Showing posts with label Apple. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Apple. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 22

Being Steve Jobs: Where The Open Forum Got It Wrong

Barry Moltz is a pretty smart guy. But he really blew it when writing up why business owners don't want to be like Steve Jobs for the Open Forum by American Express. Sure, with a broad brush stroke, we can call Moltz right — it's one thing to be influenced by someone, it's another to mimic them.

So he's right in saying that small business owners don't need to learn how to be "just like Steve Jobs," but not for any of the reasons included on his list. The real takeaway from Jobs is that you never want to compromise being yourself. And Jobs, if he was good at anything, was being himself.

Rehashing the list: Where it's on and where it's off.

Demand More From Your Employees. Moltz took exception to the fact that Jobs frequently told employees that they could never do anything right. Some of them were even afraid to take an elevator ride with him for fear of losing their job by the time they reached their floor. Moltz says it's better to be just be blunt (but not lambasting them or embarrassing them in meetings).

But there is another dynamic here that is missing. Jobs operated from an position that no matter how good something was, it could always be better. He was right. The challenge that many small business owners have is that they are always trying to reach some place of complacency where they can just go with the flow. That place doesn't exist. Maybe Jobs was too harsh for some tastes, but people knew where they stood. Those who excelled also developed a knack for fearlessness, which is critical for creativity.

Tell Customers They Are Wrong. Jobs also had a knack for telling customers that they were wrong, sometimes firing off emails in the middle of the night saying so. Moltz says the lesson is to cool off before firing away an email. The advice is mostly right. I tell people the same thing all the time, except when they are passionate. In those cases, I tell them to draft it up exactly what they are thinking as long as they don't hit the send button until they can read it fresh in the morning.

Still, I think the bigger lesson here is that sometimes you have to tell customers they are wrong. The quickest way to lose a customer is do exactly what they want when it's the wrong way and watch it fail. Communication people, in particular, do this all the time. They think they are preserving an account by doing what customers tells them to do (even if they know its wrong). Then they lose the account anyway because the customer holds them accountable to the outcomes. The grief isn't worth it.

Claim Your Employee Ideas. Moltz relates how Jobs frequently reviewed employee ideas and presented them on as his own. Moltz says it is always better to share credit when credit is due.

Jobs was hardly the only person to do it. Andy Warhol and Charles Eames most immediately come to mind, which is why I have mixed feelings about placing idea ownership in the black and white column.

While Jobs' style is not mine own, many small business owners could use a dash of it. It isn't necessarily appropriate to steal ownership, but neither is it appropriate that small business owners undervalue themselves. They create the environment, fund the work, inspire the direction, etc.

Never Settle For Less Than You Want. Moltz sets up the lesson by showing Jobs as uncompromising on two points — both in business and smallest details. He wasn't afraid to break bad contracts and cared about the inane (even if it what kind of flowers are in a hotel room). Moltz partly agrees, saying that you ought to never stick to a contract that doesn't meet your needs and ought to push people past their limits. But he wants to negotiate resolution and leans light on the details.

I've met a few self-made millionaires and billionaires. All of them sweat detail. I know one who won't eat an orange unless it measures out to perfect circumference. I often wonder if maybe they are right. Maybe those inane details matter. Or maybe you need to decide if they matter to you.

More importantly, small business owners sometimes get mixed up anytime the word "negotiation"  comes up in a conversation. It's because many small business owners have their words mixed up. "Negotiate" and "compromise" are not the same thing. You can negotiate a win-win contract. But "negotiating resolution" smacks of compromise, which is a settlement of mutual concessions.

The last point is probably the biggest takeaway of all. Compromises are often lose-lose propositions, with both parties losing, even if one party thinks they are winning. Small business owners can't afford to play that game. If you can't negotiate a win-win with someone but you can with someone else (assuming quality, price, etc. are all equal), you have to move forward. If you compromise or force someone else to compromise, then you're likely headed in the wrong direction. Never settle, but never ask someone else to settle either.

Friday, August 10

Missing The Message: Apple Not-So-Genius Ads

When I first saw the advertising campaign rolled out by Apple for the Olympics, my stomach dropped. It was one of the biggest advertising missteps since the Tropicana Orange Juice rebranding blunder.

There were two schools of thought behind the advertisements and no champions. Either the campaign intent seemed to be an attempt to reach a broader group of consumers who are older and less tech savvy or the agency that created the ads was also thinking of the past.

They wanted to harken back to the "Get a Mac" campaign created by ad agency TBWA Media Arts Lab. On that measure, they failed too. The old "Get A Mac" campaign ads were from a different era when Apple was the underdog.

The "Get A Mac" ads also represent some of the best comparison spots in history, hard hitting but not so hard that anyone thought they were mean. The characters cast immediately disarmed any negative impressions. Other than using a person, the new campaign bears no resemblance to it.

The Apple Genius ads represent everything the company never intended.

In total, the new ad campaign consisted of a series of three spots, each focusing on the Apple Genius as a character. If you haven't seen them, I'm including one. I couldn't bring myself to share all three.

There are several reasons the ads don't work, but let's highlight the five most obvious.

1. Apple has had a tradition of showing people what's possible without any help. These advertisements turn the tables 360 degrees and tell everyone that you can't do anything on your own.

2. Apple has had a tradition of making its commercials about the customer. These advertisements are clearly about how smart Apple can be.

3. Apple has had a tradition of celebrating the product without being presumptuous; its genius is matter of fact. These advertisements sell something that doesn't really come in the box.

4. Apple always had a knack for creating a clean but edgy brand atmosphere right down to the people in its brick and mortar stores. The person cast doesn't look like any Apple Genius who helped me.

5. Apple has had a tradition of simplifying the message so it conveys one single point. This one rattles off various software and features that the only message is how much you have to buy. Nothing sticks.

It makes me wonder. Did the fine folks who worked at the agency responsible ever see this video?

If they never did, I hope Apple takes heart and makes it mandatory for anyone who wins a creative bid again. At a time when consumers are still saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs and feel uncertain about the company's direction, developing an advertising campaign that marks an end of era just reminds us.

Yes, these advertisements were something different, but not in the way Apple defined it. Broadening the base with low brow advertising isn't the answer. It's about putting possibility in the hands of everybody. You know, like ping playlists, which were still broken when I wrote this piece.

Friday, March 30

Branding Power: The Bank Of Apple, Part 2 of 2

On Wednesday, I shared the interesting outcome of a survey conducted by strategic and research consultancy KAE in cooperation with online pollster Toluna. The study they conducted revealed that 10 percent of the public and almost 50 percent of all Apple customers would choose the Bank of Apple over all other bank brands.

While the survey is still speculative, there is always the possibility that Apple could reinvent the banking industry much like it helped shape the music, video, telecommunications, and publishing industries. The technology already exists to do it.

But more than the news itself, we considered how powerful a properly managed brand can become, eclipsing institutions with years of experience in one sector simply because the winning brand has continually demonstrated that it can improve any industry it happens to set its eyes upon.

Even people who aren't fans of Apple sometimes ask how it could build a company as admired as Apple overall. The answer is easier to deliver than execute, but it's remarkably simple. A company that wants to develop real brand power — enough that people will trust it outside of its own niche — has to stop worrying about profits alone and nurture something less tangible like character.

The five Ps of creating a dynamic and unforgettable brand. 

Purpose. Define who you are and what you are to offer-- a mission that defines what you do, a vision that defines where you will go, and the values you will employ to get there. It establishes the voice and character of an organization, and the willingness of a company to stay true to it makes all the difference.

Product. Innovation is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. While the most successful companies innovate products and services that the world has never seen, it can be as simple as making something more accessible or delivering it faster or creating an experience around it. Whatever that contrast in the market might be, the most critical element is meeting or exceeding expectations.

Promise. All successful communication is designed to change behavior, whether it invites someone to try a new product, shop at a new store, or help redefine an industry. Marketing, advertising, public relations, and social media not only generate attention, but also set an appropriate level of expectation.

People. It's not enough that products and services operate within the mission, vision, and values of a company; the people have to adhere to those qualities too. When done correctly, each individual person-to-person contact reinforces the brand and reputation of a company just as much as the product. The goal, through international communication and operations, is to empower people to realize the vision of the company just as much as the executive team.

Public. Perhaps even more so than years prior, companies are not only judged by their customers but also by their presence within the communities in which they operate. Sometimes it is just important for a company to meet the expectation of the friends and family of customers as they must meet those of their customers.

The character-driven brand will thrive in the future. 

Apple isn't the only company that seems to have crossed this threshold. Virgin was founded on some of these same ideas. So was Google. So was Castle Rock. So was Zappos. So was The Four Seasons. On the front end, scores have been (and some even remain) committed to those companies to this day. 

At least on the front end, all of these companies and others were less concerned about profit and product (although some leveraged product price as a means to reinforce their brand) than any of these five areas. Not only did they know the obvious, but they were unafraid to execute it.

When you think about companies almost like you might think about character development, everything is a little easier to understand (even if it is a little more complicated than that). People who nurture their character tend to excel in their professions, earn more money, attract more friends, and earn more respect. And even if all things do not come right away, they are still content in being beneficial.

People who do not — those who are always looking for an edge, chase money or steal, undermine others to look better, and insist they are entitled to authority — might experience short-term gains but eventually sputter out or perhaps even build entire organizations of discontent. There are scores of those kinds of companies too, Budget Rent A Car, Netflix, NS Goldman Sachs to consider a few.

Wednesday, March 28

Branding Power: The Bank Of Apple, Part 1 of 2

Two years ago, there was a little-read post that speculated what might happen if Apple opened a banking or credit card division. Most of the speculation centered on Near-Field Contactless (NFC) technologies, which would enable payments to be made with a phone; no cards, inserts, or swipes.

This year is a little different. Strategic and research consultancy KAE in cooperation with online pollster Toluna didn't focus on whether or not Apple could open a banking division based on technology but rather the willingness of customers to bank with Apple. Ten percent of the public, almost half of all Apple customers would.

The real value of a brand is elevated trust.

Some people never go further than the latest valuation of a brand — Apple is valued at $39.3 billion — to determine its worth. But with the simplest of surveys, KAE demonstrates what brand value really means.

The reason people would bank with Apple, a field in which it has never operated before (unless you make the connection that shopping carts are close), is the high level of trust. Sixty-six percent, in fact, said that their trust in the brand would sell them alone. More than half said they expect Apple would make banking easier and more reliable. Many wouldn't expect the company to open brick and mortar banks.

"Apple would face no capital constraints in building a deposits base. With a proven ability to cross-sell additional products, along with the highest sales per square foot of any retailer and affluent customer base, it wouldn't take long for Apple to become one of the most profitable banks in recent times," said David Rankin of KAE. "Once the power of the Apple brand and its options for growth are understood, it tends to prompt one of three responses from financial institutions: accelerated invention, defensive benchmarking, or blissful avoidance."

In recent years, especially with disruptive innovations that include iTunes, phones, tablets, and even the near perfect prospect of iBooks (there are a couple more advents the company needs to kick publishing out of the ball park), Apple has consistently demonstrated it can reinvent how industries are perceived, elevate expectations within those industries, and then either meet expectations or even exceed them.

A logo alone is not what modern branding is about.

In looking at communication trends among top performing brands, there has been one standout among those brands like Apple and Google racing to the top and unseating some of those that held the reins for a long time. These companies in particular are less interested in managing their reputations and more interested in managing their character.

How can that be? For companies, character isn't merely an assignment of an individual's trait to a group. It's really a manifestation of corporate culture — the company's ability to do what it says it will do with some exceptionalism at every level of customer contact — product/service-to-person, person-to-person, public perception-to-person.

That's not to say that all things will be perfect. Apple, much like Google, has its share of detractors and sometimes questionable decisions. But mostly, it consistently delivers on every point of contact — at least as good as it says it will (which is often more important than being number one in every category). Any company can do it, assuming they choose to. We'll take a look at the steps on Friday.

Friday, July 8

Entertaining People: Where Apple Might Be Right

iTunes FestivalApple isn't known for its social network prowess. Ping is marginal as a social network at best. It functions like a network, but doesn't feel like one.

But there is something that Apple is doing right, when compared to the rush of Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to generalize the point of being all things to all people.

And that is, for the most part, simplifying things to a singular or primary purpose. We see it in how it treats apps; and the same concept works for niche social networks.

iTunes Festival 2011 London solidifies broadcast-digital convergence.

Downloading the iTunes Festival 2011 London for review was almost a no-brainer. And if you ask me or the reviewer, it's not perfect but nonetheless brilliant.

It also has a primary purpose. You can watch a festival concert streamed live or (since most are in the afternoon) after work.

Applied to television networks, it could potentially give people the ability to watch a television program on the first run or automatically have it waiting for them. And depending on how networks want to play it, they could provide a permanent collection or limited-time viewing opportunities with the option to purchase an episode or series for download.

There may even be some potential non-intrusive revenue models beyond selling the program. For iTunes, the buy button only appears before and after the concert or anytime you pause it. It's clean. A television broadcaster might include related merchandise and/or sponsors just as easily, and (although it ought to be reflected in the price point) embedded commercials.

The real bonus in terms of the iTunes Festival 2011 London, of course, is that it truly makes the concept of any device, anywhere, anytime a reality. You can play it on your phone, on your tablet, or on your television. And, depending on how cloud services come along, you won't have to worry about storage or (hopefully) safety.

iTunes Festival AppOur reviewer also considered that a social networking function might be welcome too. It could be fun, he concluded, to chat with people who check-in with a live streaming performance. The function could be optional, of course. (Sometimes it's nice to skip the socialization of everything.) Or perhaps a network/app feature could open up afterwards, allowing viewers to chat about the show.

But what I especially like about the festival and apps in general is that they keep online experiences tied to how we perceive offline experiences. If you are in the iTunes Festival 2011 London app, you are at a concert. And any behavior, even if you are watching from home, is indicative of a concert hall.

Why apps and niche social networks will have a longer lasting life.

You won't find that on increasingly bloated social networks. You might want to share an article, but your friend wants you to join a video chat. You might want to post a picture, but then get caught up in a barrage of instant messages. You might want to share something funny, but then an associate will send you Farmville requests. And brands, well, they're even worse.

This is quickly becoming one of the problems with bloated social networks. As much as you can dictate your own experience, your friends (and any brands you follow) are being given more and more power to dictate what you will do. (Heck, they are even spilling into search relevance, no thanks to +1.)

iTunesBut all this stands to reason. Big big open generalized networks are like giant rooms with everything going on at the same time and no walls to distinguish anything. The stereo is playing, the television is on, and ten people are trying to perform.

The result is chaos, something I'm always prepared for when I sign on to any of them. One person is talking politics. Another is telling jokes. Some are watching television. Others are playing games. And half of them are screaming "look at me" or "look at my wall."

An app or well-defined niche network, in contrast, is exactly the opposite. If you sign in, you have a reason to be there and everybody else who might be signed on is there for mostly the same purpose too. It feels more than right. It feels like life.

Wednesday, July 6

Developing Networks: Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Mordor, Etc.

NetworkWith everyone else reviewing social networks — spurred on by the introduction of Google+ — I'll pass on any specifics. Suffice to say that Google+ is a crisper version of Facebook with some added features like video chat.

The added features aren't likely to remain exclusive for long. Facebook might already be working on a solution to add it. (Hat tip: Jamie Sanford by way of Ike Pigott). It won't be long before Twitter starts barking up the same tree. And that's what inspired this post, along with a conversation fragment with Geoff Livingston, Dane Morgan, and Tony Berkman.

How Many General Social Networks Can One Endure?

My guess, ultimately, is one to none. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are moving in a peculiar direction. Specifically, it looks like they are moving forward but they are really moving backward. People don't want one social network to do everything. Do they?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

One RingRings and circles. I can't really trust them, even if I like them. They might be easier than Facebook groups (and less annoying). They might attract much less spam than Twitter, even if that will change as the population explodes. But at the end of the day, Google, Facebook, Twitter and a half a dozen others are looking for the One Ring. And if anyone gets it again, it will end badly.

Again? Yes, again. The original welder was America Online. We just didn't think to call it that at the time, but it was a social network that for several years meant all things to all people (still does, for some, if you can imagine).

Ironically, it was Google, Yahoo, and other search engines that cut the One Ring from the finger of those service providers after Apple relinquished eWorld and the online experience descended into the darkness of Sauron Case. The world was a better place without it, much more colorful and diverse. So why on earth would anyone want a repeat?

As humans, we can't really help it. All of nature is predisposed toward order. We thrive on it, making bigger and bigger systems until the weight of it becomes unsustainable. History is littered with the rise and demise of such empires. And, we often forget, Internet is too.

MyBlogLog and Technorati come to mind. One collapsed and another was greatly diminished as each of them began the quest to operate beyond their spheres. In part, it's because as prone as humans are to order, they are equally prone to seek freedom and the wonderful chaos that accompanies it.

Niche Networks Tend To Better Define Environments.

Much like the historical and fantastical empires, it seems to me that generalized networks become unsustainable. People like to confine their activities to the definitions of their environments: they act one way at work and another way at a concert; this way at a church and that way at a bar; this way on one social network and that way on another.

Follow the same group of people from the bachelor party to the ceremony to the reception to the after-reception party to the gift opening, and the social norms will change. Same people; different behaviors.

Major networks, on the other hand, provide the same environment and then ask you to behave differently based on the people in the room. It's backwards, mostly because any social behavior is established by the first person who blinks but only because we're all grasping at straws.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone ...

Maybe it's because human sociology and adaptability isn't attached to groups of people as much as the environment. We almost can't help it.

This might also explain the primary reasons Facebook (originally a college network) was fast and loose on the front end and slowly became more formal as family members and future employers asked to connect. It's the likely reason quick exchange conversations have taken a back seat to link sharing on Twitter. And it's probably the reason Google Buzz crashed when it failed to establish a culture of what to do there. It wasn't just a matter of who was there, but the purpose of the space.

One of several projects my team is working on right now is a social network of sorts (social network is the closest definition without giving up details). For the last three months, I've been working as one of the principal developers while the board seeks out about $3.5 million in initial funding. (Once we have funding, I'll be allowed to share some alpha invites for a few people.)

RivendellWhat we are doing differently is focusing considerable attention on the environment. And, given it will have a much narrower purpose (with no incentive to pine away your hours looking for conversations to establish presence, eyeballs, or gratuitous activity), it won't compete with any existing network. Instead, it will feel more personal, important, and purposeful — someplace you go for special occasions as opposed to the daily grind.

In some ways, it is what the big networks ought to have been thinking about. Google had some semblance of authority, Facebook had some semblance of social casual, and Twitter eventually became (and then abandoned) a modern version of an AOL chat room.

So does anybody else have it right? There are a few developers who seem like they are on the right track. Of the biggest, it seems to me Apple is one of them. If you want to know why, drop by on Friday when I intend to flesh out why the iTunes Festival 2011 London App represents the future of entertainment.

Thursday, September 2

Test Driving Ping: An Apple Baby Step Into Social

After spending a few hours poking around the first attempt at a social network by Apple, I have to give props to all my friends who have said Apple doesn't understand social. Maybe it will in the future, but it doesn't really understand it today.

Ping has potential, but this launch is best described as a soft open. It seems less than fully functional. And while Steve Jobs described it as Twitter meets Facebook for music, it seems like something else. It feels like a walled fledgling of what we know about networks, crossed with a non-commissioned marketing platform because everything you like comes with a buy button.

And that's the real point, isn't it?

What Apple seemed to miss out of the starting gate is that people don't generally go to this social network to talk about "music" and that social network to talk about "restaurants." That's not a social network. It's a niche forum. And if Apple created anything, it is a password protected forum with a partial social network template laid over the top.

Is that how social networks work? Not really. The current success of Twitter and Facebook illustrates that. Those networks succeeded because there were no limits to what you could talk about. You only needed to show up and find people you knew or wanted to know. It's about people. This is about product.

Specifically, Ping works in exactly the opposite way. You find music and "like" it and then ... um, I would like to say find people to follow but that is a real challenge. Other than three people recommended, your only options are "search" and "email," which are my least two favorite ways to connect with people. (Search is fine, but it's a time waster for social upstarts.) The only other way to pay attention to who other people follow, too.

The Facebook connect feature seemed promising before it was removed late in the game. It was removed so late in the game that the Ping intro page still tells you that you can connect to Facebook. Except, you can't. So don't look. (You can find me if you like. Search for "Rich Becker" on Ping.)

By the way, did I say search for music? Not every album and artist has a like button. I know, because the first thing I thought to do is travel down the list of our recent reviews from Liquid [Hip] and quickly connect them up before someone does start to follow me. About 30 percent didn't have like buttons.

I suppose that makes sense. We focus on cool, not popular. Some recent covers aren't cool enough to like, apparently. And that makes the entire platform, as it exists today, loaded down with tighter rules than Fight Club. Case in point ...

The Rules Of Ping Club.

1. The first rule of Ping club is you do not link to Ping club and you do not link out of Ping club.

2. The second rule of Ping club is, you DO NOT link in or out of Ping club.

3. If someone lags because the interface is painfully slow, the conversation is over.

4. Two people connect at one time, if you find them.

5. One "like" at a time and you won't remember what those were 20 "likes" from now.

6. No frills, friendships, updates. This is about music.

7. You'll participate as long as you have to, three times longer than anywhere else (see 3).

8. If this is your first time on Ping, you have to do something.

Look, most people consider me a fan of Apple, given I still have a working monochrome Mac Classic on my shelf. The same one I used to start Copywrite, Ink. almost 20 years ago. And, since we started Liquid [Hip], I spend even more time on iTunes because it has a solid storefront to keep track of new music, movies, etc. So, I'll give Ping some time to flush itself out. It has potential.

However, I'm not so enamored by any brand to believe this launch was ready for prime time. It's a network of sorts, but it's not social. At least, not yet. To date, the only thing inspiring about it is some inspiration to write up what Ping could have been. And maybe I'll do that next week.

One redeeming feature? The concert listings is a cool idea. But it would have been brilliant if there was some feature to coordinate concert attendance with your circle of friends. Moving the online world offline is part of our connected futures.

Related Articles And Posts.

10 Questions About Ping, Apple's Social Network For Music.

• Apple's Ping Social Network Is Actually Good, And It Has Huge Potential.

Facebook’s Apple Ping demands were ‘too onerous’, says Jobs

Wednesday, July 14

Causing Commotion: Apple Made One Mistake

Sooner or later, it happens to every company. And for Apple, it's not the first time. The Newton was a disaster in 1987, even if the concept has somewhat redeemed itself as being the possible first step toward developing the iPhone and iPad.

The challenge this time around is barely a blip by comparison. The iPhone 4 reportedly has a problem with the antenna design. Or, maybe it's a problem with the reception reporting formula. Or, maybe it's all in how you hold it.

There has always been some push and pull with Apple. For every five loyalists joining the Cult of Apple, it creates one, um, Whig. And today, the Whigs feel pretty proud plugging Consumer Reports' call for a recall. Despite having the highest rating in its class, the consumer watchdogs want a fix.

There is also the drama about Apple forums, which have always maintained a strict policy that they are for tech solutions and not customer complaints. (The policy is unpopular, but understandable. When I search for solutions, I don't need gripes.) And then there is drama over the small stock dip yesterday, with Apple shares already recovering.

The Public Relations Misstep Was Speaking Too Fast.

Apple clearly mismanaged public relations this time around, giving those who want to make mountains an opportunity to do so. The 30-day return policy, software problem admission, and home remedies don't seem to be enough to appeal to the media, even though there are people who are reporting they wouldn't trade in their phones because their reception has never been better. Most of this could have been avoided had Apple and Jobs, specifically, not spoken to soon.

And yet, the Whigs, if you will, seem very loud in comparison to a quieter majority without issue. In fact, there are enough unaffected people that have some people wondering whether the problem is overblown or not. But this, unlike other issues, makes for a much more dangerous game.

On one hand, Apple could recall the product (probably without an immediate replacement if it is a hardware design flaw). The cost could be between $900 million and $1.5 billion. On the other hand, no one has put a price tag on potential brand damage should the "arrogant" moniker eventually mean something. Is there any middle ground? Maybe.

• Apple could readdress the issue, specifically addressing Consumer Reports but not defensively.
• Apple could recap all the fixes to date, including a reinforcement that people can return the phone (30-day limit).
• Apple could give consumers the option once a solution beyond rubber Band-Aids becomes available.
• And, if there a hardware problem, it could offer a trade-in option on a new release rather than a recall.

In the meantime, there is no denying that people are still buying the product. That has to mean something. Most people don't dismiss an avalanche of attacks and run out to buy a product. But with the Apple iPhone, that seems to be the case. (Side note: You don't need an influence measure to see that all those people talking smack about Apple have almost none.)

The Greater Public Relations Landscape Around Apple.

Most, but not all, of Apple's problems can be likened to people being obsessed about whether Steve Jobs can be likened to the character in The Fountainhead or the one in Heart of Darkness. Specifically, he could be the embodiment of the human spirit and his struggle represents the triumph of individualism over collectivism. Or, he could be a god among natives embarked on brutal raids across cyberspace.

Personally, I lean toward the former depiction. While most media is reporting doom and gloom for Apple over the iPhone 4 as if this is the first time Apple ever encountered a problem, the reality is that this once underdog company has been attacked every time it has launched a new product. Seriously. Have you ever seen a company generate more "I spoke too soon" retractions over everything they've ever launched? It's not possible, unless they really are making products that inspire.

Compared to other companies, which seem to have piles of problems with every launch, Apple is still miles ahead. It can stay that way too, but it might have to offer a trade-in option in an effort to minimize the Whig wackiness.

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Monday, May 24

Establishing Reputation: A Holistic Approach To Business

Every year, Reputation Institute looks at how the general public rates 1,000 companies in over 20 industry categories in more than 25 countries, making Global Reputation Pulse the largest study of reputation in the world. Most of the work focuses on how companies perform in their home countries, but an article in Forbes today highlights 28 companies with international merit.

The Top Ten Brands By Reputation.

1. Google (United States)
2. Sony (Japan)
3. The Walt Disney Company (United States)
4. BMW (Germany)
5. Daimler (Germany)
6. Apple (United States)
7. Nokia (Finland)
8. IKEA (Sweden)
9. Volkswagen (Germany)
10. Intel (United States)

Microsoft just missed the top ten. And there are many great companies that round out the full list of the 28 most reputable companies. The study was based on several factors, including products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance, and leadership.

Understanding What Reputation Really Means.

One of the most common mistakes in business is to use two terms — brand and reputation — interchangeably. (The same can be said for brand and identity.) The confusion has become more pronounced in recent years, in part, because some social media experts frequently combine identity, brand, and reputation. So let's dispel some of the mystery.

There isn't much reason to reinvent an answer in this case. Richard Ettenson and Jonathan Knowles clarified brand and reputation well enough in 2008.

They defined brand as a “customer-centric” concept that focuses on what a product, service, or company has promised to for its customers and what that commitment means to them. In short, it's the total net sum of all positive and negative impressions about a company based largely upon the consumer-company relationship.

Reputation, on the other hand, is a “company-centric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies. This would include everyone: employees, investors, regulators, journalists, local communities, and customers. And, it would include all those factors cited by the Reputation Institute.

If you need an example to help drive the difference home, Walmart is one of the best companies to consider. It frequently scores high as one of the best known brands, but its reputation often serves as its primary detractor. It will always be that way for Walmart until the company holds itself to a higher standard.

What It Takes To Establish A Strong Reputation.

1. Product/Service. The ability to deliver on a brand promise — products and services — is paramount to establishing legitimacy. It's one of the primary reasons Google sucked some of the air out of Yahoo as search stewards. As Yahoo bought companies and rebranded them to the central brand, it also inherited and transposed product and service issues. Sometimes it worked out okay with platforms like Flickr, but it suffered the opposite fate with platforms like MyBlogLog. Google, on the other hand, saw its reputation soar as it transformed its acquisitions into Google culture.

2. Brand & Identity. While reputation, brand, and identity are different, they work in tandem. While the products and services may have differentiation, the ability to communicate that differentiation makes all the difference. Apple is paticularly good at this by demonstrating its minimal design elements and innovation virtually with everything it does, right down to the people we expect to see behind the counters of any Apple retail outlet.

3. Advertising. While anyone can argue the finer points of whether social media has circumvented the traditional principles of advertising, it's still the primary source of message delivery. Advertising, more than any other discipline, communicates the brand promise, establishes the identity, and attracts enough attention to create sales opportunities. Sure, sometimes advertising drives sales, but mostly it focuses on everything else.

4. Public Relations. While some people might take exception to seeing public relations follow advertising, there is some truth to the idea. Public relations (and this includes but is not limited to the art of media relations) works to have other groups — ideally employees (via internal communication), investors, regulators, journalists, local communities, and customers — to adopt and believe in the brand promise. To do it, public relations professionals need to assist in creating an environment of mutual trust.

5. Corporate Citizenship. Great companies do not operate within a void. They generally consider corporate philanthropy part of their culture. Even small localized companies can learn from larger companies in that if the community isn't economically viable, healthy, vibrant, and provides a better quality of life, then it will wither. And with it, so will sales within that community.

When you add it all up and look to some of the best run companies in the world, you might sometimes come away with the feeling that those scoring highest on the reputation charts seems to have it all or, at least, very close to it. In some ways they do. But what's even more important to consider it that any company (or individual) can have it all too. It's a choice.

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Tuesday, May 18

Hearting Apple: Adobe Wants Some Love

What started as a tongue-in-cheek response to a letter from Steve Jobs that was arguably reminiscent of high school, the "Adobe heart Apple" campaign has taken on a more serious tone. Adobe, which originally admitted it could improve Flash to meet iPad standards, is still working hard to stir up consumers.

The first round of advertisements, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, state, “We ♥ Apple” in large, bold lettering. The second round dumps Apple in favor of "We ♥ Choice". Adobe also spells out its position on its Web site.

Adobe's Ad Gamble Worked.

The ad campaign was a gamble, given that the stakes for Adobe to retain Web video dominance is high. And there is no denying that it has paid short-term dividends in some sectors.

First, it gave Driod fans something to talk about. Second, Citi maintained a 'buy' on Adobe Systems Inc. and a Citi analyst concluded that catalysts are biased to the positive side. Third, the campaign afforded Adobe an opportunity to put itself in front of the classroom.

But about that third win. It might have worked too well.

Adobe might have had the players in place to speak, but its message was deep enough for the "lights, camera, action" sequence that followed. Sure, the company was well-prepared for first tier questions about whether Apple is stifling creativity. But it wasn't so prepared on second tier questions tied to what Adobe might do better.

Adobe's Win Becomes A PR Challenge.

It's difficult for any company to win a long-term public relations battle based on "openness" while erecting walls at the same time. And in this case, it's hard to miss that Adobe is all too comfortable saying it will stick to "its facts" while Microsoft and Apple can stick to "their facts." Let the media and consumers decide, they say.

The net result has become a debate of sorts between some writers at BNET and ZDNet and two camps of consumers. But as far facts go, Adobe is the more selective storyteller.

At the beginning of this year, only 10 percent of the video content on Web was HTML5. That figure has changed dramatically, with as much as 26 percent of online video HTML5. If change can occur that quickly, video market share dominance is moot.

Sure, Adobe can favor choice. But it might as well admit that choice is working against it. So is its message to investors. During an earnings call (hat tip: ReadWriteWeb), Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen told investors that Flash was "synonymous with the Internet and frankly, anybody who wants to browse the web and experience the web’s glory really needs Flash support."

Where is the choice in that?

It seems to me that the dvertising campaign seemed to work in that it sparked the conversation that Adobe wanted to have. But as an integrated communication strategy, Adobe is coming up short. They aren't prepared to have open conversation.

It even makes me wonder whether Narayen ever learned that oh-so-valuable lesson from first grade. When you hope to look smart by being the first to raise your hand, always keep in mind that the teacher might call on you.

Oh, if you do want to view Flash on an iPhone, there's an app for that.

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Thursday, April 29

Advertising Challenge: Apple Suggests No Crappy Stuff

"As a creative director, I can completely understand that they [Apple] created this new baby and they want to make sure it gets born looking gorgeous. But as a creative director, I don't feel completely comfortable letting Apple do the creative." — Lars Bastholm, chief digital creative officer at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

That was what Bastholm told The Wall Street Journal on the news that Apple's upcoming iAd program will require advertisements to go through an approval process and require Apple to build the ads for aesthetic and functionality reasons. It is one of several hurdles, along with price (1 cent per banner impression and $2 per view),  to reach more than 85 million iPhone and iPod Touches sold.

For the launch, marketers will pay as much as $10 million, which is much higher than the $100,000 or $200,000 most agencies are used to paying. One early example is Nike (it has endorsed the Apple creative), which Apple has been using to introduce the iAd concept. How to build an app advertisement isn't the only advice Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently shared with Nike.

Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike, shared Jobs' advice at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference. "Get rid of the crappy stuff," he said.

The Apple Approach.

There are two ways to take anything Steve Jobs says. You can think of him as an egomaniac, as some people reportedly do. Or, you can think of him of someone who is always trying to raise the bar higher, which is why you won't see Adobe's Flash technology on an iPhone. He said more than that.

"Flash was created during the PC era--for PCs and mice," Jobs said in the letter. "New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too)," Jobs recently explained in an open letter. "Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

Adobe won't argue the point. It is reported to be working to improve Flash, specifically to appease Mac, despite what Philip Elmer-DeWitt had to say about it.

The Advertising Challenge.

When you add it all up, some people might think Apple only wins because its competition is lousy. But maybe Jobs and crew would welcome the opportunity to be pushed a little harder, with someone not only developing better products but better advertising to boot.

While there are some great examples out there, communication has become more complacent as of late. While social media has shown some companies how integrated communication can work, turf battles still exist with everyone — public relations, advertising, marketing, corporate communication, etc. — fighting for dominion over the same space.

The results are sometimes convoluted. According to one recent survey by Vocus, 43 percent of public relations professionals feel they should own social media and 34 percent of marketers feel they should own social media. Seriously?

Seriously. Someone should sit those folks down and tell them no one owns it. Or, perhaps, more accurately, nudge and remind them that the company not only owns social media but their departments or contracts as well. The first rule of order ought not to be who's in charge, but how can we accurately and provocatively communicate the company's message.

And with that in mind, can anyone blame Apple for wanting the opportunity to set a higher bar for advertisements? Say what you will about the company, but its messages match the product across all communication channels. The company already knows that the the communication of tomorrow will be both striking (advertising), responsive (public relations), and interactive (technical). See for yourself.

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Tuesday, March 23

Advertising With Apps: Sherwin-Williams

Like many people, I held any number of odd jobs to pay for my education. I did a stint as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I set up, tore down, and worked spotlights at concerts, including Pink Floyd in Sacramento. I painted murals along several college dorm walls; they have long since been painted over as the director allowed students to crowd source the concepts.

And, among other things, I worked as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams every summer. A colorologist, by Sherwin-Williams' definition then, was someone who could match paint by sight to virtually anything and everything that customers brought in.

Nowadays, most clerks attempt to use computers to do the same job with mixed results. However, despite knowing the shortcomings of computer-aided color matching, the new ColorSnap app for the iPhone from Sherwin-Williams caught my attention.

Why it works as an advertisement.

As simple as it sounds, the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap application is inspiring in that it allows you to match, coordinate, and save more than 1,500 paint colors. It's an advertisement for Sherwin-Williams, but works hard to add value for customers. And when it comes to apps, ads have to be useful.

• You can find some inspiration anywhere and then save those colors.
• You can browse colors, coordinate them, and save them for future paint jobs.
• You can add purchased colors and save them for future reference or the next homeowner.
• You can use the Sherwin-Williams store locator to find the nearest store.
• You can take a snapshot of a photo and match colors to what you see on the screen.*

It's apparent that considerable thought went into the application. Resource Interactive did a fine job with the design as a source of inspiration for customers. It's almost unfortunate the application falls short on practically, not because it doesn't do what it says it will do, but because it failed to set appropriate expectations.

Where it falls short of a success story.

I added an asterisk to the photo snap feature because what would otherwise be the coolest feature (giving customers the ability to match colors by taking a photo) is flawed. It's flawed for several reasons, but most of all because it sets the expectation too high.

• Much like ink, colors act differently as a light source and paint product. In fact, ink and paint act differently too.
• The matching function is matching to a picture on the screen and not whatever the customer takes a picture of.
• Shadow, dirt, and intense light can all affect photos (the same reason some humans beat computers at matching).

In sum, the app falls a bit short because the coolest feature doesn't really do what it says it can do. And while that doesn't mean it fails as an electronic color deck, it is the primary irritation noted by half of the customers who left reviews. That's too bad, because ColorSync is a handy little app for several other uses.

The human workaround, by the way, is as simple as narrowing down the colors with the app and then cross-checking them against the chips in the store. It sure beats attempting to match colors by memory.

How apps and social media make advertising useful again.

There are several people kicking around publishing as the next direction for marketers. Mitch Joel has been kicking the idea around lately. I kicked it around several years ago, with the focus on program development over publishing.

In 2007, the primary disconnect between marketers becoming publishers was that some marketers felt such measures meant managing a dual business, with one foot in manufacturing and another in publishing. While there is some truth to that, you only need to look at history to find where it worked before like the original Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. It was first published in 1888.

The concept that you can add value to the customer experience isn't as new as some social media experts pretend. It's as old as advertising. What's not so old is "attention-getting" ads that fail to educate, inform, or persuade in favor of selling the cleverness of the creatives more than the product or service. That advent in advertising came along in the 1990s with the rapid adoption of Photoshop and SFX. Advertisers convinced themselves that people didn't read anymore.

It wasn't like that during what many people consider the golden era of advertising. Those folks aimed at having a direct conversation with customers in order to add value (despite some of it being contrived) to the lives of consumers. Social media and apps can work just like that.

Although the ColorSnap app doesn't measure up as a completely practical application, it represents a thinking that more advertisers ought to embrace. Marketers need to be thinking about communication that adds value with a bit of persuasion again.

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Tuesday, November 3

Racing Ahead: Volkswagen Finds Firemint

Want to entice people to like advertising? There's an app for that.

Volkswagen seems to be hitting a home run in one of the least likely places. While it has six iPhone apps in circulation (three of them related to racing), its partnership with Firemint represents a real win-win for both companies and consumers.

Firemint is the company behind the number one racing game for iTunes apps. While the game was previously riding high with stellar reviews from MobileCrunch, UGO, and the iPhone Games Network, the $6.99 price point and news of some public relations firm inflating expectations made some people hesitate.

Enter Volkswagen.

Volkswagen sponsored the game's free trial, with three tracks and six all-new 2010 GTI sport hatches. Doing so makes a trial version possible, which entices more people to download the game after their test play.

At the same time, it positions the GTI as a sports car (2.0 liter FSI turbo engine), with an MDI with iPod feature that plugs into the touchscreen radio or navigation system. In sum, it helps reintroduce a hipness that the German car company almost lost under Crispin Porter + Bogusky's watch.

Entertaining Ads.

Never mind the debacle that once was When advertisers match the right marketing with the right media and distribution, entertainment advertising works. The Real Racing app has since soared to the number one download and has created an all-positive buzz up about the brand. As a bonus for Firemint, its paid Real Racing app is currently ranked 29 and climbing.

"With the personalization of media and the challenges inherent with reaching constantly connected consumers, we tasked ourselves to rethink the way we launch vehicles in order to engage our consumers in a meaningful way," said Tim Ellis, vice president of marketing, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "The GTI customer is a tech-savvy consumer who enjoys social networking, playing games and spending time on mobile devices — most often an iPhone."

Even more telling is that while consumers claim they hate advertising, the Real Racing app demonstrates that what the public says and does are two different things. In this case, the launch of the GTI brand added realism to the game without being overly intrusive (despite seeing the Volkswagen brand on every screen).

What's even more interesting is that while most mobile success stories convinced us mobile marketing was all about adding convenience, this app offers up a different perspective. While pizza might be a product of convenience, other products and services might mean something else.

Imagine that. Social media and mobile marketing are situational. Original strategies, not best practice tactics, point the way.

Tuesday, June 9

Riding Coattails: Palm Pre

If conversations are any measure, it becomes much more challenging to say whether the new Palm Pre from Sprint will have a real impact on the smart phone market, especially as it relates to the iPhone. Despite a strong sales start, which some analysts predict to be between 50,000 and 100,000 units over the weekend, the iPhone continues to dominate online conversations.

Specifically, the iPhone captures 67 percent of the conversations when compared to the Palm Pre. When another well-known brand is included, such as Blackberry, the numbers show where the impact might land and it's not on the iPhone. Split three ways, the iPhone captures 50 percent of the conversation while the remaining 50 percent is unevenly split between the Palm Pre and Blackberry. Even then, Blackberry retains a small majority with 26 percent.

So Why Target The iPhone?

From a purely public relations perspective, comparing the new Pre to the iPhone ensures more attention than comparing it to other smart phones. However, from a strategic communication perspective, it might not work.

While the new phone has some distinguishing features, it immediately loses to the more than 50,000 applications offered by iPhone. And, according to Research in Motion, it remains well behind BlackBerry Storm and HTC's G1. The Pre public relations push to compare to the iPhone also loses on price point with the iPhone's new $99 price (the Pre offers a rebate). It also seems to be providing a forum for people to talk about the new iPhone 3G S (which will retail for $199) due out at the end of June.

What Telecommunications Needs To Know

The iPhone has been a strategic communication success story as much as it was a technological leap forward two years ago.

Once its initial branding dispute was settled, Apple not only delivered a phone that was everything but a phone, it also captured 1.1 percent of the mobile phone market in two years.

Where the strategic communication coup shines through is that every other phone maker has struggled to catch up by attempting to adopt iPhone technologies. Ironically, the copycat business model fails because it continually reinforces the notion that all other smart phones still have to catch up.

When consumers consider that fact, the Pre, despite some sales successes, seems to be another public reminder that even though Apple's 1.1 percent market share is much smaller than Nokia's 38 percent or Motorola's 8.3 percent, everyone considers it to be the product to beat.

Long term, as long as Apple continues to stay ahead of the curve, most phone makers will continue to look left behind. Short term, the telecommunication competitors will be hard pressed to win a comparison as long as they continue to define their products against the one with a home court advantage.

In fact, other than trying to ride the iPhone conversation coattails, there wasn't any benefit at all in attempting to cast the Pre as an iPhone alternative. At least, there was no benefit that we could see.

Tuesday, May 19

Selling Cheap: Microsoft Laptops

"It would be very unusual for Microsoft's score to be increasing this much and Apple's to be decreasing without some sort of event driving that, like a major campaign that's particularly successful." — Ted Marzilli, global managing director for BrandIndex at consumer polling service YouGov

That campaign, according to Adweek, would be Microsoft's new "Laptop Hunters," which targets Apple's value perception. Specifically, the campaign asks people if they "can find everything they're looking for in a laptop for less than $1,000, the marketer will pay for the computer."

While the "Laptop Hunters" seems to be resonating with mass media, online consumers are another matter. "Laptop Hunters" commercials score two-and-a-half to three stars, which is still a dramatic step up from Song Smith. In fact, the only one enjoyed by YouTubers seems to be the spoof commercial; it scores four-and-a-half stars for featuring a homeless man who reluctantly takes the free PC.

YouTubers are not the only ones in disbelief over the BrandIndex assessment. The comment section in the AdAge story demonstrates real push back. But maybe that's because some of them already know that Microsoft recommends a laptop over the $1,000 for any designer. And, designers seem to be pointed toward the lowest end models. For gamers, Microsoft recommends a $1,899 laptop. For "Jetsetters," $1099. For "socialites," $1,499. For "all around," $1,999.

So who do they really expect to find the perfect laptop for under $1,000? Parents. They seem to be the only ones that Microsoft would recommend a laptop for $699 as configured, because parents must not do any of those other things that Microsoft mentioned above.

Monday, May 4

Changing Times: From Print To Push

As a foreshadow toward a possible yet uncertain future, two newspapers — The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — carried stories that mark the sign of the times.

The Washington Post featured an article highlighting the public struggles of the Boston Globe, which many expect could close in as little as 60 days. Meanwhile, The New York Times asked its readership if big-screen e-readers might save newspapers. Some of the new models, which are expected to be released by the end of the year, are coming much closer to electronic paper as imagined more than 35 years ago (and imagined in the fictional world of Harry Potter).

Newspapers And Other Content At The Edge Of A Chasm

For several years, the most pragmatic viewpoint about newspapers has been that they might be dying but news is thriving. Indeed, the problems faced by newspapers have been confined to one of distribution and economics.

Subscription-based content on a more portable e-reader might be the answer, provided newspapers learn to segment their free online vs. subscription-based publications. Content duplication has clearly hastened the demise of print.

The analogy is simple enough. Journalism will survive and leap forward to the other side. So the real question is what will we find once we get there. That is a toss up. While most people focus on the short term, asking whether newspapers will shift toward more localized reporting with an influx of citizen journalists or more relaxed professionals, the real challenge remains content oversight.

In 2007, we asked that question with the advent of the Kindle, already recognizing that the Internet solution-providers were starting to ask questions as to how much content control they wanted as distribution platforms. At the time, people laughed to think Amazon or anyone would attempt to control content. It's not in their nature, proponents said.

Not everyone is laughing now. Apple rejected an update of the Nine Inch Nails iPhone update, saying that it contains “objectionable content.” YouTube, as if in defiance of What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, is hoping to police product placement, thereby collecting a cut from certain content creators.

The Leap Is Simple Provided People Keep Their Senses

To be fair, it's new territory for everybody. And sometimes, future solutions are easier to come by than the vision of the people shaping it today.

What Could Google Do? Simple. Stick to what it knows best — developing great distribution platforms. And rather than worry about product placement, it might consider a tiered approach to bandwidth with premium video being streamed for a monthly content creator rate. For everyone else, free as always.

What Could Apple Do? Rather than reject material based upon questionable content, it might consider opening a separate section for adults. And no, we don't mean an electronic version of the original local video store. Rather, something like NIN can stick to creating content.

What Could Newspapers Do? Really, if the problem is distribution because printed products are too expensive, then it's well past time to partner with electronic paper makers. Some people might be willing to pay a modest rate for subscription service to some papers for delivery by application or e-reader. Just keep the price models in check. Almost everyone knows that subscription fees never really paid for print (so split the subscription with the distributor or whatever); advertising did.

Friday, January 16

Polarizing Futures: Apple, Facebook, Everyone

When Amazon first launched Kindle, it seemed to me that no matter how anyone felt about the product, the technology behind it represented crossroads with potentially polarizing effects.

It represented an opportunity to educate everyone on the planet (once there was a price point drop), giving them access to the best books ever written. And, it also represented an opportunity to enslave humankind by filtering future content and killing the last refuge of reader privacy at the same time. Some responses were expected...

"Enslave humankind"? I can imagine a few scenarios, but what did you have in mind?

Facebook Sacrifices Burger King

Burger King posted a Facebook application in early January that promised users a free Whopper if they publicly sacrificed 10 friends. Facebook disabled the campaign after 233,906 friendships were sacrificed, claiming the application did not meet users' expectations and the campaign was singling out users for ridicule.

Crispin Porter & Bogusky has since move to its third attempt to force feed a viral campaign in the last couple months. You can now send someone an Angry-Gram.

Apple Becomes Editor-In-Chief

Tom Krazit, a staff writer for CNET, recently outlined the details between the e-book author David Carnoy and Apple. Apparently, Apple rejected Carnoy's e-book for containing "objectionable content," which appeared to be a couple of uses of that four-letter word that starts with F.

Carnoy succumbed, saying the changes didn't impact the book. Apple has since approved the e-book now that the author removed the words that Apple considered objectionable.

Mack Collier Questions Listenership

Mack Collier, a social media purist for whom I have ample respect, questioned my interest in the 'Real-Time Communications Conference' because it was led by Pfizer Vice President Ray Kerins, someone who is virtually unknown in social media circles. Pfizer has been using social media internally.

Collier made the case that listening to people who were outside the circle might not be worth listening to. I'll be sharing some notes from the conference, which was broadcast live in real time, next week. There is ample content that is useful for businesses, students, and social media consultants alike.

Some of the discussion goes a long way in bridging the gap between business marketing and social media enthusiasts. Bringing very different ideas from different people, companies, and industries is a passion of mine.

Stanford University Was Right

While I might be an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I still have a passion for learning. And since I am geographically challenged in pursuing my education, I make ample use of multiple sources, including the content rich Stanford University section of iTunes.

I'll be writing more in-depth about these programs soon, but for now there is a thought that seems especially appropriate. As much as the Internet and social media have contributed to making more information and commentary from a greater number of sources available, it also allows participants to pick and choose their own content to such a degree that each participant can effectively select their own set of facts and create their own reality.

In other words, it might even be said we run the risk of self-isolating ourselves from knowledge that makes us feel uncomfortable. So I wonder, no matter if it is the smallest examples of gatekeeper censorship such as Facebook and Apple or even self-selected, what are people doing to ensure they continue to challenge themselves — even if it means listening to opposing viewpoints or taking the risk of being offended — in order to grow? What are your thoughts? I'd love to know.

Thursday, July 10

Marketing Softly: Apple iPhone 3G

Apple's new iPhone 3G will be in stores tomorrow, and its newest product represents a continued shift in marketing as much as computing infused telecommunication. In a little less than 30 minutes, Apple illustrates what’s new and improved on the iPhone 3G in a guided tour.

Adweek, speaking to Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, points out the obvious — it's advertising. Not only is it advertising, but it also makes several references throughout the tour for existing iPhone customers who might be less quick to buy a new phone.

In addition, Apple provides more information about iPhone 2.0 software that will add many of the same features sported by the new phone, including its ability to add applications and display iWork and Microsoft PowerPoint files.

Equally striking, there is no hard sell nor does there need to be. Apple casually presented information in a “matter of fact” style that makes sense without being boring. So sure, Apple might be criticized for not approaching social media the way some might think it should, but it really has been blurring the lines between marketing and customer service, using social media tools and real people to do it.

Does it work? Considering most advertisers struggle to capture customer interest in 30 seconds, I’d say engaging someone for 30 minutes is pretty smart. As for Apple being criticized for not having a transparent social media outlet? Well, it seems to me that its customers do a fine job of filling that so-called absence.


Tuesday, January 8

Missing Customers: Verizon Tries Distress

While most cellular phone customers are savvy to text messaging, some are becoming all too familiar with distress messaging. Specifically, anyone who makes up the 27 percent of the smart phone market captured by the Apple iPhone, especially if they were a Verizon customer.

These folks, like me, are probably receiving distress message mailers. The latest from Verizon, sent about two weeks after I become an AT&T iPhone windfall customer and about a week after Verizon’s letter that claimed “I made a mistake,” tells the real story:

We miss you already.

• Free BlackBerry Pearl with GPS Navigation
• $100 off any phone of your choice
• Free activation

Call today!

While I’m not privy to the response rate, my best guess is that it’s flat. It might also be causing some brand damage to what once was the network of choice among 1 million subscribers, at least those who recently made a switch.

Messages such as take $100 off, come back and save, and come back to the network you trust are emblazoned on almost every panel of an 8-panel direct mail piece. Most of them, if not all of them, are misdirected, clearly reinforcing that Verizon has no idea why it has to send a “miss me” mailer anyway.

It’s not the network, it’s the phone. But now, looking back, maybe there is something questionable about the service strategy at Verizon anyway. As a former customer, why did I have to quit in order to get offered the best package perks ever?

For all these efforts, they were four months too late. That was the beginning of the end. Four months ago, my second-to-last Verizon phone was damaged during my ”never fly US Airways unless I absolutely have to again” flight.

Naturally, once I returned home, the first order of business was replacing my broken phone. The choices were slim without a contract. So, my company made a Band-Aid LG phone buy. It was the worst phone I’ve ever owned.

Contrary to the mailer’s claim “Your phone is only as good as the network it’s on,” $5 more per month for an iPhone opened my eyes up to what I was missing, starting with unlimited data, something Verizon never wanted to talk about until now, assuming you’re a lapsed customer (ie. unlimited data is now available on select phones, for new and returning customers, with one- and two-year contracts, for about $5 more than AT&T offers with the iPhone). They don’t get it.

“The best time to start missing a customer is before they stop being your customer.”

Sure, no one can say that Verizon is dead, but it’s very telling when a once perceived market leader does more following than leading. While they did pretty well launching the LG Voyager concept copy, a phone that Today’s Paul Hochman called the only viable competitor for the iPhone (I’m less convinced). However, the plan still lacks where AT&T came through. Customers don’t want 2-year contracts because technology is changing too fast to commit.

More to the point, Verizon would be better served by revisiting its marketing strategy from the ground up. They need to invest more on existing customers, recognizing that the recapture rate seems thin if you wait until after a lost customer already signs another contract or are unlikely to use their iPhone as a paperweight. Besides, it costs more to recapture a lost customer than attract new customers. Why? Lost customers already made up their mind once.

Here are a few quick tips for the Verizon marketing department:

• Improve your marketing to existing customers before their contract ends
• Re-engage customers who fulfill their contract with new customer perks
• Keep existing customers engaged, offering opt-ins on new customer perks
• Stop playing games with location rates; a national price plan is long overdue
• Verizon is a prime new media candidate; a presence last year would have went a long way, especially if you could have hinted at Voyage 9 before people bought iPhones

But above all, fix your messages. Touch gets more stylish? Come on. Honestly, the best thing Verizon has going is the geeky phone guy. He’s become a great icon on television but everything with text falls flat. It doesn’t connect to the smart phone market, which by all accounts, is the new market. Even Citigroup knows that. And they’re not even in the phone business.


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