OPINION

What the PC Industry Could Learn From the NRA

One of the fascinating things about the NRA is that buyers of guns think the organization represents them, when in fact its mission is to represent gun sellers — not gun buyers — and certainly never gun buyers against gun sellers.

Guns for consumers largely have been banned in most of the world, with the exception of the U.S., which uniquely has the NRA. This likely makes the NRA the most effective industry association in history.

The PC industry, which is facing yet another decline — and doesn’t make a product designed to kill people (other than virtually) — could learn a lot from the NRA. I also think the NRA could learn a bit from the PC industry.

I’ll share some thoughts on that this week and close with my product of the week: a growler to end all growlers.

The NRA

The National Rifle Association is an amazing and incredibly effective organization. It is well funded, has capabilities that range from powerful lobbying to effective advertising, has broad knowledge on how to effectively use influencers, and in the face of mass shootings and significant groundswell against guns has protected the gun industry very successfully for decades.

We’ve seen other powerful organizations connected to milk and cheese, nuts, beef — and especially, tobacco — but the NRA has outlasted or outperformed them all, and it is an organization that protects an industry that makes products actually designed to kill.

The fact that this entire product class largely has been banned in developed countries other than the U.S. is testament to the NRA’s effectiveness.

The PC Problem

We continue to see negative forecasts for the PC industry as a whole, and one reason is that the collective marketing spend for the industry is a fraction of that spent for things like cars. Efforts like “My PC Does What” haven’t been able to turn perceptions around enough to reverse the decline.

For a while, tablets were blamed for taking the momentum away from PCs — but that segment has even less funding and, as a result, it appears to be falling even faster than the PC segment is.

If you look at the individual trends of PC vendor sales, the firm with the largest advertising budget, Apple, is showing the strongest growth. The two strongest overall, Lenovo and Apple, both have product lines that extend to smartphones, suggesting there may be a synergy between the two product classes that most don’t seem to get.

However, the overall problem with the PC industry is the continued perception that it is dying out, even though the biggest contributor to that perception — tablets — is itself on life support. In a case like this, an effective industry association can make a difference by addressing a large threat to the industry as a whole — whether that threat be a competing industry, regulation, or a false perception.

One of the ways an NRA-like effort could be particularly effective would be to counter government antiprivacy trends, which are hurting the technology segment and U.S. technology products — PCs in particular — both overseas and domestically.

It turns out people don’t like to buy products they think are spying on them, and the U.S. government has been particularly effective in scaring off buyers of U.S. technology products as a result of largely illegal spying efforts, and an inability to keep them secret.

The NRA Also Could Learn From Tech

One of the problems the gun industry has is a lack of churn, while the technology industry largely lives on churn. Folks don’t cycle their guns, but folks do buy new smartphones and PCs regularly.

The NRA has resisted smart technology because it is run largely by old folks who don’t want to learn new skills, and it feels this technology would increase costs and lower sales. However, smart products age out and need to be replaced regularly — potentially increasing, or in this case creating, churn.

In addition, smart technology directly addresses one of the problems with guns, which is that far too often, they are used against their owners.

The NRA has been effective in covering up stats that indicate you currently are more likely to be shot with your gun than defended by it — but in the end, a dead customer isn’t a profitable customer, and concerns about gun safety eventually could overcome even an organization as powerful as the NRA.

So, while the tech industry certainly could learn from the NRA, the NRA actually could learn a lot from tech — and the end result should make both far more profitable, and guns potentially far safer. In the end, that might be the nobler goal.

Wrapping Up

The NRA is arguably the most powerful industry organization in the world, effectively having blocked the elimination of a product for which killing people is a feature, not a problem.

While the PC’s market issues aren’t as pronounced, it is being impacted adversely, both by a false perception that PCs are being replaced by tablets, and by a screwy U.S. government strategy that is scaring buyers away from U.S. companies.

On the other hand, the gun industry really does need to address a clear safety problem and increase — or create — churn to build revenue and profitability, with smart technology the most likely driver. So, a collaboration between the NRA and the tech industry could result in huge benefits for both.

Don’t hold your breath — but you never know.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

Now that I’ve moved to Bend, Oregon, I’ve rediscovered hard cider — particularly Atlas Hard Cider — and discovered growlers. Growlers, if you haven’t heard of them before (and as far as I know, we didn’t have them in California) are a refillable container, frequently used for beer.

In theory, you could use them for soda as well as beer and cider. They are green, because you reuse them, and They are generally less expensive than buying the beverage in cans or bottles. The problem is that if you don’t drink the product relatively quickly, it will lose its carbonation — and flat soda, hard cider or beer isn’t very tasty.

The Growlerwerks Growler is an amazing looking device — very steampunk in appearance (I’m a big fan).

Growlerwerks Growler

The GrowlerwerksGrowler

It uses a CO2 cartridge to ensure your beverage is good to the last drop. It has a spigot and it is insulated, so you can bring it out for a party, and it comes in 46-oz and 128-oz sizes.

You can get it in steel — or copper-plated for that extra steampunk look — and pricing ranges from US$129 to $179 based on size and coating (the copper costs $20 extra).

I bought two of them — one for apricot cider and one for blackberry cider, both from Atlas — and they are different enough from other growlers to draw a lot of attention when I go in for a refill.

This is one of those products that just puts a smile on my face when I use it, so the Growlerwerks Growler is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

7 Comments

  • Tell ya what, we can settle this once and for all, just go to guidestar.com and pull the NRA 990 tax forms and point out where the NRA is working for the manufacturers…

    As clearly you are accusing the NRA of committing tax fraud in violation of their 501C4 status which has severe limitations on how much such a tax exempt organization can earn for services…

    So please do prove the NRA guilty, we dare you to try…don Quixote

  • "One of the fascinating things about the NRA is that buyers of guns think the organization represents them, when in fact its mission is to represent gun sellers — not gun buyers — and certainly never gun buyers against gun sellers."

    On the contrary, the NRA has consistently supported the resale to private citizens of police and military surplus firearms and firearms confiscated by police from criminals, rather than destroying them — even though these weapons compete with newly manufactured product and bring manufacturers no further profit. It has also opposed restrictions on import, which also competes with domestic manufacturers.

    "The fact that this entire product class largely has been banned in developed countries other than the U.S. is testament to the NRA’s effectiveness."

    During WWII manufacturers of consumer goods such as automobiles and sewing machines switched to manufacture of military equipment. Similarly, today’s firearms manufacturers could always switch to manufacture of other products.

    It is primarily in the interests of the firearms consumer to protect the sale of devices making it easy to kill people, and for good reason. Even if killing people is difficult, a murderer can always wait for a time and place that makes killing feasible nonetheless. A victim does not have that luxury; she will likely be unable to kill in self-defense without a tool that makes killing easy.

  • It is a false division to claim an organization that represents users of a product really represents the manufacturers of that product; the organization must in fact represent both as neither can exist without the other. In fact, the NRA is not an industry lobbying group and was originally founded by civil war veterans to further AM erican marksmanship (approximately 1000 bullets were fired for each bullet that actually struck an opposing soldier in the civil war). Until the middle of the 20th century when gun safety legislation was actually that and not designed as one of many bricks in a wall designed to lead to gun confiscation, the NRA supported and in fact wrote most "gun-control" legislation. It was not until well past the middle of the 20th century when world-wide movements aimed at civilian disarmament were becoming active in the United States that the NRA began to Oppose "gun-control" legislation. In addition to what you have mentioned in your article, what allowed the NRA in the United States to be successful and similar organizations in the UK and Australia unsuccessful in preventing civilian disarmament is the 2nd AM endment to the US constitution that prohibits the US government from infringing upon the right of its citizens to "keep and bear" arm. It is the support of this freedom that drives the NRA, not the support of gun manufacturers.

    As far as your advocacy of "smart chip" technology to "churn" gun sales, this idea is anathema to the NRA. A gun is an extremely simple and reliable machine. The idea behind your recommendation for "smart chips" is that they obsolesce and fail, necessitating replacement and insuring profit. When a gun is needed to protect a life, it must be immediately available and it must not fail. Adding a "smart chip" to a gun makes it more complicated, less reliable and much more dangerous to its owner; as such, the market for this would be small. To advocate the government mandate such an addition is to advocate a significant diminution of that weapons defensive capability.

    One last point: voluminous recent research has completely debunked the myth perpetuated by shoddy, incomplete and biased research that a gun is more likely to kill an owner than defend him.

    A gun is so rarely used against its owner (other than by the owner himself) that it is almost statistically correct to say that this does not happen. On the other hand, guns, particularly handguns, are used between one and three million (yes, that is million) times per year to prevent injury or death to the owner of that weapon or someone that person is protecting.

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