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Old Technology Never Dies

| | Inspiration | 1 Comment
Old Technology Never Dies

Remember vinyl records? How about film cameras?

Today vinyl is the fastest growing sector of the music industry. Given up for dead only a few years ago, artists now release on vinyl in addition to digital downloads and CDs. The manufacturers who halted production on turntables are reopening factories and bringing the product line back.

Analog photography, also given up for dead, is making a comeback. One industry study showed that almost 1/3 of the people shooting film are under 35.

Since the growth in film and vinyl is mainly a millennial phenomenon, it would be easy to point to hipster nostalgia at work. And from the way Urban Outfitters and Lomography are marketing vinyl and film respectively, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that.

True, there’s a bit of nostalgia. Analog technology is perceived, right or wrong, as being more authentic than digital.

Others argue that film is better than digital in terms of the quality of the final print. And music on vinyl, according to the aficionados, has a warmer, fuller sound quality.

But for those of us on the bleeding edge of digital marketing, there’s a powerful lesson here. Old technologies, old ways of doing things, never go away. There’s always people who still hold on to the old ways of doing things, not because they’re ignorant or “luddites,” but because they just like what they already have.

When the printing press arrived in Europe, the scribes and monks were probably considered passé. But it’s been 600 years and you can still buy calligraphy supplies at any arts supply store. When photography arrived, painters saw their very reason for being threatened. But down the aisle in that same art supply store you can buy oil paints, canvases, sketchpads, pencils, etc.

We assume that just because we’re far along on the adoption curve for new technology and social media tools, our clients and their customers are as well. So without even batting an eye, most social media marketing agencies will tell their clients to start shooting iPhone selfies. Never mind if the customers themselves are actually in a demographic that would be interested in following the client on Instagram, or if Instagram is even relevant for their market.

In the early years of the Web, the dot com years of the 90s, a similar groupthink took hold. Start-ups with (for the time) super-fast computers with super-fast connections built super-fast web sites that crashed the end users’ browsers. No one thought that a DSL or T1 connection was out of the ordinary, or that most users were still on dial-up.

Marketers make assumptions about consumer behavior all the time. Some of it is backed up by real market research. Sometimes it’s based on groupthink. If everyone around the conference table uses Snapchat, it’s easy to think everyone else does too.

To bring it back to the original point – when everyone you know listens to Spotify, it’s easy to forget that there’s a small but growing population of music listeners who prefer vinyl. They’re not old people holding out on progress. For the most part they’re younger, affluent, well-educated, and willing to spend on high-end audio equipment. In other words, those hold-outs might be a very desirable demographic.

Similarly, when everyone in the start-up is on the latest iPhone, it’s easy to think everyone else is and to build accordingly. But you can’t afford to assume a certain level of technological sophistication or adoption. Some people are fine with two-year-old iPhones or six-year-old laptops with obsolete processors.

It’s easy to leave a gaping hole in your product or marketing plan when you dismiss old ideas or technologies. It’s easy to think people using film, or ham radio operators, or backyard gardeners are just a small group of luddites. But you do so at your own risk.

A confession… For someone living in the digital age, I’m pretty analog. I shoot and develop black and white film. I still have a record player and hundreds of albums. And I’m a ham radio operator. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone.


Tell me something! What older technologies do you still enjoy using?


photo credit: niekverlaan

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Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen)   |   14 April 2015   |   Reply

This triggered several thoughts for me, and I’m not sure which is most relevant. One thing it brought up is an observation I have made now that there are so many things we can control. For example, if we want to listen to Barry Manilow (or whoever) all day, we can create ourselves an all-Barry station on Pandora. We can even pay so we don’t have to listen to ads. While it’s NICE to have things in our lives exactly the way we want them, something that we could have discovered will lie dormant because we don’t have to sit through some other artist hoping for the next Barry piece. We miss out.