The 5.5-inch smartphone, which Apple announced yesterday, lets you take amazing photos with a background that's slightly out of focus. It uses machine learning to determine, when you select a filter for portraits of people, which part of the image to blur out using shallow depth of field. The resulting images look outstanding.

It's a major upgrade because the effect is what separates the men from the boys (er, the cheap smartphone cameras from a high-end digital camera). Most smartphones can't quite do that kind of focus effect, and it's usually the sign of a professional photographer knowing how to use a camera.

For anyone who is trying to market a product, it's also an excellent lesson in how to draw in an audience. As journalists gathered in San Francisco yesterday for the Apple event to reveal the iPhone 7, some of them started doing a live feed from Facebook showing the phone. Most of them jumped right to the dual lens camera, which is highly visual, trendy, easy to understand, and an obvious leap forward.

Did you catch all of that? When you are marketing a product, it's important to "focus" on the things customers can easily understand. Apple could have amped up the battery life even more, maybe made the iPhone 7 thinner and lighter, but they chose to improve the camera technology. Those lenses are etched into a the enclosure to make it all look seamless. There's some serious instant gratification. You click, see the blur, and appreciate the results. Then, you plop down your $769.

It's amazing how many products don't follow this approach. I've praised the Moto Z smartphone several times now, but it does have an uphill climb. This modular device lets you snap different cases/covers on the back of the phone, which is quite innovative and useful. You can attach a projector, for example, or a speaker. Yet, in many ways it misses the mark in terms of easy marketing and encouraging a quick light bulb moment. It's not that trendy to use a mobile projector, especially since many conference rooms have them installed. You can explain this modular approach visually, but people don't "get it" as quickly as a camera that snaps amazing photos.

It's almost like, with any new feature you plan to roll out or any new product launch, you have to find a classroom full of third graders. You need to sit down in front of them and show them the feature. If everyone gets it right away--those photos look super cool!--you might be onto something. If it takes longer or devolves into a complex discussion with kids, you might not rack up too many sales.

You might think, well--that's fine for Apple but it doesn't apply to my cloud storage service or a Bitcoin service. Hold on, because it still does. Let's say you have a new text messaging app that's more secure. OK, you can't explain encryption to a third grader. Yet, you have to take even complex topics and find the golden nugget. Maybe that means showing a phone that is infected with malware, or the items a hacker purchased once a credit card was stolen. It's partly how you explain the feature.

Or, you may need to make a different product or add a different feature. This distilling process is harder when you can't summarize it and show it easily. Think of the Tesla Model S--people "get" that is drives much longer on a charge. Even highly complex new products and companies, like the Hyperloop One train, can be summarized easily. You get to LA from Vegas much faster. One sentence, more tickets sold.

The lesson here is to always make sure your innovation is easily transferable from thought to action. Apple chose to focus on the camera because they know that selfies, group shots, taking videos, and anything else visual is a perfect match for Instagram and Snapchat. You see the innovation in full color.

Battery life? That's not as transferable.

When a new idea leads to an easy light bulb moment, when something is transferable to customers, they thank you by transferring their funds into your bank account.

Published on: Sep 8, 2016
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