Returning to the Basics

(Image by

In a day and age when everyone is talking about social media and mobile apps, I think it’s important to step back and take a look at the basics. After all, you will not be mentioned on blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, nor sought after by someone standing on a street corner with iPhone in hand unless you have a strong product concept.

A strong product concept must have utility value and it must be representative of the type of person you think will buy it. It doesn’t have to be the coolest. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, fastest, most beautiful, or any other superlative you can think of, for it to succeed. But, it must be functional and practical, and have a brand that connects with its target.

Nothing bears this out better than the Citroen 2CV. You can read Peter Cheney’s fond memory of this insect-looking car here.

If you don’t have the time to read the article, let me explain it quickly. In his brief memoir, Cheney compares the 2CV’s performance against the expectations of today’s motorists, and it fails spectacularly. In fact, it probably fails in comparison to almost anything that has ever been on the road. But Citroen sold over 4 million of them in a production run that lasted from 1942 to 1990 – 48 years!

How did they manage it?

Well, it was a strong product concept that connected with its target. It was designed for a specific market in a specific place at a specific time in history. The product concept addressed the market conditions under which the target was suffering – poor infrastructure (roads were either cobblestoned or cratered by bombs), fuel rations, a lack of steel, and the target market was highly agrarian (it had to be able to transport farmers’ eggs without breaking them).

The brand, Citroen, and the 2CV’s shape were very French. They exuded everything French. The 2CV became an icon at a time when nationalism was necessary to propel the country to liberty, and, after the war, to economic recovery. The brand, which in this case includes the design of the car, spoke to its target audience.

Given the market conditions and the market’s needs, what other product could have succeeded as well as the 2CV? Not many, certainly not the SUVs or luxury cars produced today.  Probably not even the low-end vehicles. All the marketing, advertising, social media, and sales promos in the world would not have succeeded in selling anything else under those market conditions.

Which is something we need to consider today. With all the talk about social media and mobile apps, we need to examine the product or service we are promoting. Is it a sufficiently strong concept to generate word-of-mouth? Will the brand (which can include the product design) connect with the audience so they feel it is a part of their personal identity?

Without addressing those two questions, your social media marketing campaign will fail. No one talks about mundane products or mediocre design. Why would they? They talk about the things that represent them as a person, the things they are passionate about. And you can only create that passion by doing things well, just as the Citroen 2CV did – the right product in the right place at the right time.