Have you noticed how the latest wave of TV advertisements for mobile phones seem to mention everything EXCEPT the function for which the device was originally invented? The manufacturers will talk at length about how you can now shoot cinematic video on one of the numerous cameras packed into the device. How people can be erased from a photo with a swipe of a finger. How the user will look super cool when they fold their phone in half and slip it into their hip and groovy trousers. Yet there is no mention whatsoever of the device’s ability to make and receive phone calls.
Now I mention this because, having just returned from the global plant and equipment fest that is the Bauma exhibition, it appears that a similar thing is happening in the field of construction machinery.
I spent the best part of nine hours each day for six days photographing, filming and talking about construction equipment and attachments. I heard about how these machines can be operated remotely or autonomously; how their status can be monitored in real-time from the other side of the planet; how they are filled with sufficient tech to leave Elon Musk slightly aroused; and how they can be fuelled with electricity, hydrogen, or the tears of environmental preservationists.
But I do not recall a single conversation in which anyone mentioned just how much material a machine could move. Not one. It is almost like – as in the case of the modern mobile phone – the very function the machine was designed to perform has become somehow secondary – At least in the eyes of the sales and marketing teams.
Having been exposed to it my entire life and having worked in it for more than half, I realise how marketing and advertising works. I also realise that there are trends in the sphere of marketing that often begin in the consumer field but that then percolate down to business-to-business communications.
I realise, also, that with precious little to choose between most brands of TVs, cars and mobile phones, advertisers will focus upon the “lifestyle” aspect of their product, and how it will make the buyer feel. Do you want to blaze down a Californian highway while safeguarding Mother Nature? There’s a car for that. Do you want a TV so large that you can see the pores on the face of your favourite football player? There’s a TV for that. Do you want a phone that folds in half to put a shorter but more pronounced bulge in your trouser pocket. There’s a phone for that too.
But there is a marked difference between folding phones and excavators. One is (apparently) nice to have; the other has to perform a job of work.
Now yes, the modern plant and equipment buyer wants his operators to be safe, secure and comfortable in a well-designed cab. Yes, they want the machine to run on the smallest possible amount of fuel, whatever that fuel might be. And yes, given the high cost of fuel and the even higher cost of unplanned downtime, the ability to monitor a machine’s condition remotely is a nice thing to have.
But first and foremost, what they want is a machine that will demolish a building, dig a hole or load a truck as quickly, productively and as cost effectively as possible.
So have we gone too far down the line of selling features, and have those features become a distraction? We’d love to get your thoughts.
And while you’re thinking about that, allow me to direct you to a video that I shot some five years ago for our Diggers and Dozers channel, back when I was thinner, less beardy and before my eye had been fixed post-accident. The film in question is called “The Lost Art of Construction Equipment Sales” and I think the title speaks for itself.