I was a geek before there was a word for geeks. I got my high school letter in forensics, not the cool kind of forensics made popular by the CSI TV shows, but the kind that trained you for public speaking. I was president of the Latin Club. While other girls were trying out for the cheerleading squad I was translating the love letters of Abelard and Heloise. The odd girl with glasses. That was me. In the summer of 1962 I took a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and was mesmerized (does anybody but geeks even say mesmerized? just wondering) by the AT&T exhibit of the future phone where you could actually see the speaker on the other end. I was in love with computers when they were all as big as houses, although I never did get the hang of punch cards. I was a geek.
One of my early jobs in banking was to take part in a feasibility study for a regional bank that determined what kind of desktop computers to put in front of the loan documentation clerks. Up until then loan docs were produced on typewriters and there was one desktop computer for the whole department. We came up with two recommendations – IBM or NCR. These were the workhorses of business computing. The banking industry was heavily reliant on IBM mainframe processors and NCR provided the machines that read bank processed payment and credit card slips. We would never have considered a MacIntosh.
Although Apple is certainly innovative in product design, it’s real brilliance was that it sold cool to geeks. The geeks who bought Apple products were tech savvy, they were early adopters, they were in the know. The geeks bought ipods first and the cool kids followed them. Brilliant. The much promoted (by Apple) rivalry between Apple and PCs is built on an emotional appeal. What you pay a premium for when you buy Apple is the cool. Rebels, creative types, risk takers are the early adopters. What a way to protect a margin.
When I am out talking to companies and ask them “What do you do that is unique?” I often hear about customer service and quality. These are the attributes that customers expect at a minimum. I want companies to think about the things that they do that really differentiate them. Sometimes it can be hard to verbalize those things because they are so endemic to the owner’s vision and the company culture. Take a minute to think about it. What do you do that is unique to your business?