One of my strategic partners bought me one of these Cisco umi devices. It’s kind of like high-definition Skype for a big screen TV.  He thought it would be useful for our long distance collaboration.

We ran into technical and service problems and it took us four months before the damn thing was operational. It was also priced too high, and then you had to subscribe to a pricey monthly service plan.  I honestly didn’t know how Cisco was selling these things into a home market which is what they were obviously trying to do through their Ellen Page TV ads.

I have a friend who works for Cisco and I suggested that any Marketing 101 student could have seen the obvious technical, competitive, and pricing issues with this product. All they needed to do was a little analysis and research. “That’s the problem,” he said. “They never did that. They are not even applying any type of basic marketing plans to their new product development and sales efforts.”

Is it posible that a blue chip company like Cisco is ignoring marketing fundamentals?

I have long wondered … when will it get to the point where the product development cycle becomes so short in the tech business that marketing became obsolete?   Here are further indications that we may have reached that point:

  • Last week Hewlett-Packard killed its entry into the tablet computer market (TouchPad), just 48 days after it was first put on sale.
  • A few months ago, Microsoft pulled the plug on its Kin mobile phones after less than two months of sales.
  • Remember how the A-List bloggers gushed about Google Wave? It was buried 77 days after it was launched.
  • Pure Digital, maker of the popular Flip camcorder, had planned to release the Flip-Live on April 13, but Cisco, which had just acquired Pure Digital, shut the entire division on April 12.

What the heck is going on here?  How could these big, smart companies make these seemingly big, dumb moves?  Don’t they have any business school grads who know how to do customer, product, and competitive research? Market testing and planning?  A SWOT analysis for Pete’s sake?

I’d like your views on this but it seems that there are a few factors at play here:

  • The short product development cycle and rapid rate of product obsolescence forces companies to take shortcuts on research and market planning expenditures. The product launch is now the same as the market test.
  • Frequent executive changes and consolidation in the tech industry forces a tendency to “clean house.”
  • When Apple is the dominant competitor, it is an expensive proposition to try to compete against them.
  • If a product is not immediately perfect, it is crushed by tech bloggers and negative social media buzz.

If I am correct and this does represent a point where the speed of business has outpaced marketing’s ability to research and plan, there are some serious implications for all of us.

Significant brand damage.  H-P didn’t just have a misstep, it breached consumer trust.  How can you put your faith in a company and its products if it is short-sighted enough to dump a major market entry in a couple of weeks? Your most loyal early-adopters just shelled out $500 to buy your tablet and you pull the rug out from under them?

The end of brand-building?   Take a look at this picture of the first iPod.  When it was introduced in 2001, it wasn’t the first MP3 player or the prettiest one, or the one with the most memory, but it was the product willing to stick with a plan and innovate at a breath-taking pace.  Apple didn’t build that brand over night. They did it right and gave the product a chance to grow. What is the world coming to when a company dumps a product before it ever has a chance to catch on?

What about competition?  Did you see that Facebook apparently abandoned its “places” feature after just a few months? This was supposed to compete with Foursquare. Are you telling me Facebook can’t knock Foursquare around? We need competition in the tech industry.  In fact these companies need competition.  The main advantage of Google Plus is that it has slapped Facebook in the face and said “Compete!” We’re sure to get better products out of it.  Apple seems committed to innovation but lets face it, without competition, their pace of change will slow too. Why spend heavily on R&D when nobody is even trying to unseat you?

Is this a weird and unprecedented moment in marketing history — the end of marketing as we know it — or is it simply an extended run of stupid?

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