When I first explained Twitter to my husband, who is a computer programmer, his response was “Oh, it’s just like ICQ.” And he dismissed it.
So what the heck is ICQ? Well, it was a program that was a lot like Twitter. And it was being touted as the “next big thing.” I actually remember it because my husband was using it. I looked at it and couldn’t figure what the big deal was and promptly dismissed it.
Fast forward 10 years or so, and now we have ICQ reborn into Twitter, and Twitter is all over the place.
So what happened? Why did Twitter succeed (although it still hasn’t proven to make money yet but that’s a topic for another article) and ICQ fail?
It’s not the technology. In fact, ICQ might have been more powerful than Twitter. (Note to all of you business owners thinking if you build a better mousetrap they will come. Not true.)
It’s all about the marketing and the packaging. Let me explain.
ICQ looked like some sort of programming forum. I stared at the screen and couldn’t figure out what to do or why I would want to do anything with it. I spent about 5 minutes looking at the screen, didn’t get a handle on it, and left, never to return.
Twitter, on the other hand, tells you what to do. You log into Twitter and what’s the first thing you see — a big question with a box under it. The question is “What are you doing?” The box underneath is where you put the answer.
Ah, so I’m supposed to type what I’m doing right now. I can do that. That gives me a reason to type something.
And once people start typing things, now you have action. And action leads to interaction, which leads to creating a community. And once we have community, now you have the secret for why Twitter took off.
If you don’t get people to start typing something, ANYTHING, then nothing will happen.
The other thing Twitter did was the name. Twitter. It’s a cute name. ICQ, what the heck is that? (Another important note — names are important.)
This is sort of what happened with VHS and Beta. (Remember those? Videotapes?)
Well, Beta was the better, higher quality tape. But VHS became the standard. Why? Because Beta kept talking about features (how good it was in technical terms) whereas VHS explained WHY you wanted to be able to record your shows. You could fast forward through the commercials! You didn’t have to be home to watch your favorite shows! You could watch movies whenever you wanted to! That’s what VHS told consumers. Not technical specifications.
Remember, when videotapes came out, this was completely new to consumers. They didn’t know what they were supposed to do with them. Just like Twitter or ICQ. What the heck is it and why do I care? Why is this going to be good for me? Why do I want to waste my time and/or money with this? If you don’t or can’t answer those questions, you’re going to be facing an uphill battle selling your products or service.
History is littered with businesses that have the best product or service and have gone out of business. Having the better mousetrap isn’t going to sell more products or services. Having the best EXPLANATION as to why your customers should buy your product or service WILL sell more. A lot more.