“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The above quote, from the British science fiction writer and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, is powerfully relevant today. Who hasn’t thought, while running their thumb across the screen of a smartphone or enjoying the benefits of modern medical devices, that technological advancement has reached magical levels? Truly, the technical and engineering wizardry behind the scientific community’s latest innovations seems like the stuff of legend – but that feeling also has significant downsides. Over my next few blog posts, we’ll take a look at the positives and negatives of “magic” technology.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Making consumers “feel the magic” does wonders for sales and marketing – for consumer products, just look how Apple devices have sold over the last decade. In part by encouraging customers to feel that their products have a certain magic about them, Apple completely revitalized its brand and, for a period, was the most valuable company on the planet. In fact, Apple users enjoy this magical feeling so much that some of them self-identify as a cult – now that’s brand loyalty.

Organizations that aren’t as directly affected by consumer demand benefit by portraying their products “magically” as well. Government bodies like NASA have built long-time public support through awe and spectacle first, letting scientific dialogue take the backseat. Private companies with business-to-business sales, like pharmaceutical manufacturers and data security firms, must clearly explain the technical benefits of their products to the buyer; however, they often include a bit of magic in their messaging as well.

While encouraging this sentiment is great by some measures, making users feel it is a double-edged sword. Thinking that a technology is “magical” implies a sense of wonder, but it also means that the product is well beyond the user’s understanding, and will most likely remain that way. Treating the target market like a modern-day cargo cult can increase their devotion to a given product – but it also significantly decreases their understanding.

Obviously, no technology is actually magic – it’s all about how firms decide to portray their products. Over the next few posts, we’ll look at how magical thinking can positively and negatively affect the sales, recruitment and regulation of businesses, and why it’s so important to strike the right balance in your overall communications strategy.

Zach Pearson is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson