2,000 in 2 days - and then what?
November 1, 1998
It's only been two weeks since it was launched in Singapore, but the media hype surrounding the iMac has noticeably died down to a whisper. The spate of TV commercials has ceased, Jose Juan Believable no longer gazes into his iMac, and there have been no press ads except for Electric City's weekly ads touting "the computer that's taking the world by storm". By way of press coverage, today's story in the Sunday Times is only the second Sunday Plus feature on the iMac since October 17. (There could have been similar features in local magazines which I might have missed, I'll admit.)
But it's no major catastrophe, certainly nothing to set off the alarm bells over. After all, we are in the midst of an economic slump, remember? And there is also the possibility this may just be a seasonal lull before the annual Christmas frenzy.
Still, Apple Singapore can't afford to be too complacent. It is evident now that the massive hype which had helped propel sales of the iMac in the US and markets elsewhere in the world has not made as much an impact here. This is despite the reported surge of iMac sales in the first weekend of its release, when some 2,000 iMacs were snapped up in just two days.
With the advertising blitz just about over and done with, it looks to me like the ball is now in the resellers' court. I happened to stop by at the Funan IT Mall yesterday to sign up for a new ISP account. I thought I might as well have a look around since I was there.
Just as it was two weeks earlier, iMacs appeared everywhere on the upper three floors of the mall. Aside from the established Apple authorized resellers in Funan like MacShop, Proton Wisma, and now Challenger Superstore, iMacs were on display even on storefronts of resellers who, to my recollection, had never previously dealt with Apple products and who were obviously trying to cash in on a potentially hot new product. Just as ubiquitous were the iMac promotional videos ("there's that Brody ad again", I overheard someone say) running on almost every iMac on display. Two weeks ago, the demo was positively attention-grabbing. Two weeks on, it's a slightly different story.
As good as the demo is, if it runs day in and day out at practically every other window display, it's bound to get a little stale after a while. Furthermore, an iMac in demo mode literally says "See No Touch", and so tends to inhibit interaction by potential customers. Have one iMac run the demo by all means, but ensure that there are at least a couple more iMacs in the store that are fully accessible for hands-on engagement. As cute as it is, the iMac is not meant merely to be gazed at; it's supposed to be explored. Promotional efforts should therefore be more purposeful: actively encourage people to interact with the iMac. Run games. (After all, we've got the Revision B iMacs, haven't we?)
From the looks of it, the iMac is still something of an oddity here. Shoppers give it curious second glances, and some are not even quite sure it's a computer. When it's not sitting behind a glass window, the iMac still receives the occasional caress of inquisitive fingers running over its curvaceous body (such is its inviting tactile quality), but that is about the extent of contact with the computer in most cases, especially among the less techno-savvy.
That point aside, how do you address some of the issues that people are most concerned with when making that sizeable investment in a computer? Especially one that doesn't have an "intel inside" logo plastered on it? For all it's worth, here are some observations and suggestions for both Apple Singapore and its authorized resellers.
The Number One Question
The Mac has a lower market share here than the global average, I suspect. Practically all government agencies in Singapore adopt Windows as the platform of choice, and most businesses follow suit. I mean, everyone else is using Windows, right? Call it the kiasu syndrome if you like, but Singaporeans are pragmatic, if nothing else. So it's only natural that almost without exception, the first question anyone wanting to get a computer would ask is "Does it run Windows?" Such is the pervasive influence that Windows has in this country, that it might even be asked by someone who vaguely knows what Windows is to begin with.
Could the solution be any more obvious? Broaden the scope of the in-store demos to reflect the iMac's various strengths. Have iMacs run Windows-based applications using PC-emulation software as part of the demo routine. Many people may still not be aware that Macs can operate just as efficiently in an emulated Windows environment as a contemporary Wintel PC. Knowing that iMacs can do that could help win over potential PC converts, no? While we do have some figures of PC users who have switched to the iMac, we don't know if these converts took to the new operating system like fish to water, or if they might have been disoriented somewhat in the new OS environment after years of using Windows. I should think it would be about half and half. Despite the Mac OS being relatively simpler and more intuitive to use, some unlearning is obviously necessary for Windows-users. Knowing that iMacs can operate on both platforms would offer much-needed assurance to those who require some time adjusting to the new OS, and particularly to those who will have to continue using Windows at work.
iMac reads Chinese
Showcase Mac OS 8.5's multilingual capability by featuring Chinese (or Kanji or Korean, even) websites as part of store demos. This feature is understandably underrated in the West, but it is hardly insignificant in our part of the world. Who knows, you might even win over more than a few bilingual customers who happen to be literate in these languages. The penetration of the Internet into the vast Chinese-speaking communities in Asia, for instance, is only just beginning to happen and has much potential for growth, while at the same time, Chinese websites are burgeoning rapidly. The positioning of the iMac as an Internet computer, together with the multilingual capabilities of Mac OS 8.5, places it in a prime position to cater to these multilingual markets.
Bake-offs can be fun
There's probably nothing more effective than a 'live' one-on-one in convincing people that the iMac easily outpaces some of the fastest (and certainly more expensive) Pentium II PCs in CPU-intensive applications where the speed difference is significant. I don't see how we can't have similar bake-offs here, especially since 'live' demos to showcase miracle products from Sobakawa pillows to Ginsu kitchen knives are so popular in department stores and supermarkets these days. So I hope we'll see such events being staged for the weekend shopping crowds in the Electric City stores or in Funan. After all, who could it hurt? Certainly not the resellers. It'll draw curious shoppers to their stores, generate some excitement and maybe even sales.
Call TVMedia Today!
By the way, I wonder if it has ever occurred to Apple Singapore to try marketing the iMac on "infomercial" shows like TVMedia, where an entire 25-minute segment could be devoted to showing off its cool features. Better make it 15 minutes, since it's such a fast and easy-to-use home appliance. Just think: moms get to watch it on daytime TV and learn about William-Sonoma's Guide To Good Cooking that comes with each iMac, which would look cool even on the kitchen counter. Kids back from school in the afternoons can catch it on TV too and fantasize about it till their dads get them one. The thing is, sometimes your target audience may not necessarily be watching TV only at prime-time.
I've already mentioned the viability of the iMac as a cable-ready computer in a previous article. And so has Richard Lim in today's Sunday Times article. With practically the whole country wired up and ready for Singapore ONE by September next year, it would surprise me very much if Apple Singapore were to let this selling point slip by. So, even if I risk repeating myself: Get it into people's heads that the iMac is Singapore ONE ready.
The iMac could one day become the world's next Walkman, as the article
had conjectured, and as I had suggested some
months earlier. But it will require a lot of effort by Apple in the early
stages to plug this new product in every way possible before it can hope
to eventually find a place in the mainstream consciousness of consumer
culture. Maybe then, it will transcend from a mere computer to an icon.
A Reader's Response
Exactly what I feel. Seriously, Apple should bring iMacs to schools on the Leapp bus they have in RGS (don't let it collect dust!). Offer students special rates, tell resellers to encourage consumers to try the iMac. A perfect example was my experience at Electric City where I exited the demo they were running and played Nanosaur instead. I attracted quite a crowd who were amazed I could play games on a Mac! However, this guy came over and just went "Excuse me", quit Nanosaur and hey presto! the crowd was gone. He returned to his PC section, leaving the iMac for customers to see but with no encouragement to buy. I don't know if anything has changed, but I've told some people...
JustineZ, Singapore (2 Nov 98)
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