Mass-marketing computers means shedding the jargon
Personal-computer manufacturers are deleting the bits, bytes, RAMs, and ROMs from their sales pitch.Skip to next paragraph
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These technical terms, which describe memory capability, worked well with the hobbyists who got the microcomputer market humming. They are not so effective with less-experienced consumers looking for a computer for a business or home.
''You can't sell microcomputers on the basis of specifications anymore,'' says Chris Christianson, a consultant at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based high-technology consulting firm.
At last count, there were 167 desk-top microcomputers on the market - costing from $99 up to about $15,000. This year, big names like Digital Equipment Corporation and Hewlett Packard are newcomers to the list. Sony and Seiko are just around the corner.
With so much choice before the consumer, manufacturers are doing their best to distinguish their products from the competiton. Gearing advertising toward the ''person'' and away from the technical is one change in the industry's evolving marketing strategies. Manufacturers are also turning to TV and mass merchandisers to reach a broad range of customers. Service, software support, and eduction have also become more important issues.
''We are entering the realm of pure marketing,'' says Donald McConnell, vice-president of marketing for Computerland Corporaiton, the country's largest computer retail chain. ''The image and quality of advertising is going to be as important as technical quality. Basically, all products now are more sophisticated than the consumers make use of.''
''Overall, the marketplace is still overwhelmingly unsophisticated,'' says Stanley DeVaughn, a spokesman for Apple Computer Inc.
''When people buy a car, they don't want to know everything there is about the internals of an engine. They want comfort, looks, and good handling.'' It's the same with computer buyers, he says.
One way to bring the computer to the personal level has been to use famous personalities to peddle the personal computer.
''IBM went out on a limb when it brought in Charlie Chaplin,'' Robert Donohue-Evans, editor of Computer Retail News in Manhasset, N.Y., says of the computer giant's use of a Chaplin-like character in its ads. ''But it was a stroke of genius on their part.''
Since ''Charlie Chaplin'' started busying himself over the IBM Personal Computer, sales have been ''very, very good,'' says H.L. Sparks, director of sales and service for the Personal Computer. The company is reportedly shipping more than 20,000 Personal Computers a month.
''The character of the tramp, who gets himself into difficulties and then out of them with a little humor and warm feeling, represents every man,'' Mr. Sparks says. ''This trend toward the common man shows what we've been trying to do - appeal to the first-time user.'' And the character also helps IBM tie together its broad market of the home, small business, education, and the professional user.
Charlie Chaplin and Dick Cavett help IBM and Apple reach the home and business markets. But most other computer manufacturers are seeing the home and business markets as seperate targets, requiring different selling techniques.
In the low end of the market - $500 and under - ''everybody in the world is getting into mass merchandising,'' says Mr. McConnell. K-Mart, Toys 'R' Us, and major department stores such as Macy's are carrying the Atari, Texas Instruments , and Timex computers.
Along with game and education software, price is becoming a major influence on buyers. For example, since Texas Instruments began offering a $100 rebate in September, ''they have been shipping at a factor of 10 times what they did last spring,'' says Patricia Parks at Future Computing Inc., a market-research firm in Richardson, Texas. Apple also has begun to cut prices for the Christmas season.
The Timex Sinclair 1000 computer, which sells for $99 and hooks up to a television set, has also seen phenomenal sales growth since a giant ad campaign this fall. ''We were receiving 50,000 calls a week on our 800 (telephone) number after we ran our ads in September,'' said Daniel Ross, vice-president of Timex Computer Corporation.