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The Vacuum Cleaner Engineer Who's a Marketing Magician

Dyson and His Vacuum

From the New Yorker profile of James Dyson, the British engineer and unlikely pitchman behind the vacuum cleaner that sells at four times the price of its competitors yet snatched up 23% of the US market.

“In the most perverse design decision of all, Dyson let you see the dirt as you collected it, in a clear plastic bin in the machine’s midsection. One day in 1978, Dyson was cleaning his house when he became frustrated with the way his vacuum cleaner quickly lost suction. It was a design flaw, and yet vacuum cleaners had been made that way for a hundred years. As the brand story goes, Dyson thought about the problem, built thousands of prototypes, and finally came up with a vacuum cleaner that used centrifugal force, rather than a bag, to separate the dirt from the air…. Sir James Dyson is now known to millions as the man who made vacuum cleaners sexy again.

“Dyson had grasped what the companies trying to make hundred-dollar vacuum cleaners had forgotten: that a lot of people get their kicks from buying appliances, and are willing to pay a premium for a machine that will deliver an emotional experience.”

It’s a story that reminds you: Building a brand is more art than science. It’s a discipline where irrational humanness (“the solid yellow used for the body of the machine was a shade familiar in power tools but not in household appliances… gave the Dyson a gravitas that the lime greens and mulberries of the other brands did not possess”) trumps rational thinking. And if you can pull it off, wow, double-digit market share at a 300% premium over your rivals?! That’s nice.