented and used in modern physics are counter-intuitive. The fact that the accepted scientific narrative of the past century has been utilizing counter-intuitive ideas is a very significant one, indicating that humanity in general is approaching a level that is above and beyond the style of human logic that has been applied since time immemorial.
Counter-Intuition in Kabbalah
Kabbalah supplies us with the tools for understanding counter-intuition in a much more sophisticated way than does science. By counter-intuition, science means anything that runs against the grain of our common-sense. Special relativity, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory (to a degree), are all theories that run against our common-sense and are therefore considered by science to be counter-intuitive.
The first insight that Kabbalah offers is that everything is relative. This is similar to the conclusion of the first major theory of modern science, relativity. Of course, if “everything is relative” then counter-intuition is relative as well. This means that the blanket statement that counter-intuition is anything that goes against common-sense is not accurate, because common-sense itself is relative!
In the language of Kabbalah, every mind-space, or level of consciousness, is called a World of the and every World has its own “common-sense” [we capitalize “World” in the Kabbalistic sense, in order to differentiate it from the word’s more common meaning; ed.] Thus, given the particular mind-space that I currently inhabit, I would consider the common-sense found at the level above mine to be counter-intuitive to my own. As we progress through each level of consciousness, from Kabbalistic World to Kabbalistic World, our common-sense undergoes a transformation and what is perceived as common-sense in one World becomes absolutely counter-intuitive to common-sense in another World. When we progress from World to World, which are actually levels of consciousness everything that we held to be true previously transforms into something new.
Those readers familiar with our method of teaching know that as we survey a new subject, one of our goals is to describe the appropriate Kabbalistic models that correspond with the particular topic at hand. If the model indeed fits and corresponds correctly, then not only do we gain insight into the model, but we immediately improve our understanding of the topic under consideration.
The model that we have chosen to use to enhance our understanding of counter-intuition is indeed based on the model of the Kabbalistic Worlds, specifically the three lower Worlds which are known as Action, Formation, and Creation. Or, in Hebrew: Asiyah, Yetzirah, and Beri’ah.
The basic state of human consciousness is in the World of Action or more specifically, in the physical dimension of the World of Action. Above our World is the World of Formation and above that is the World of Creation. The common denominator of these three lower Worlds is that in them everything has some degree of self-consciousness, causing it to feel separate from the Almighty; the absolute and unique One.
Above these three Worlds is the World of Emanation (Atzilut) in which there is no distinct self-consciousness at all; everything is purely Divine and there is no separation (or feeling of separation) possible from the Creator.
As mentioned above, every World has its own version of what is intuitive, and what common-sense is, and anything that contradicts it is considered “counter-intuitive.” When an apparently counter-intuitive insight is attained in any of the three lower Worlds, first we should ascertain that it is indeed counter-intuitive relative to that World’s common-sense.
The picture that we should have in mind as we consider how new insights are attained is that light (i.e., energy, in this case the energy that makes up the counter-intuitive thought or idea) from the World of Emanation has descended and permeated a lower World. Each of the physical theories of the twentieth-century that have been successfully incorporated into modern science, is like a ray of light that has filtered into human consciousness from a higher level of reality. Yet, even though it seems that these theories run against the grain of our common-sense, if you ask a student of Kabbalah and Chassidut, one who is truly versed in the wisdom of the World of Emanation, whether these “counter-intuitive” theories make sense or not, he will tell you that they are in perfect harmony with what is described in the holy books about the reality of the World of Emanation. We hope that this point will be made very clear through the scientific examples we will now consider.
Excerpted from pages 11-14 of the book “Beyond the Physical Universe: Lectures on Modern Physics” by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The title will soon be available in e-book form at InnerMedia.org.