September 24, 2016. Evan Speigel calls his company’s video-sharing sunglasses “a toy”. Almost 2 months later, the $130 sunglasses make consumers insane enough to buy second hand pairs for as much as $4500 on eBay. Everything in between is a carefully crafted bizarre yet delightful product strategy that appealed consumers like never before.
The Gartner Hype cycle designed by IT research and advisory firm Gartner provides a conceptual presentation for emerging technologies through five phases. The cycle begins with a technology trigger that marks the kick off for a piece of novel technology, followed by a peak of inflated expectations where massive early publicity and a few success stories lead to inflated user expectations. Expectations so high that most technologies fail to live up to those expectations, moving towards the trough of disillusionment. What lies ahead is a gradual slope of enlightenment where the technology finds its true domain of application and grows to serve that domain by tending towards the plateau of productivity.
Unfortunately, most emerging technologies follow the Gartner hype cycle and are colloquially labelled as ‘technologies too ahead of its time’, ‘technology in search of its need’, etc. Spectacles by Snap Inc has clearly defied this hype cycle in the most elegant way possible. For the first time in history, a piece of head worn technology is being desired by nerds and fashionistas alike. This article is an attempt to understand what Snap did differently from most tech pioneers to make Spectacles a massive success so far.
- Under promising to prevent the slope of inflated expectations: The overt anti seriousness about the Spectacles was well established when the CEO of Snap Inc. Evan Spiegel called Spectacles “a toy”. This one statement not just kept users from expecting Spectacles to be some life changing pair of sunglasses but in the larger picture it prevented Spectacles from climbing the slope of inflated expectations. Amidst a world of large scale tech product launches where companies flaunt product specs, Snapchat changed the rules by promising absolutely nothing more than a toy camera whose camera resolution remains a mystery even after being reviewed by thousands of users.
- Making the product purchase a whimsical experience: A minion like vending machine named Snapbot, appears from the skies at random locations all over the country to vend Spectacles. How many spectacles will it sell? Where will it appear next? At what time will it appear? We know none of this. But we can track Snapbot on this website to see where it goes next. This scavenger hunt like buying process doesn’t get the users excited about Spectacles alone but even about the idea of interacting with the Snapbot. After all, it has fallen from the skies just to bring Spectacles to them.
- Affordable pricing but tough to get: By selling spectacles exclusively through vending machines whose locations and supplies are largely undetermined, Snap has created an artificial sense of product scarcity in the market. What is interesting is that they didn’t create this exclusivity about the product by pricing it exorbitantly high but by selling it in limited numbers. Everyone can afford it, but not everyone can get it. This has gotten probable buyers and product reviewers even more enthusiastic to get their hands on the product. On the other hand, Snap got to test the waters without bearing the responsibility of pulling the product out of massive distribution networks in case of a failure. If a user reports an issue with Spectacles today, Snap can cancel any further vending the same moment. In the longer term, it also provides Snap time to further its plateau of productivity, maybe making Spectacles much more than a wearable camera.
- Letting users take over the media’s role: Snap certainly knows its users in and out. In fact it also knows how to replace conventional media with these young, social media savvy individuals. Why spend million dollars on a posh product launch with big media houses and renowned tech critics on the invite list when your own users can do it all for free. Snap totally stole the show with this minimum limelight product release publicized majorly by the lucky few who could get their hands on Spectacles. In addition to making the publicity seem more natural, Snap did itself a huge favor by not letting the product first land into the hands of tech critics and geeks but the average user. Because an average user wouldn’t complain about the frame rate of the 10 second video but appreciate the fact that he is now literally able to provide the world a peek into his life.
With the release of Spectacles, Snap has undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of the wearable technology market. Moreover, it set an example of how creative product strategies can bring novel technologies out of the labs into the hands of real users.