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Do you realize that some people are growing up not knowing what a typewriter is? Those of us who may have a little gray around the temples know them well. We relied upon them for our term papers and it’s the way the great writers of our day created their masterful works.

Royal Typewriters sold millions of the machines. They had a huge plant back home in Hartford, Connecticut. The company thrived. Founded in 1904, Royal was the epitome of American ingenuity. By December 1957, Royal had produced over 10 million typewriters. Today the entire typewriter industry produces less than a few hundred thousand units per year worldwide. The business of making and selling typewriters died.

Ironically, one of the top uses of typewriters today is by coroners. Many still use typewriters to fill out death certificates.

Change can be very cruel. Change doesn’t discriminate. You either find a way to adapt, or you die. It’s that simple. What we’re seeing in today’s marketing world is that there are a lot of brands and agencies operating like Royal Typewriters. Many have been EXTREMELY successful for a long time. They’ve made tons of money over the years. They’ve won the awards and been recognized by their peers for their stellar work.

But, the intoxication of what has been, clouds their vision and they may not be seeing what may lie ahead. They remain steadfast in their ways. They are ignoring the obvious change taking place in today’s marketplace. They don’t recognize that they no longer are in control. They don’t understand what consumers really want. The first of which is to stop being labeled and treated like a consumer. That’s pure typewriter mentality.

You no longer have customers and people aren’t prospects. They’re your audience. By failing to acknowledge this your brand or agency is facing Functional Obsolescence.

I believe that this “marketoon” by Tom Fishburne describes things perfectly.


This drawing by the Marketoonist is so right. As marketers, we can no longer do things the way that we used to do them. We can’t be reactive. We must be proactive. We have to happily invest in failure.

Too may brands and agencies are risk adverse. Now isn’t the time to hide behind a desk. It’s the bold companies that people are taking notice of. Can you imagine in your office today somebody coming in with a plan to drop a man from a balloon in outer space? I’m not saying that you even need the budget or resources to do it. I’m wondering if you even have the ability to conceive it in your conference room.

If you can’t, then you are heading down the road to becoming functionally obsolete. Because you really don’t know what today’s audiences want. You’re probably using Facebook and Twitter to merely pump out links to your ecommerce platform. Could your brand or agency be more of a milquetoast?

I love what my Twitter buddy, Jonathan Mildenahll, new CMO of Airbnb says in this video:

“If you’re a company that’s adverse to failure, if you’re a company that won’t EMBRACE risk, if you’re a company that won’t even set aside a small part of your marketing budget for innovation…for failing, so that you can actually impact the learning of the organization…then you don’t really deserve to grow.”

I might even add that if you’re not investing in failure, you’re actually fostering it. I decided to open my own small shop wherein we work exclusively with brands who aren’t afraid to fail. I want to work with people and clients who understand that today’s audiences expect more. Actually, they demand more. They don’t want commercials, they want experiences. Why can’t your brand or agency innovate through failure? It’s even more cost effective.

Find out what your audience wants and give it to them! There’s your recipe to avoid becoming irrelevant. (functionally obsolete)

Or you can choose to play it safe. I’m sure the companies that made typewriters felt good about the way their businesses were being run as well.

Barry Cunningham

Author Barry Cunningham

Barry Cunningham is an antagonist of conventional wisdom. Check out our case studies. They will give you an idea how we help brands & businesses amplify their conversion and lead gen campaigns by deploying digital advertising campaigns at scale. And I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter.

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