The iPhone: A Marketer’s Fantasy

There’s a trusted maxim in the marketing game: cheap razor, expensive blades. It comes from the practice of selling razors like the Mach3 or Fusion for next to nothing, and then selling the disposable blades for said razors at a rather more expensive price. Consumers tend to overlook the long-term price of purchase, and instead see the initial price as a bargain. The iPhone may not be cheap, but apps generally are, and they seem to be provoking a lot of pricey ‘blade’ purchases, so to speak.

A recent post on the Sonos forums emphasizes my point. In it, the poster provides an anecdote about how, despite prior resistance, the Sonos remote app for the iPhone convinced him to drop a considerable chunk of change on a Sonos system. The poster’s argument is this: the mere potential the iPhone offered in terms of perceived future added value actually motivated the purchase. When contacted, a Sonos PR rep confirmed that sales of Sonos systems have definitely benefitted from the release of the Sonos CR for iPhone. The company has even produced a video for people who may have the app, but no Sonos system to control, demonstrating how the controller will work.

It may sound ridiculous, but I can’t claim to be immune. Apple’s own Remote app has me contemplating an Apple TV purchase, despite the limited content library iTunes offers here in Canada, and our inability to access Hulu. The appeal is in how easy it would be to use Apple TV with the iPhone, not in what I would do with the media hub itself.

Netflix and TiVo also offer tantalizing tie-ins with the iPhone/iPod touch. Thanks to a recent update, i.TV, a popular TV listing app, now also offers the ability to manage your Netflix queue. Which is giving people a reason to have a Netflix queue. TiVo has just launched a web app that allows TiVo subscribers to plan and schedule recordings. Although this can be used with any phone, the point is that you can do it on your iPhone, as well as manage your Netflix queue, control your Apple TV and your Sonos system, and most other things if you have one of the home automation systems that are iPhone compatible set up.

The examples are many, and not limited to home and home theater control. I recently signed up for Remember the Milk Pro, something which I would never have done if it wasn’t for the RTM iPhone application. In an informal survey conducted by TAB, a number of apps that inspired Other purchases came up. OmniFocus and Things are two other GTD apps which, though they work on their own, work like gateway drugs, pushing you towards their desktop counterparts. 1Password and Wallet, login information storage and management apps, also had the same effect.

There’s also the FreshBooks app, which makes web-based time tracking that much more appealing, since it truly becomes accessible almost anywhere. A FreshBooks representative told us that they’ve seen massive download numbers for the new app, but they’ve yet to figure out if those numbers are causally related to their increased subscriptions. The offered the app based on user demand, so for them an iPhone app was good customer service, and any sales benefits are tangential.

Most of these applications were probably designed to add to, or supplement the existing functionality of a stand-alone product or application. What is actually happening, and what is more exciting from a marketing standpoint, is that customers are moving in the other direction. The promise of enhanced usability, and true one-device-for-all remote integration, is resulting in users seeking out software, hardware and services that help them increase what they can do with their iPhones. The iPhone is the ultimate peripheral: universal; customizable; and generating more, rather than being the result of, consumer purchases.