Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

The Tesla Model S… Marketing and Innovation Together Means Stunning Success.

April 9, 2012

Even though the tepid response to current all-electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf indicate otherwise.

Here is quick review of the state of electric vehicles, as of Spring 2012…

“General Motors has temporarily suspended production of the plug-in electric Chevy Volt because of low sales. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf is struggling in the market. A number of start-up electric vehicle and battery companies have folded. And the federal government has slowed its multibillion-dollar program of support for advanced technology vehicles in the face of market setbacks and heavy political criticism.” – NY Times, The Electric Car Unplugged, March 24, 2012

A number of years ago, a friend turned me on to a quote by Peter Drucker that goes something like this… “The two drivers of business growth are Innovation and… Marketing.” This got to me and is a big reason I chose to get in the game of marketing way back when.

At our core, we are a big fan of “new stuff.” We love the challenge of taking new ideas to market, of creating or exploiting demand for products people don’t even know they want, need or love yet.

You Say You Got a Revolution!

In this regard, today is a feast for marketers with a taste for taking innovation on. That’s because we are living in a period of radical change powered by exponential growth of a variety of enabling capabilities. The most notable example perhaps is Moore’s Law and how the number of transistors on a chip have been doubling every 18-months since 1965. Starting gradually, almost flat, after enough doubling, the curve starts to climb and then goes like an elevator straight up if this compounding effect can be maintained.

There are a number of other enabling technologies entering this supercharged phase simultaneously including Bandwidth, Storage and Information creation itself as indicated by the Digital Universe Study conducted by IDC in association with storage leader EMC will attest.

The Potential of Innovation: A Vacuum Effect That Pulls Innovation Forward

Add it all up and we are living in a revolutionary period that is driving the Potential of Innovation, on the grandest scale.

What do we mean here by Potential of Innovation? Simply put, it’s when a Capability has entered the latter or steepest phase of the exponential growth, and the deployment or Utilization of this potential is lagging well behind, as the chart above indicates.

Over the years I have heard technologists describe this gap as a vacuum, a vacuum that by its very nature must be filled… and from what I can tell, the best of what fills this empty space can be boiled down to vision, creativity and innovation.

One company that to us most exemplifies these characteristics is Tesla Motors and most especially the Model S, their new vehicle that is now gearing up for production. With over 7,000 advance orders already on the books for this gorgeous pure electric vehicle, we believe the Tesla S will be a game changer and the first vehicle to truly fulfill the promise of widespread adoption of a car that is not powered in any way by the internal combustion engine, New York Times notwithstanding.

Here’s why?

Again and again we hear about energy efficiency and “green values” relative to the environment and planet we all live in. There is no doubt there is a much higher level of consciousness than ever before. The only problem is, although we may expect or want companies to be good environmental citizens and follow best practices, we as consumers don’t necessarily want to pay extra for it. And for all the talk about energy-efficient cars, the reason we don’t have them now is that customers traditionally follow the money… lower gas prices means we accept the status quo, high prices mean that we cut back. In other words we cut down consumption when fuel cost is high, but invariably resort to our old gas guzzling ways when prices go down with no real alterations made to efficiency standards.

Electric Vehicles: Niche Category…

What this means is that true electric cars appeal by definition to the niche we call Early Adopters, who are into energy efficiency and green tech because they believe in it and are quite willing to pay extra and buy before anyone else to support this belief. And Hybrids? These vehicles aren’t disruptive in any way except that they get good and often great gas mileage. They do prove however there is an audience for energy-efficient products.

This is what makes what Tesla is doing very interesting.

Tesla’s first car the Roadster has been on the market for a couple of years and has sold, if the public account is accurate, around 10,000 vehicles at $100,000 each. These cars are not only pure electric, they are also a very fast, super premium product. In other words, the Roadster is a high performance (0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds) sports car that can perform in a league with a Ferrari or a Porsche, that just happens to be electric.

As far as markets go, this is an extremely limited audience by any measure. However, the Roadster is a clever first step from a strategic marketing perspective, as it begins to alter the accepted perception that electric cars by definition don’t measure up to those powered by internal combustion engines.

One of the other objections to electric vehicles overall is that they necessitate new driving habits and expectations that American car buyers have been slow to accept, if at all. The perception is that electric cars are slow, don’t drive as well, cost more than they are worth, and what’s worse, make driving a structured activity posing the risk that the batteries may run out of juice mid trip. This is not a recipe for wide-spread adoption in the US market, certainly.

You can see this reality playing out right now with the Chevy Volt:

“Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

The Volt has a range of approximately 35 miles, when the gasoline powered generation system kicks in, so drivers don’t have to worry about getting stuck. It doesn’t look bad, but politics notwithstanding, with a pure electric range of 35 miles a charge, it is compromised and production has stopped, at least for now.

“the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

And then there is the Nissan Leaf.

The Leaf looks funny, and with a range of 65 miles seems too complex and different for the mainstream car buyer. Again, this is a compromised driving experience, something only an early adopter electric car buyer could and would love.

… Or Mainstream?

The Tesla S is clearly different.

Tesla Model S: Another Vehicle Entirely…

As you can see it’s beautiful. I’d put it next to a Lexus, Mercedes or Infiniti anytime. It also boasts great performance for a luxury sedan (0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds), can go up to 300 miles on one charge, and because the drive train is all-electric, it opens up cabin space and also lowers the center of gravity for a great driving experience. In other words Tesla S is great luxury sedan designed from the ground up that is electric and not the other way around.

In fact, most drivers can get back and forth to work for a week on one charge.

Marketing is a Key Enabler

The question now is, how can we position this vehicle so that the mainstream car buyer get’s it?  As it turns out Marketing has a set of tools that can help us figure it out.

Here is the current positioning from an outside looking in point of view:

Tesla is beautiful luxury car that performs better than any other sedan on the market, including Mercedes, Lexus or Infiniti. It (base model) costs $50,000 gets up to 300 miles a charge, costs a few hundred dollars a year to run and is all-electric.

This can be reflected in Tesla’s own taglines:

  • Performance for the 21st Century
  • Electric from the Ground Up
  • Zero Emissions. Zero Compromises.

Not bad…

The issue here is these core positioning tag lines are not connected directly, and the umbrella line of “Performance for the 21st Century” forces us to define what that means to us. And since there is no “Mainstreet” context for reference,  the “Electric from the Ground Up” with “Zero Emissions and Zero Compromises” then is clearly focused to Early Adopters, which is fine except that it misdirects the overall value proposition away from the mainstream audience and dilutes the position that is inherent to the product to engage the larger “Majority” audience and therefore fulfill its true sales potential.

Positioning for Success

Let’s use our double vector model to break this apart and see what we can do re-position the Tesla Model S for even greater success.

Vector #1: Luxury Sedans

In this case, the Market Alternative is Luxury Cars.

The singular “value vector” in red comes down to best luxury performance in a world dominated by leading brands such as Lexus, Mercedes and Infiniti among others.

With a gorgeous bottom to top design with acceleration from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds and amazing handling, the Tesla S can clearly outperform its gas-powered luxury sedan counterparts.

Vector #2: Electric Cars.

As we can see, there are some stunning differences especially related to design, but here we are looking for a more logical or mental key difference, and what really sticks out is the range. Model S gets up to 300 miles a charge, the others not even close. The Volt goes so far as to integrate a gasoline powered generator that kicks in after 30 miles, but that is an obvious compromise. Tesla does not compromise here. This is where Tesla’s no compromise position noted above obviously comes from.

“X” Marks THE Position… Where Differentiation Matters

Add the two up and Tesla can now make a statement like this:

Add it all up: The Tesla S is designed from the ground up to be a beautiful luxury sedan that just happens to be all-electric. And because we make no compromises, Tesla S not only outperforms any gas-powered sedan in terms of pick up and handling, it also gets up to 300 miles a charge so you drive everyday and never fill up at the pumps again.

Now let’s revisit our tag lines:

Nissan Leaf boils it down this way – “the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

Chevy Volt – “Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

Tesla Model S – THE Luxury driving experience with no compromises, no emissions and up to 300 miles per charge.

Bottom Line: Now, what car do you want to buy? And I am not just directing this question to Early Adopters, who will validate the product, but mainstream car buyers who will elevate this 21st Century Silicon Valley startup into a real player on the auto manufacturing stage with a product category that for the moment at least, is given up as lost.

Marketing and Innovation: Where Everything IS Possible

On one level this is monumental achievement, but for someone like Tesla’s Elon Musk, whose other company SpaceX actually launches stuff into orbit around the earth, this is a manageable task. Tesla clearly demonstrates that when marketing and innovation come together, everything is possible.

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Music Is Free–Let It Loose… and Reap the Benefits. PART II

March 11, 2011

This is what the Grateful Dead’s sound system looked like in 1973, from an article in Rolling Stone entitled A New Life for the Dead: Jerry Garcia is Checking Cash Flow Charts.

The Dead was a growing enterprise as the scale of this, their very own sound system in 1973 indicates. The ballroom days are long gone now.

It was a monster — state-of-the-art in those days. This hippie band was really taking off even then, as the 1960’s, the decade of their birth was now long gone. The Woodstock Festival in 1969 showed the world that rock music had an enormous audience and in 1973 that potential was becoming realized. The music business was now a big, big business!

The ballroom scene that featured multi-night engagements in small intimate halls with capacities of up to a thousand or so, described in Part I, was over. The capacity of these venues was not enough to sustain the escalating costs and fees of touring artists any more.

And we all know that things were to get bigger yet.

What is clear, as the last posting suggested, is that the Dead were riding the wave… and were now in control of their business and destiny. Consciously or not, they were also creating best practice marketing, building an ever-larger base of community support and demand for their product – improvised music that reflected the moment, the connection with a co-creating audience, that was different each and every night.

If we rewind just a couple of years earlier back to 1969, I can share how it looked on the ground as some of this was developing. Imagine we are at Boston’s top rock club, the Boston Tea Party, formerly The Ark, a venue that could hold an audience of 1,500 or thereabouts. It’s New Year’s Eve 1969/70 and strangely enough, the Dead are playing in Boston, instead of their home base in San Francisco. What a way to end that action packed decade.

I am helping the band’s road crew load in. Lot’s of gear to move, and extra hands help. There is one fellow that stands out. He is dressed in western gear with a couple of leather bandoliers strung across his chest, looking like a space-age cowboy outlaw. Instead of bullets, however, the bandoliers are filled with little bottles of liquid, containing what I do not know.

Introducing, The Bear, aka Augustus Stanley Owsley, the Dead’s sound guy and from what I could see, much, much more. He is overseeing the PA system he designed, making sure everything is unloaded safely, placed where it needed to be and in the process of getting hooked up properly.

I had met Bear before and was nervous at first. His reputation preceded him and I knew he was very, very smart. Plus I was just a teenager and Owsley (let alone the whole band) were in their mid-twenties at least and much older than I was, so it was easy to feel intimidated. I was around grown ups, legends already thanks to Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, numerous articles in the early version of Rolling Stone, and Herb Greene’s iconic photos.

But Bear was cool. Maybe because I was helping out, I don’t know for sure, but I found he was very approachable and very friendly… he also exuded an air of authority, confidence and hipness just by his being. He didn’t need to talk too much.

The Sony 770 Portable Tape Recorder was state of art in the late '60s and as Owsley told me, a triumph of miniaturization. Check out the soundboard tapes from the era and you can hear just how good these machines... and the band were!

Two things I also noticed as we loaded in and set up for this New Year’s run. First, Owsley was carrying around, I remember this clearly, a couple of state-of-the-art Sony, I think they were Model 770, portable reel-to-reel tape decks. He used them to record each and every show right from a stage-side hook up.

They were sleek, portable devices, Sony’s top-of-the-line decks. The way Owsley talked about them, their bass response, wow and flutter and other such features, these machines were a triumph of miniaturization. I remember the price too. I lusted after one but the price was way out of reach, something like $800, which was a small fortune in those days.

The second thing I noticed happened right before show time. The Dead always took sound seriously and their monitor system, the speakers placed on stage so they could hear each other play, was very important to them.

I gather this was one of Owsley’s PA responsibilities and he would always reveal himself to the crowd as he adjusted things at the soundboard by the stage. He would bring one of those Sony tape decks (or two) down with him and plug them in to a junction box type of device.

Then something funny would happen. Every once in a while a fan would go up to him with a tape machine and ask if they could patch in. And it usually happened in one of two ways… some would ask nicely. And you could see it, if they did he would smile and help patch some of them in.

Others would demand this opportunity. These folks would be ignored. The pushier they got the more he ignored them, and at a certain point a burly member of the road crew would wander by and “gently” escort this individual away, without the sought after connection made.

What did it all mean?

Looking back, I now realize what I was seeing. This was an early version of band-accepted tape sharing at close range. And Jerry wasn’t the guy, nor was Phil or other band members. And it wasn’t the road crew either. At this point in time it was Mr. Bear himself.

At the time I didn’t understand what I was experiencing exactly, except that this was something different. After all no other band that I was aware of tolerated in any way, shape or form, fans taping “their” shows like this right off the soundboard, ever. Club maybe… fans, no way.

Whether it was by intent or lucky accident, now I know I was seeing what today marketers call Positioning in action.

Winning Hearts and Minds…

In simple English, Positioning is all about addressing the questions “How Are You Different?” and  “Why Should I Care?” in a clear and direct manner that cuts through the filters we all employ to drown out the marketing “noise” we are all exposed to each and every day. It is the key that opens the door to a customer/company/product relationship and a community interaction.

Differentiation is the “Mind” element of Positioning, and the Dead were different in all respects, including the music, which, since it was improvised, was indeed different each and every night.

The “Heart” side in this case is the connection audiences had and still have with the band’s music, the feeling it created in millions of fans all over the world that listened to and loved it then and do to this very day.

Sharing, whether by design or accident, supercharged this connection, this sense of Belonging and Community that are cornerstones to effective use of Social Media today.

The Dead, somehow found a way to position themselves to win both the Hearts and Minds of the people, and I saw it begin to happen right in front of me, in a hall that maybe held 1,500 folks with the person at the center of the whole thing, a couple of feet away.

That’s what Positioning is all about. It is not a battle as many think, but connecting in human terms the mental and emotional connections we have with people, with information, with products and services we let in through our filters and then, in the end, act on.

No box here!!! Courtesy of NASA.

We have all heard the expression, supposedly coined by Apple’s Steve Jobs, “In the box, out of the box doesn’t matter because, actually there is no box.” From what I can tell, Owsley had nothing to do with boxes and the results of how this helped drive the ever-expanding Grateful Dead community at that time, speaks for itself.

Luck, accident, invention? Conscious, strategic intent? Who can say? It was so long ago after all. However, there were real things going on. And one thing is sure, today we have the opportunity with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight to identify goodness where we find it, and the Dead is fertile soil that offers useful info, even marketing information that we can use today. Who knew? Now we do.

Doing Good… Is it Good Marketing?, Good Business?… or Just Crazy?

September 9, 2010

Knights Apparel is paying its workers in the Dominican Republic three and half times the going rate. Can they thrive when their shirts cost 20% more to produce than everyone else?

  • Introduction
  • Investing in better working conditions and worker salaries in Dominican Republic so that product costs are higher than the competition… are they crazy?
  • Why it can work… applying marketing principles to counter the drive to lower prices and commoditize the product
  • How “doing good” can be good business

Introduction

One of my roles is marketing professor at a great college in Boston. A foundation of all of my courses is to have students comb traditional and online media to find and share marketing-related stories in each and every class. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that business is dynamic and literally evolving on a minute by minute basis sometimes, a fact that no textbook, at least in the print format, can ever keep up with.

What this means for me as a teacher is that I have to “eat the dog food” as well, if I am to keep up, let alone lead such a research-based activity in a classroom.

So it is that earlier this summer I came across an article in the New York Times last month by Steven Greenhouse, Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

I was very excited when I read the article and have not been able to get it out of my mind since. This is because contrary to the implication that “doing good” cannot lead to business success as implied by the question “Can It Thrive?” in the headline, when looked at it through a marketing strategy and positioning lens, we can easily see it is very likely this business can and will survive, thrive and perhaps be a model that other more well known consumer brands can and should adopt.

Lowering Costs Drives Business, Doesn’t It?

No, I am not trying to buck the research that typically asserts doing good for its own sake does not necessarily move customers or prospects to act and buy a product or service. There was much discussion a few years back about “green” business initiatives and would customers pay extra for them, and if so how much. Was Green enough on it’s own to drive a marketing program and deliver results?

Perhaps not.

We may have, want and maybe even expect a “green sensibility”, but we see again and again that when it gets to the pocketbook, we don’t want to pay more, at least too much more. We may penalize a product for say a lack of “green-ness” but we don’t necessarily reward them for it either.

In this mindset, the negativity implied in “Can It Thrive?” may make some sense.

The answer however, is far different from a strategic marketing perspective when doing good is positioned as added value.

First a little background.

Introducing Knights Apparel

The company in question is Knights Apparel, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Knights is, according to the article, “the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company.” The factory discussed in the article is in the Dominican Republic and produces high quality, college/university logo’d t-shirts for sale under the Alta Gracia label in campus bookstores across the US. The cost of the actual shirt is $4.80 with a wholesale price of $8 and retail cost of up to $18.

What is unusual here is that Knights pays workers a living wage. Where other factories may pay workers $147 a month in often harsh working conditions, the lucky workers at this factory earn $500 a month, up to 3 and a half times more. Not only this, workers are allowed to unionize and work in a clean, friendly, modern and safe environment, which is unheard of at most factory locations.

Shirts of this quality which may cost others $4 to produce, costs Knights $4.80, a 20% premium, so there is an added cost.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Whereas in today’s globalized manufacturing world companies are on a constant quest for countries and workers where they can pay ever lower wages and cut overhead costs in order to maximize profits and value to investors, here is a company bucking the trend and going in the opposite direction.

Plus if the research is to be believed, what customer in their right mind will pay a higher price for a commodity item like a T-shirt?

We do, and we do it all the time.

Positioning Can Be Used to Support Different Business Strategies

It comes down to positioning, brands and value. Using the product adoption lifecycle for a model, we can see the following:

The Early Majority supports leadership and works like a herd… if my friends and peers do it, so will I. And not only that, this audience will pay a premium for a leading product, for its perceived value. This is where brands come in and why they can be very successful. If my friends see value in Nike, so will I. And yes, we all know that cool little swoosh will cost me more, sometimes much more.

To the Late Majority, a t-shirt, is a t-shirt, is a t-shirt. Lowest price wins their purchase. And if we can get a branded shirt at a lowest price in say a discount store, we are not fools, we will buy it. But if it costs more, forget it. Cost, lowest cost is more important to here.

The game here is added value. If Alta Gracia shirts were focusing distribution on say Wal-Mart or other discount channel, the strategy would fail. Pennies matter to the cost of the product, and the higher production cost would not be able to play out in this arena.

But as we read, Knights strategy is to not play in that space. In fact, they are reverse positioning themselves to play in the Early Majority segment, and quite cleverly.

Reverse Positioning For Added Value

Here’s how.

1. The shirt is a high quality shirt. The facility is not manufacturing a commodity quality, no label generic t-shirt.
This alone is not enough.

2. Alta Gracia has not yet built awareness and value for itself as a stand-alone brand, although apparently there will be point of sale merchandising in college bookstores to raise awareness.
However, by providing the academic market with college/university branded product, they in effect are partnering with colleges and univerisites to offer a high quality, high value, co-branded product.

3. Students (and therefore their parents) are known to care about social concerns and they do support with their wallets.
These customers will pay a premium for products that they consider to fair traded, if the value is clear and the cost is in line.

Have you checked out the price for a Nike T-Shirt lately? Alta Garcia’s wholesale and retail pricing is well in line with other high value branded t-shirt products that can often cost $20 or more.

Add it all up and Knights has done its work to strategically position this product right where it needs to be, so it can, and I will argue almost certainly will meet its social and business objectives.

Does “Doing Good” Make Sense?

Are there lessons here for the Nike and Reebok’s of the world, whose logos have high brand value in their own right?

It seems like they have a choice.

A few years ago, Nike and others (remember Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line?) were slammed by the media, and customers for simply the appearance of allowing sweatshop conditions in some of their out-sourced, off-shore factory operations. They felt the pain of lost sales and as a result developed and imposed higher standards and better working conditions over time since then.

Left to balancing the quest for higher profits against the public’s expectation of social responsibility, it seems likely this kind of back and forth may continue. Companies will try to cut costs all they can, and consumers will respond if it appears they have crossed some ill-defined line and gone too far. At what is too far?

Is there a business value to a more pro-active posture like the one taken by Knights?

Costco Thinks So

As it turns out, there is a best practice we can look at here as well courtesy of Costco, the leader in the warehouse store category, outlined in a 2005 article in the New York Times, How Costco Became the Anti Wal-Mart.

For many years Costco has been a leader in the retail industry paying its workers “liveable” salaries well in excess of those paid by another leader, Wal Mart (and others) where associate salaries are pegged to the Minimum Wage.

At the same time Costco’s management has been under pressure to lower employee costs, something that Costco’s management has resisted. As noted in the article, one analyst even complained that with Costco “it is better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Why then does Costco resist this pressure?

Costco has found that fairly compensated employees are loyal, honest and stay with the company longer. Churn is down, retention high, training costs reduced, and productivity enhanced. Throw in that Costco’s affluent customer base appreciates that lower costs do not come at employee expense, well we get the idea, there is a monetary benefit.

As Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal put it, “This is not altruistic, this is good business.”

Sound familiar?

Our marketing model shows that companies can do good, quantify its value, serve customers and in the deliver more value to customers, if they live in the right place on the Product Adoption Lifecycle.

The Marketing Lesson of the Product Lifecycle… You Can Choose Where You Live

Then think of the transformative impact this has on the actual workers. One of the workers at Alta Gracia put it this way, “We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before. I feel blessed.” Feel good now?

Here is the recipe that adds value and re- or reverse positions Alta Gracia T-Shirts from a commodity to value product:

1.    The higher quality of the product itself

2.    “Borrowed” Brand Value that leverages the affinity of the College/University

3.    Added Value of a Good Deed that in fact is also doing “Good Business”

4.    Opportunity to build Alta Gracia as a stand alone brand recognized by students

5.    Natural brand extensions to other intersecting markets (parents, etc)

6.    Other affinities, such as sports, music and others can build on model

Add it all up and it means higher value, the kind of higher value customers are willing to pay a premium for.

iPhone 4 Static: Does “Fuzzy” Reception Kill the Golden Goose?

July 14, 2010

There has been a lot of media noise over the past week or so about the “antenna/reception issue” on the new iPhone 4.

This is exactly the kind of thing the precipitates the boundary between Early Adopter and Early Majority on the Product Adoption Lifecycle.

Early Adopters are willing to put up with a host of issues that may arise in order to get their hands on the new product as soon as possible. If there is a bug or two, which is often the case with a new version, so be it. Being one of the first to have such a device more than makes up for any inconvenience, which in many cases is expected.

Mainstream Early Majority buyers on the other hand, are a different breed. They don’t like experiments or issues. They want a “baked” product that works as expected.

As we have discussed in the past, they buy when their peers or friends buy, and they naturally gravitate to the category leader. They want the “one” and reward leadership by being willing to pay a premium for it. If there is an issue in the early phases… they do what comes naturally. They wait until everything is sorted out!

Consumer Reports Downgrades iPhone 4

Apple’s initial public position is the issue is a software issue, and a fix is on the way. Yesterday (July 13, 2010), as reported in the Wall Street Journal and other publications around the world, Consumer Reports reported that the problem is intrinsic to the design and amounts to a hardware issue that apparently can be fixed with a piece of duct tape in the right place. In response they downgraded their rating of this “hot” product to “not recommended.”

Is this Issue an iPhone Killer?

We doubt it. Remember the first iPhone launch? I had a client who waited in line (actually he had his assistant do it) for hours and hours to get his hands on one. And then for almost a week, he literally pranced around the office showing the device off. He was in heaven. And then, weeks later Apple dropped the price a couple of hundred bucks!

The joy quickly turned to fury and anger. He knew the price would inevitably drop but didn’t expect to blind-sided by such a move for many months. Suddenly his joy didn’t seem like such a good deal. He was right too. Ah the perils of Early Adopter-hood!

To it’s credit, Apple quickly got the message too, and quite smartly offered these early buyers $100 Apple Gift Cards, and the smile quickly returned to my boss’s face.  Just what he wanted, another trip to the Apple Store!

Bottom line. He expected such a move, but later. And Apple acted, after the problem blew up. In the end, sales kept taking off and we know the rest.

It Comes with the Territory

In many ways the situation is similar here. Early Adopters know this kind of thing happens .

We also fully expect Apple will fix the problem. It’s intrinsic to the brand. Other computer makers often force customers to put up with “known issues.” Unlike these more “commodity”-like companies, Apple is premium brand, and we fully expect the problem will be fixed to Consumer Reports’ satisfaction.

Once this happens, Consumer Reports, which in general was quite positive about the device overall, will recommend the product again. The brand connection with customers will be strengthened as consumers worldwide see that the Apple stands by it’s products as expected and the Early Majority will jump in once the dust settles.

Now if they would just open up the iPhone in the US to other carriers!!!!!

Brand Repair: BP’s Environmental and PR Crisis… Should BP Continue It’s $50 Million Ad Campaign?, or Throw in the Marketing Towel Until the Oil Flow is Stopped?

June 18, 2010

Summary:

The Situation
– It’s Ugly by Definition
– A Clear Marketing Choice: Open It Up, Pay BIG Cash or Wait?

21st Century Marketing Mandate: No One Said It Was Easy
– Surrender Messaging Control or Perish
– Let the Public In To See, To Share, To Act

Marketing To Win: Three Steps to Protect the Long Terms Value of the Brand
1. Surrender Control
2. Act
3. Align the Company and the Public’s Desire to Stop the Spill and Clean Up the Mess as Quickly and Safely as Possible (And Prevent Future Mishaps)

Conclusion
– Opening it Up Protects the Brand
– Controlling the Message: The Cost is Too High

In Control Means Marketing Out of Control!

Marketing 2.0 Win is never shy about taking on the big business challenges… the one’s that keep executive teams awake at night. And if ever an executive is up all night these days it has to be Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, recently dubbed the “most hated man in the world!”

It seems that every move, every comment he makes… and everything he doesn’t say just makes this catastrophic situation worse and makes public and policy makers alike more and more angry, upset and distrustful as we are all impacted by this terrible crisis.

What is also clear is that the marketing and communications are out of their control, the brand polluted, perhaps permanently as reflected in their current stock price which many, except perhaps current stockholders, feel is quite justified and hasn’t really been punished enough.

Our job isn’t to get into the how and wherefores of this mess. It exists.

What is clear is their “crisis management” strategy, apparently designed by PR firms and lawyers to minimize losses and protect BP’s image culminating to date in their $50 million what I call “Mea Culpa” ad campaign, hasn’t, can’t and won’t work.

This posting is inspired by an article that came out last week in the Wall Street journal entitled BP Rolling Out New Ads Aimed at Repairing Image that questioned the wisdom of this strategy. The last line in the article in particular caught my attention.

A quote was attributed by the author Suzanne Vranica to Chris Gidez, U.S. Director of Crisis Communications at Hill & Knowlton NY, a Unit of WPP, who is quoted as saying: “Until the leak is stopped, no amount of advertising or PR will help,” in particular caught my attention.

Is This True?, and the Best BP Can and Should Do?

Our position is perhaps not.

But to make it so, BP needs to make a fundamental change.

In thinking about this, we come back again to Jet Blue and former CEO David Neelman and his response to the Valentine’s Day Storm of 2007 that was the catalyst for a very public and embarrassing system wide melt down that left many passengers stranded with no means of getting to their final destination, for in some cases many days.

Crisis Marketing: A Customer-Centric Response

Let’s be clear at the outset. I do not mean to suggest that this business crisis that involved perhaps tens of thousands of inconvenienced travelers is in any way on the same scale as this one, that has involved loss of life, livelihoods and loss of irreplaceable environments, let alone cost to clean up.

What I want to focus on here is Neelman’s response itself.

Watching it even now I am struck by his authenticity. You can see the circles under his eyes, he stutters a bit, his presentation is clearly not scripted or smooth.

And not only does he apologize, he also tees up a set of actions including what became Jet Blue’s Travelers’ Bill of Rights, an industry first. What’s more he didn’t wait for the Government to legislate consumer protection. Jet Blue acted because from their customer-centric of view, it was the right thing to do irrespective of cost, and in fact a cost of doing business.

You also see and hear a CEO that truly is connected to his brand. He understands the connection of his company with his customers, and its long-term value. He gets it and clearly, as CEO dealing with a crisis, is prepared to have his organization pull out all the stops to make the changes required to solve the problem and earn customer trust again as Job #1.

We got it too, and have come back to what is a better Jet Blue.

The Gulf Spill: Command and Control Messaging Will Lead to Long Term and Costly Brand Attack

Now let’s circle back to our current situation. What we see here is a carefully crafted, command and control marketing program, telling us the story as BP itself sees it.

What we also see is a company on the hook for potentially $ billions in liabilities apparently trying to limit the damage.

On the positive side, we also see a company who although they may have promised regulators what it couldn’t deliver in terms of environmental protection, and perhaps it even “misled” regulators as to it capabilities to prevent a disaster like this, is clearly pulling out all the stops it knows to come up with solution. I see a company making it up as they go. I see a company trying, perhaps clumsily. Could it be any other way?

We see a carefully crafted brand disintegrating before our eyes. The public is angry and upset. Leaders appear ineffective and out of touch, and ready to “kick some ass” to demonstrate their power.

The stakes are incredibly high and BP finds itself is perceived as defensive, untrustworthy and unable to get out of its own way especially relative to its image and prestige.

What is now clear is the less transparent they are, the more they hinder journalist and public access, and the more they try to push its version of the message out “there”, the worse it is getting for BP.

Right now the marketing advantage is with the anti-BP forces, who make more noise and have more visibility, more friends, and a louder marketing voice. Fear and anger trump crafted messaging here and will do so until BP surrenders message control.

Here is How Marketing Can Help… Transparency is Essential

BP needs to open the gates, to let us in on the action, and let us see what is happening for ourselves. They have to realize that we need to see the whole thing.

The company must also be real, and show its human side above and beyond just Tony Hayward. It must listen without hindrance or defense, knowing full well that what it may hear won’t be flattering or pretty, at least for a while. Talk about thankless.

If BP can become more open, if it gives the public, for example, direct access to its daily briefings, where heaven forbid, anyone, even you or I can ask questions to its engineers and other experts, it will get an audience. Over time this can in fact turn down the heat on the ever building and rightful frustration and anger. The key if is… if the forum is authentic and real.

This is just the beginning.

BP can take us behind the scenes and give us a view in real time of the what I gather must be extraordinary measures they are taking to get this under control… both the ones that work and don’t, warts and all as they happen. It doesn’t have to cost either. There are plenty of journalism students, perhaps even a Walker Evans or two, who would be happy to help!

By showing (not just telling) us how the people of BP that live on the Gulf are affected just like the rest of us, we are then connected as human beings, and aligned to the same objective, getting the spill stopped, and the mess cleaned up.

The political and “who pays what” elements, important as they are, lose their potency as messages and can then recede to secondary story status.

And for Part B. Then Act in the Interests of People Effected…

One suggestion. Perhaps BP creates a Gulf Crisis SWOT Squad, specifically available to help individuals and families get the help they need immediately. Instant help, NO red tape.

BP could perhaps even build a partnership with say a Wal Mart, one of the unsung heroes of Katrina, and other businesses so that individuals affected can get supplies, rent and other necessities NOW when they need them, as the other details gets sorted out.

Perhaps this could be seeded by what’s left from the ill-fated $50 million ad buy?

BP. Let us see for ourselves that you as a company in fact understand the human cost of your actions and about solving the problem, and ironically enough, about your brand that you invested so heavily in.

Show us that we matter, no matter what the cost. That we are worth it… and that your brand is too. After all it is customers that make the brand, any brand come alive.

This is what it means to be a responsible brand. Not just build it and market it in good times, but to be it… to do its best, to meet public need as best as it can in bad.

Brands Are Living Entities That Require Action to Restore in a Crisis

And if history is any guide, those courageous companies that take this posture find themselves in a stronger position once the dust settles. That’s because they have shown through action that the promise of the brand, the connection of the product its audience is real, and we as customers tend to reward those that do so over the long haul.

That is the lesson Jet Blue. And so far, BP has no clue.

Waiting It Out Is Too LATE, and Cash Is NOT King…

BP needs to show us that yes it’s a company, a huge multi-national one at that, but as such it is run by and operated by human beings.

This massive mistake was not caused by a robot or a machine… And its time BP let go of controlling the situation and wake up to marketing in the 21st century, I hope they do so soon…

And we can assure you Mr. Hayward, once you do, you will be able to get some sleep again!

It might not happen overnight, but access, dialog, transparency and truth trump the noise of fear and anger each and every time, over time. Give us these things so we can all get aligned with the ultimate goals and you will protect and enhance the brand, the people and the company that is BP.

Pay now or later… doesn’t matter, you will pay. But by letting go of control, by understanding and investing in people not ad campaigns, you will win in a marketing sense and in ways that may seem unimaginable today, as the payoff.

Post Script

As we got ready to post this, we find that BP has been sent a letter signed by members of the US Congress with a demand (request?) for BP to set up a $20 billion victim compensation fund, held in escrow and executed by a 3rd party. This has been underscored by President Obama today (June 16, 2010) in a personal meeting with Tony Woodward at the White House.

From a marketing perspective, how much more interesting and powerful would this be if BP had gotten ahead of things and set up such a fund under its control without political prompting?

Now that others have led the charge for such a program, what may not be so good for BP is having independent 3rd party in charge.

If not positioned correctly and I can see no reason yet why it would be, BP could now be put in a place of not only being the villain causing irreparable harm but now they are on the hook to pay the bills, and then get no brand “credit.” Terrible and costly.

This is a razors’ edge they walk! One thing for certain, just waiting for the crisis to end to begin re-building the brand is not a strategy for success. And 20th Century/Command and Control Communications will not work.

Like it or not we are all in it with you, and there is much you can do now to get us all focused on real solutions to this mess, but you have to let us in without restriction.

Otherwise, you will be an object of contempt that could take generations to fix and will cost your company and its investors more than you can imagine. It’s your choice Mr. Woodward and BP.

This is FIOS… This is BIG!???

June 2, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation
• The Curse of the Anti-Brand Continued
• Field of Dreams Marketing: Build It and They Will Come?
• Oh Really!

2. Positioning 101
• The Ultimate Choice in Marketing: Make It Easier to Sell… or to Buy
• Customers Know “This is Big,” is Bad and Act Accordingly

3. Recommendations/How to Fix It
• The Power of One Word
• See The Difference

4. Conclusion

• Getting the Positioning Right Means Success. Getting it wrong…

This is Bad!
We have explored anti-brand/worst practice marketing before, notably in the airline industry. We explored the disintegration of the legacy carrier brands (United, Delta, American and the like), and how this has created openings for the quote unquote discount carriers such as Southwest, Jet Blue and Virgin to add value to in a variety of ways and in doing so develop true and sustainable brand connections with customers.

Another industry that traditionally seems to take this anti-brand/anti-customer approach is the telecom sector – phone, cell phone, cable and broadband providers again and again seem to go out of their way to make it as complex as possible to purchase and service these vital products that are so much a part of our daily lives today…. plans, contracts, service agreement periods, rebates, data services, VoIP, bundles and variable pricing, locked phones, unlocked phones, smart phones, dumb phones… figuring this all out is a daunting task!

And it is not to say these anti-brands don’t spend money on marketing. They do. And lots! It’s just that from a marketing and positioning perspective, many of these companies have attempted to make their product easier to sell, not easier to buy. This is a subtle yet often profound distinction which has often led customers to such a confusing array of product and bundled offerings and “deals” that get in the way of achieving the desired outcome, ironically of maximizing sales.

The result…

A Better Product Alone Does Not Mean Success
Last week, after a 2-year wait, we finally had Verizon’s FIOS installed in our home, and the promise of fiber optic digital broadband bundled with HD and voice over internet IP phone service was a reality for me and my family. We are all delighted to be freed from the shackles of our former broadband, cable TV provider for reasons noted above. We met our contract obligations years ago and costs continued to rise to unacceptable levels for what amounted to basic TV and Internet service without recourse.

When at last the day arrived, we were lucky enough to have a savvy, seasoned installer handle the actual installation process. It was in talking with him, that the results of anti-brand thinking, relative to positioning became very clear to both of us.

Just like the Nexus One discussion in an earlier posting, FIOS to me is a clearly superior product. Fiber optics is a much more efficient networking technology over say, cable and copper wire. Plus fiber is 21st century technology, copper wire represents the past.

On one level what this means is that FIOS’ speeds are faster, and do not slow down if say others on the same line are also connected at the same time as they do with cable or DSL. All things being equal, we found that FIOS is cheaper than the cable offering available to us with many more TV channels, and unlimited long distance to boot.

Sounds like a recipe for competitive advantage and market share domination, right!

This is where the conversation with installer got interesting.

Misplaced Positioning Can Doom Even the Best Products
Superior product and a massive TV buy not withstanding, he told me that FIOS apparently only wins only a small portion of the business where it competes against cable, and has not meet expectations for quite some time. It does apparently carve into the cable business some, but it does not dominate, not even close, at least in the markets covered buy our installer.

That was a surprise, especially since FIOS can make the case of being superior and cheaper! And then there have been news reports lately that FIOS’ planned expansion program in other markets has been postponed, affirming lackluster results so far.

What could be the problem? Could it be loyalty? Is there a deep brand connection to cable providers?

Nothing in any research I have seen over the years indicates consumer love for cable companies. Many are anti-brands with a clear take it or leave it attitude. Customer-centric service? Forget it.

In fact from what I see, on the TV side in particular, customers really resent cable providers. Many dislike bundled programming offerings in particular, and often feel gouged with ever higher prices and the inability to pay a la carte for just the channels they want.

And then without prompting, the installer and I both blurted out at the same time, obviously in harmony with an “aha” moment… “This is FIOS, This is Big!”

Verizon has spent untold $ millions to embed this unforgettable slogan in our minds. But what does it say from a positioning point of view?

Slogans are often what we remember, what we pass along, what we act on… or don’t.

Slogans that get the positioning down and answer questions, connect dots, and give us that “compelling reason to buy” message right on the spot are the ones that deliver results. Slogans that don’t, memorable though they may be, can’t do the job, no matter how much cash is thrown at it.

Unfortunately this is where Verizon missed the boat.

It Comes Down to One Word…
Let’s take this slogan apart for a minute. We know from an overarching perspective this is a Verizon product, and Verizon is the network, isn’t it? But what is FIOS anyway?

I will guess it has to do with FIber Optic System or something like that. It could be called ACME or ALPO for that matter. The name can be important, but all of us have seen meaningless names such as Accenture, Altria, and Exxon that have been created for very successful companies.

No, the problem word here is not FIOS, it is the word BIG. This is the key word and it does not tell us as customers what’s in it for us. To be effective, this word has to be clear, direct and mean something. It has to answer questions, not beg them.

In this case, BIG addresses the latter. I am sure Verizon loves the technology… they invested $ billions to bring it to us. But BIG. What does BIG do for you and I? We don’t know. We… have to think about it.

This is a problem because actually, in today’s busy world, we tend not to think about things like this. When left to our own devices and unintended questions arise in our minds, usually these questions support inertia and inaction.

For example, isn’t changing providers is a hassle?, and why change now?, immediately come to my mind. Customers, typical mainstream customers facing such a rhetorical quandary without a clear reason to switch, will typically say to themselves “I will happily stay where I am” and act accordingly.

This puts the “connecting of the dots” in the hands of market forces outside of Verizon’s control, which in terms of grabbing market share, is deadly! And Needless!

All of this is wrapped up in one, in this case, one misplaced 3-letter word.

BIG or BETTER Internet Service. What Do You Prefer?
As a marketer I have learned over the years that if you are going to critique someone else’s work, you should also offer up an alternative. This is only fair after all. So in this spirit, I offer up the word… BETTER.

The altered slogan would then read:

This is FIOS, This is Better!

I am not saying it is perfect or pretty or elegant, but now we as readers of the message have something to grab on to, that we can understand. Leadership is reflected in qualitative advantage… something that differentiates FIOS from the cable product and says there may be something in it for me as well.

Imagine now the conversation I might have had with the installer if the take away message we all remember is… This is FIOS, This is Better.

In the one instant a series of questions posed by the word BIG are replaced by a declaration of superiority over the competition… the Better that is Fiber Optical TV/Phone/Internet connections over copper wire/cable. Customers would almost feel like they are acting foolishly not to get a better product and better deal, no matter what.

Our minds would be embedded with Better than… cable positioning, so taking the buy action is natural and something already clearly mapped out. This is what effective positioning is all about and one example of creating a compelling reason to buy with a positioning core.

Marketing Misfire. Nexus One… Looks Like a Great Phone to Me! The Real Battle Was Positioning and Google Missed It.

May 13, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation

  • What’s at Stake
  • Product Features
  • Current Positioning

2. Analysis

  • What’s Right?
  • What’s Wrong

3. Recommendations

  • Connecting the Marketing Dots
  • A 5-Step Plan: What can Google do about it.

Introduction

Recently, before the (in)famous lost iPhone debacle, Apple indirectly made another announcement of perhaps greater import relative to this already proven game changing device, the iPhone. It appears that at long last, Apple is making the big move to create a version capable of running on other carriers, in this case industry-leading Verizon.

As earlier postings on marketing to win attest, Apple needed to make this move or else risk having the product marginalized to niche status if they stayed on ATT exclusively. The risk is magnified especially since Google’s robust mobile, open source  operating system Android in tandem with other devices, notably manufactured by NHT, opens up the market above and beyond any one carrier.

And to make matters worse, it appeared that Google along with manufacturer NHT would be the tools of this destruction with the much heralded launch of it’s Google-branded Nexus One smartphone. Nexus One was designed to be platform-agnostic and besides featuring Android, it exploded the existing sales channel model traditionally controlled by the carriers, and sold direct to customers online through Google itself.

And if that wasn’t enough, customers were also offered both locked and unlocked versions of the device. If you wanted to purchase a subsidized version with a two-year contract, there was a T-Mobile version ready to rock for under $200, and a Verizon-ready model was going to roll this spring as well. Radical indeed.

Before we dive into what was wrong marketing-wise, remember there is much at stake for Google and perhaps NHT as well.

The smartphone is in fact a mobile computing platform and apps that run on these devices are, if I read the tea leaves correctly, potentially disruptive to Google’s online search-based ad model, especially as these platforms take off. I mean who needs search if in fact the app chosen already defines a clear area of interest as defined by the user?

This means that it is well worth Google’s time, talent, management attention and dollars to get in the game and win a real piece of the action, no matter what it takes. Otherwise others (re: Apple) will be in the driver’s seat. Android is one piece. An “iPhone killer” device, a Nexus One… another.

The Good: Feature by Feature… Nexus One Looked Like a Winner!

And what Google/NHT have done on the product level looks real good to me. The more you look at the features of Nexus One next to an iPhone, the better it looks.

It boasts a variety of powerful features including:

  • megapixel camera with a flash, versus the megapixel without flash on the iPhone 3GS,
  • the battery is removable and replaceable, iPhone’s is not,
  • there is a micro SD slot to add up to 32-gigabytes of memory, where with the iPhone, what you buy is what you get
  • apps run simultaneously on Nexus One which the iPhone is famously unable to do at this time
  • and we all know about iPhone’s inability to run applications developed on Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash platform, Nexus One of course runs Flash apps.

Plus Nexus One is the only smartphone to boast the Google nameplate, which is one of the world’s most recognized brands known for leadership in innovation. Add it all up on the product front, this is the good stuff!

The Bad: Positioning Is Where Google Falls Down

Alas, where this all is falling short is in the marketing and positioning arena, which is so essential for success in products of this class.

If there is one lesson we all need to remember and it seems we always forget, it is that product features do not a mainstream marketing strategy make!!!! We were taught this by Geoffrey Moore in his landmark book Crossing the Chasm.

Product features are great for early adopters but are not and don’t work as selling points to mainstream audiences who buy based on herd-like behavior criteria of peer adoption and market leadership.

When going mainstream, it is essential that customers get to feel that others just like them have and love the product, and then that they get to see and feel it for themselves, in order to win them over.

As far as I can tell, this is the whole deal right here on the Nexus One e-commerce and info page, the one that comes up when doing a Google or other search. Based on comments above, the positioning is off base, way off base.

From an e-commerce perspective alone, the presentation itself is simple and clean, just what we’d expect from Google.

From a positioning point of view however, what we see is a product message that by definition is focused on early adopters, not mainstream buyers. OOPS.

You can see it right away by Google tagging the device Web Meets Phone. Product features anyone? This tells us what it is, and if there was no iPhone, this may be necessary… but in an already established, hot product category, no way! Our response is so what?, isn’t that what a smartphone does? Nothing compelling there.

When we look at the rest of the Nexus One page we see the following sections, which also supports the product-focused positioning:

  • Demo
  • News
  • Already a Customer (Customer Service?)
  • Closer Look (including You Tube Channel)
  • And of course, a Buy Now button.

The question is why put the impediment of a Chasm crossing, first winning over early adopters and then mainstream buyers, in front of you when you don’t have to?

Getting the Right Message to the Right Audience

Google is a household name making a play to exploit Apple’s weaknesses and grab a piece of the mobile market. Since this is a competitive land grab type, early adopters are irrelevant here. This is a mainstream marketing move.

The criteria these consumers really care about here are leadership and referenceability. It has always been so. In other words, is the product a leader?, and do my peers have it, and love it?

Google as a brand is a leader, so customers can make the leap of faith to leadership on this level. The question is then, what do our peers think about it? Does it deliver? Is it (the product) “baked”?

Here is where the marketing for this product breaks down.

It is most likely that many potential customers don’t know anyone who has one, and what’s more, if they are interested, they can’t see it for themselves, let alone play with it and internalize the benefits of its many features. This appears to be a result of the Google-facing distribution channel. Because of this radical departure away from carriers, T-Mobile stores, the current existing carrier, don’t have them.

Re-Positioning: Connect the Dots and Take it to the Streets!

Assuming that this won’t or can’t be changed, what then? How can we get this product to the people?

How about testing then deploying some temporary pop-up stores and displays in key markets, key malls, key events, even key warehouse stores like Costco? Consumers can drop by and see, and ask the questions as well as buy… Plus such a temporary approach creates time sensitivity and urgency and also lends itself to deadline driven promotions to induce immediate buy decisions.

Segmentation

Also, so many students today use G-Mail and Google docs. What about more targeted programs, in this case engaging campus reps and offering sales incentives and scholarship-based promotions for sales results? Here is where you could play early adopter card… the rebel, be different card to build traction and gain market share.

Testimonials

One other avenue is to retool the YouTube Channel. Currently the Nexus One channel is all about product info and demos. Keep this content if you must, but also focus on customer testimonials instead. And this can be done strategically, and by that I mean seed it with some key persona or consumer types. Create some promotional incentives to drive submissions, then let it go.

There are plenty of consumer videos out there on the phone, but they are all over the place and you have to dive in to find them. They need to be connected back to the Nexus One page. And content kept on point as much as possible. This is where the incentives and promotions come in. These are necessary to create that peer support that is so essential.

Service?

Lastly, part of the fear factor that holds mainstream buyers back is service. They want and expect a tested service function. They don’t want or accept beta testing done on them. They want a fully baked whole product in place, operational and working. If not, they hold back and do what comes naturally.

They wait.

On the product/marketing side one big issue that can’t be , what happens if I am having issues? Who do I call? Where do I go? Since what is radical here is the “untethered” sales model, we have to know there is a clearly marked place we can go if we need help. Right now I have to figure it out and I don’t have a person to talk to or place to go.

Positioning is all about connecting ALL the dots and at no time is this more important than when mounting an incursion into mainstream markets with an entrenched and powerful leader.

Summary: A 5-Step Plan

To boil things down then, here is a 5-step plan to reposition the Nexus One into a viable competitor to the iPhone (note: there is still time!!!):

1. Re-position the product: Web Meets Phone positioning tag has to go. How about something like Nexus One by Google: The Smarter Phone or something like that.

  • Google. We need Google mentioned for leadership, making the phone not THE but A leading product,
  • “Smarter.” This way you create a qualitative showcase for the features to shine, but talk in the leader/market talk needed in mainstream communications

2. Narrow down to some tighter target segments,
3. Create incentives to drive and organize testimonials,
4. Take the product to the streets so customers can see, touch and buy the product from a person,
5. Re-communicate that Google is there for you relative service

Add it all up, now you have the marketing foundation to communicate a very competitive offering that can grab some market share. Now Google can add a link on the main search page for starters and they can realistically capture a portion of a % of that number to take Nexus One from failed iPhone Killer to a monster hit, with all the benefits of same!

Apple is safe. Or is it? NHT had fantastic earnings for its smartphone offerings through carriers on a global scale. NHT also has the ability to draw upon Google’s Android mobile operating system and Windows too, which will be releasing its new OS momentarily. So as Sherlock Holmes said, “Watson the game’s still afoot” but the battle for mobile superiority may be played out on another field.

Note: As I post this (May 13, 2010) Google/Android/Verizon announced sales in excess of iPhone for the first time. Stay tuned!

Toyota and Tiger… Brand Collapse or Rebirth or Both?

March 25, 2010

We have all heard the news…. 8+ million Toyota automobiles are recalled due to a variety of malfunctions; and everything and more than we wanted to know about the many loves of Dobie Gillis… oops, I mean Tiger Woods.

Toyota, a brand synonymous with quality and reliability for decades appears to be imploding right before our eyes. Their war room/siege mentality, ready to rebut “any and all” negative customer comments strategy does not resonate with the public or in any way appear authentic. Whether it’s the floor mats, the gas pedal or of course, customer error, yes, the company is sorry, so sorry for injury or death. Software, hardware issues? Apparently Toyota can’t replicate some of these problems, therefore it appears they do not exist, or isn’t it our fault anyway?

And does this calm our fears?, and support the brand promise of quality and reliability?

I don’t know about you, but I feel a deep and shocking sense of uncertainty with Toyota’s response. And I own two Camry’s, although of a vintage before these apparently unstable “drive-by-wire” electronic technologies we adopted. Yikes!

Talk about a brand conflict, reliability versus uncertainty.

This is a huge problem for Toyota. And a major inconvenience at best for customers worldwide. We have to bring our cars in for a fix we aren’t sure will solve the problem. Oh, and now what about the resale value of these cars? Toyota was noted for high resale value… who wants to buy a used and potentially unsafe Toyota now at any price? Not me! You?

And if that isn’t enough, Toyota appears to be diddling. You can sense it, and as some of their internal e-mails we hear about attest, their approach is to delay, stall and of course, minimize the cost of the damage.

Their ads add insult to injury. “Thanks for sticking by us,” they intone… and to “thank you, we are offering incentives like 0% financing so you can buy a new one.”

Just what I want! Even though you, Toyota can’t replicate them, these issues may still exist. People have died, cars have very publically careened out of control for who knows why, and resale value at least for now has gone down the tubes. And to top it all off, I have to suffer the inconvenience to bring in my car to get a fix that may or may not take care of the problem, and you thank me by trying to sell me a new car!

This is outrageous and insulting. Add it all up and what this says to me is that Toyota has lost touch with the power of their brand. And such moves like these are damaging it, perhaps permanently.

Tiger has a similar problem. Although perhaps not on the same scale as Toyota, he is a very public, well known brand, like it or not, and a multinational one at that. For many people Tiger is golf itself and a $ multi-billion corporation burnished with a champion’s glow…. He and his handlers positioned him as a problem-solving icon able to take on and beat any challenge that may come his way. Until now.

We now know this is may, I repeat may, be limited to the golf course and in the “perception is reality” world of brand recognition, but certainly not in real life.

I will argue that Tiger’s final lot as a brand is not yet set in the public mind. Yes, he is certainly human, a junk yard dog perhaps, but is this unusual? And yes, a number of high profile sponsors like Gillette and Accenture have pulled away.

Questions still linger that if answered authentically and humanly, could likely restore his brand image to be even more powerful than before.

Here’s how.

Tiger himself proclaimed at his highly staged news conference a few weeks ago that he thought he was above it all and could behave as he wished… that the rules the rest of us follow didn’t apply to him.

He also told us that he understands the hurt he has caused and the error of his ways and that he will do what it takes to be a better person. Great stagecraft!, and positioning…. I am working hard to be a better person. Who can throw the first stone with such a revelation?

So that is where we are.

Two powerful brands under attack, one disintegrating right before our eyes, the other, a work in progress, the jury still out. What kind of marketing thinking and strategy could be applied to turn these brand conflicts around?

Let’s look at Toyota first.

Toyota’s issue is that they appear to be self-absorbed and cheap, focused on cost containment and damage control, going so far as to lay the blame on those pesky customers that are us.

This is not the time for that type of non-marketing approach by an automobile company. Audi famously blamed their customers in the 80’s for cars that apparently shifted into gear on their own. They had to change the names of their models and literally re-build demand for their vehicles from scratch, a costly process that took them out of the game for years.

In this case, assuming Toyota is doing everything in its power to solve the issues, known and unknown, the company needs to remember that it’s the brand connection and it’s relationship with customers that matters most. That is where real long term value is.

I am not privy to the details but over time, the value of the Toyota brand, as the perhaps soon to be world’s former #1 auto maker, has to be in the $ hundreds of billions, or even more.

From an integrated, marketing to win perspective, Toyota needs to take a two-pronged, pedal to the metal communications approach:

1. Reassuring the public that the cars are safe, and

2. Acknowledging customers’ inconvenience and uncertainty along with the hassles of bringing cars to the shop entails.

In other words, they need to be bold in terms of solutions, it will cost, and the investment is worth it!

As far as reassurance is concerned, good news or bad, in today’s instant, social media world, transparency is essential. Customers need to be in the loop to see for ourselves what the company is doing to make us safe again.

It easy today to take us the labs and testing grounds, give us Q&A and other access to the engineers and scientists, etc. Let us see that no stone is being left unturned and at the same time show us the operational excellence the company is famous for, in action.

And as far as customer inconvenience is concerned, Toyota needs to honor the value of our time, let alone the anxiety we feel, and understand it in the context of brand value as well.

Once understood, the company then needs to then honor us with something tangible. That means, Toyota if you are listening, setting up drive in check stations for all post 2002 cars and then, give us something in return like a free oil change or service, something of value that honestly recognizes the value of our time and our loyalty. Giving to receive is the operative principle here.

I can tell you now, that a great deal on a new Toyota feels cynical and indeed is NOT it! And if they were clever, perhaps Toyota could partner up with say a Sirius/XM or other outside entity and offer a free 3-month subscription or something like that… because “you care… care about us, your valued customers!”

On the Tiger front.

His solution is a bit more under his personal control, but no less impactful. He can no longer claim the cover of privacy to be left alone… the genie is out of the bottle and won’t fit back in. And yes, just like the Wizard of Oz, we now have peered at the man behind the curtain, and see all too well that he is human like the rest of us.

Now that Tiger is off the pedestal and the announcement has been made that he will indeed play at the upcoming Masters Tournament, it comes to two things again:

1. His performance on the course, and

2. His performance on the course.

What do I mean?

On one level, we will expect him to play well and perhaps even win. He is to many, Golf after all. But we also expect that he has learned from his self-induced embarrassment, that he is, in fact, in the process of becoming that better person. This means that no, we don’t necessarily want him to be more approachable, but we need to know he can perform in this “better,” more realistic and human manner.

So how does this play out?

First, that he handles the catcalls, the embarrassing hoots, questions and other assorted unscripted realities that will inevitably come his way with humor and poise. That he not dodge but roll with it in a manner befitting a champion. In other words, the focus and drive (no pun intended!) that has made him the champion he is, also extends to his personal improvement, and that he is a winner here too.

If he does a Brat Pack-type, moody thing and wrap a club or two around a tree or smash a camera, punch someone out or otherwise behave poorly, or that he sets up an impenetrable barrier so no one can get near and utter a bad word, he will be positioned by his own actions as an arrogant “bad person” which will forever tarnish the best golfer, iconic status that he has already achieved.

If you don’t believe me, remember 2004 presidential candidate Senator John Kerry? Like him or hate him, that wishy-washy answer he gave at the Grand Canyon regarding whether he would change his vote for sending troops to Iraq, knowing the original premise of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” was inaccurate, forever labeled him as… well you know, a Flip Flopper, irrespective of his many impressive achievements.

The jury is still out on this one, at least for the moment. One thing is certain, the embarrassment and hurt will fade over time, but the position he takes and fosters in the public eye through his next set of actions will stick, and the choice in the end will be his. So what will it be, great golfer and jerk, or very human champ for the ages. What would you choose?

And I will guess that if Tiger does take the high road and shows us he has or is mastering his demons like he has mastered his sport, will Accenture, Gillette and other more lucrative sponsorships be far behind? It is clear that the “championship, do anything image” would be more real this time, and well earned to boot.

Move forward Toyota… Go get ‘em Tiger!

Message to Steve Jobs. Thanks for the iPad. Now the heavy lifting needs to begin.

February 9, 2010

As a marketer, it’s hard to stay away from Apple. The marketing has been at virtuoso levels consistently for the last decade, serving as a best practice and shining light for us all, at least until now.

The iPad was launched to great fanfare (hype perhaps?) last month Wednesday, January 27, 2010. The hype machine was in overdrive leading to what appeared to be an anti-climatic event that felt like a let down to the media frenzy that preceded it.

I had the chance to watch Steve’s keynote address recently with my Principles of Marketing class.

Here is how Apple boils it all down in their messaging and positioning for the product in their own words:

Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price…
The best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, and video. Hands down.

For the first time in years after reading these value propositions, I asked myself, what are they are talking about? And why, oh why did they create unbelievable hype on a massive scale to deliver such a vague, “early adopter” message? I don’t get it.

Since on the surface, this just does not make sense, I thought it might be constructive to de-construct this a bit from the integrated marketing perspective and dive below the hype and superlatives to see if we can figure out what is going on here. Something is…

On the company and product side, clearly there is a lot happening. Disruptions abound, and they know it.

First, besides the overall product itself, is the A4 chip produced by Apple. I didn’t realize they had this capability, but if you look at it, should this tablet device take off and create a new category as hoped, a new chip architecture is in place… and its not Intel inside.

Apple is also we are told, undergoing a transformation. A couple of years ago, Steve Jobs eliminated “Computer” from Apple’s name to Apple, Inc. “We are now a software company,” he famously said.

This time around he took it another step further… “We are a mobile device company, the largest in the world.” Wow!

The tablet, which with its large touch screen interface, on the surface looks like an iPhone on steroids, with much of the same functionality built in. I originally dismissed the optimized iWorks part of the presentation but am now quite impressed that there is native to the iPad productivity (word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations) capability. This is no mere overgrown iPhone! The screen is large enough so we can actually see what we are doing. Will there be a touch-based Office app from Microsoft to come?

On the marketing side, it became clear that Apple understood that there was no direct competition for this ambitious, category creating product, and in response took one of those “going fishing” – everything for everybody, early adopter communication strategies that in the final analysis goes against the cardinal rule of positioning – which is to connect the dots of “what’s in it for me” for the customer versus setting it up so that he or she must figure it out for themselves.

You can see it in how they boiled down the core messaging:
Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price…
Compare this to the iPhone:

At launch:
Reinventing the phone

Today
The fastest, most powerful iPhone yet.

See the difference?

What does Magical* mean?, Revolutionary?, and what is this going to do for me, even with an “unbelievable” price?

* Note: Although it is not easy to figure out what this means on our own, lead designer Jony Ive does define “magical” quite well in one of the launch videos as “when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical. And that exactly what the iPad is!”

The Best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, and video. Hands down.

Also each speaker in this very same video, especially marketing VP Phil Schiller kept on using the word “BEST”… best e-mail… best photos… best internet… best this… best that.

Hey Phil, I hate to ask what does “best” mean, and then if so, so what?

The key and unavoidable question that is the core of what positioning is all about still comes down to addressing what does this mean for me?, and at the moment I don’t know.

Nobody said this was easy…

There were kernels of marketing strength in the presentation, most especially in Jony Ive’s video presentation. As the lead designer, he is the person most intimate with the iPad and two things he said caught my attention. 1. “It just feels right to hold the internet in your hands.” 2. “I don’t change myself to fit the product, it fits me!”

These two ideas are interesting and compelling… and if, once the units are available, we physically “feel” this connection with the product, and I have no reason to suggest otherwise… well then, the iPad will be successful, perhaps very much so, in spite of this awkward positioning.

At the conclusion of the presentation Jobs argued that then when you add up the 125 million existing iTunes and App Store Customers along with the 75 million iPhone and iPod Touch install base who already know how to use the product, along with the new e-book bookstore with 5 of the major publishers on board, “we have breadth and scale required for success.”

Except this.

Even with this built in audience base in place, I will argue that there is a classic chasm to cross with this one. The product as it now stands is too big to pin down, there are too many disruptive elements, as Apple itself admits.

For example, is it an e-Book reader, and if so is it for the popular, business, educational markets?, is it a media device?, productivity tool?, something else?

Kept at this high level, wide “everything for everybody” positioning is inevitable which means we as the customers have to figure out what we want and need about this device on our own. This is dangerous and contrary to Apple’s own best practice of product launches past.

What’s more, for the past years Apple had the benefit of its latest devices having direct lineage to the iPod, which fueled adoption for new innovations.

For example, the iPod’s leadership as the dominant music player on the planet, allowed Apple to successfully launch the new at the time, arguably disruptive video iPod with just one studio on board (Disney) and a handful of titles available for sales at the iTunes store. This is nowhere near to the ecosystem the iPad now enjoys even before it is available,

Even so, the poorly endowed video-enabled iPod faced the chasm, while also living as the top of the line, world’s most popular music player at the same time. Today every studio is on board and billions of video downloads have been transacted. The chasm was “easy” to cross here.

Today, with an astounding 250 million sold to date, the iPod market appears to be saturated and sales are flat or declining. And we could argue this is not what the iPad product is at its core. It is a separate product. And positioning the iPad as a direct descendent of the iPhone, which has created a category on its own, is also not really accurate and in this case would limit its disruptive power as a category-creating product.

So the product is out there on its own, almost as a blank canvas… a remarkable product looking for relevance from the market as a whole. That is the issue.

This situation is not new for Apple. People weren’t banging down the doors for Apple to create the iPod at the outset. The market wasn’t seeking a device that could hold 1,000 songs. And if memory serves me well, It took a while to gain traction and truly took off when iTunes became Windows-compatible.

Assuming the above and we have a chasm in front of us, what now?

The market opportunities are numerous, so for the sake of brevity today, let’s look at a couple of examples to see how we could position the iPad in the e-Book space, to give us some ideas.

1. Blue Ocean: Completely Different and Compelling
Amazon’s Kindle is the original category creator and undisputed leader of the e-book market to date. The iPad with it’s color screen, robust distribution channel and access to content by the major publishers is mounting a direct assault to Amazon’s dominance and has a competitive offering no doubt. The black and white Kindle is a powerful one-shot pony and costs $250. iPad as an e-Book AND the “internet in your hand” offers so much more for $499. Does iPad demonstrate enough value to topple Amazon? Probably not… yet.

One of the drawbacks to the iPad, as with the iPhone is the inability to run multiple applications at the same time. What if… you could you could reframe the reading experience?, so that when you are reading your e-book on your iPad, you can, say, listen to music at the same time.

War and Peace, and Beethoven! With this simple added element, Apple could change the rules of the game and position iPad as the tool that transforms the reading experience:

Apple iPad… Reinvents Reading!

Such a move would force Amazon to find its way again in what could be a transformed market that by the new definition would play into iPad’s strengths, not Kindle’s, perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Now I am starting to see the potential “magic” that Jony Ive was talking about.

Bt the way, this move isn’t far off from the iPhone value proposition, which also was a category-changing device.

iPad has the extra load of category-creation, but the “reinvention” position isn’t far afield from the “different thinking” we expect from Apple.

And it making a product alternation is too much, we could go back to the keynote presentation and look at the say the games, or NY Times apps that were shown.

This positioning could then play out as:
Apple iPad… Reinvents the Newspaper
Reinvents the Video Game

2. Textbooks: Get Rid of the Heavy Load
There is another natural niche that plays into Apple’s DNA. Positioning iPad in the education space to fill a true, long held need to lighten the load of the infamous text book bag, which as I have been reminded in my professor life, can weigh many, many pounds. Good for upper body strength, perhaps, but cumbersome at best in reality.

We know that students today are online all the time and comfortable with being there. Making the switch to electronic books with these consumers, which surprisingly hasn’t really taken off to date, should and could be a non-traumatic and natural transition.

Plus, although it slipped in the 90’s when Apple all but surrendered the academic space to the Dell’s and HP’s of the world, Mac laptops today have gained significant traction on many campuses to be a leading computer device of choice by students.

We noted with interest as the rumor machine for the iPad was in full swing, that Apple was collaborating with academic institutions and textbook publishers to ensure that the product meets the needs of the academic community. Color is essential we are told. Also, students like to highlight text and take notes. Dropping in audio and video content, being able to link to current news sources, etc., could create a robust learning experience, while reducing the physical load, and we assume textbook cost.

Add it all up and iPad should have what it takes to fill a need and make a friendly conquest of a familiar beachhead market that will facilitate a quicker chasm crossing for the product overall.

Here is how it could sound, once again in “tag” talk:

Weighing only 1 ½ pounds, the Apple iPad puts Textbooks, the Internet, and More, Right in the Palm of Students’ Hands for Less than a Laptop.

To sum it all up:

1. Before we adopt the iPad, we need to touch, feel and play with this device… now! 60-days is too long a time to wait, and when it is finally available, early adopters will try it, and buy it.

2. If it indeed feels right… if we feel and get the “magic,” then iPad will be successful… over time. Keys to success will be segmenting the market and adopting a chasm/beach head focused marketing strategy with clear and compelling reasons to buy, which aren’t even close to being defined yet.

Have fun Steve!

Clash of the New Titans… Is Google’s new Nexus One an iPhone Killer?

January 7, 2010

Yesterday (January 5, 2010) was a day I had been waiting for… the launch by Google of its own quote unquote game changing Nexus One smartphone. Already the pundits are proclaiming that Google will depose Apple as the smartphone leader… Long Live Google!

And we all know what Apple’s buzz machine has been up to. It seems that there will be big announcement at the end of this month where it is likely, quite likely that Steve Jobs himself will launch another game changing device, an iTablet kind of thing.

So how do these products intersect?

A couple of things are clear. In the portable music player space, Apple, the undisputed leader, has reached a turning point. Sales of iPods, the most popular music player on the planet are declining, perhaps for good reason. Using my students as a non-scientific focus group, I have seen again and again that not only do 99+% have an iPod, many have two and some even have three or even more! Could the market be saturated?

The iPhone which as we all know is only available on the ATT network, has proven to be a game changer and massive success, not only surpassing sales goals and a critical element to shareholder value, with Apple shares now pegged at $200+, but also the catalyst to the current generation of wi-fi enabled, touch screen iPods, the disruptive app store with over 100,000 applications available, and yes Mac sales, especially the latest Mac books with the 1-piece “aluminium” chassis/case.

I don’t know about you, but I also hear about more and more “windows” folks making the switch to Mac these days.

I bring this up because right now Apple’s marketing is working at virtuoso/best practice levels. Assuming this is the case, and knowing full well Apple’s penchant for keeping it’s cards close to the chest, I see a strategy here where there is more that meets the eye.

The iPhone is too important to simply let slide. And Apple has shown time and time again it has learned from its past and will not go down without a fight.

So here is an outsider’s perspective of what I expect.

1. Yes, there will be a tablet announcement. And if lead designer Johnny Ive still has his “touch” to create usable, game changing devices, this will be a hit, and will function on a number of levels, including as a book reader. Assuming color and the ability to highlight and add notes and such, let alone offer interactive and collaboration capabilities, the textbook market is ripe for the picking, today.

2. There will also be an iPhone announcement. If I read the tea leaves right, Apple will announce that the iPhone will be available on Verizon and perhaps other carriers too. This is essential and will allow the iPhone to maintain its first mover advantage and current leadership position. Apple has been here before. Remember that iPod was one of many until it became Windows-compatible. And yes, we have a number of articles that the ATT network is overloaded with data usage generated by the iPhone. This is signal for this change if ever there was one.

And to go a bit further out on a limb…

There will also be a next generation iPhone announced with longer battery life, perhaps expandable memory and a better camera, plus the ability to run multiple apps at once. And yes, there will be a software update for those using older versions.

Those are the big ones. And there is more…

3. There has been a lot of noise about an iTunes upgrade. Subscription, Movies on Demand, etc. This may impact all of the above.

4. Lastly, my guess also is that Mac books in particular will also get something new to add more premium value to the product line. Perhaps the addition of the new low voltage chips we have been hearing about that will extend battery life to up to 8 hours, and dreamer that I am, how about quad core chips on these machines?

Add it all up. Apple has been on the “to kill” list for quite some time, and has always stayed at least one step ahead, to ensure leadership in segments it created. I have no reason to expect anything less this time.

That said, Google’s entry is a welcome addition and great for consumers, but an iPhone killer… probably not, if the Apple marketing machine is half what I believe it is. The only wrinkle is that sustaining type of improvements won’t do it. The good news for Apple is that disruptive game changers are what they are all about.

Don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to the next announcement at the end of the month.