Archive for the ‘Product Launch’ 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.

Marketing The New Gillette Pro Glide: From a Positioning Perspective, Is this The Best A Man Can Get?

July 11, 2010

Today we will explore how we can use positioning best practice to engage the full range of the product adoption lifecycle simultaneously in order to:

  1. Capture the larger Early Majority segment
  2. Extend the reach to the Late Majority/Commodity buyer at the same time
  3. Provide a compelling value proposition and pathway to convert many of these commodity customers into more profitable premium buyers
  4. Lift the whole product category.

I have to admit it. When it comes to Gillette razors, I am a classic early adopter. I just have to get their latest and greatest right away. Why?

Maybe it goes back to when I was a kid. I remember watching my dad shave in amazement morning after morning. Such an arcane process that never seemed to change: shaking up his can of Foamy and slathering that creamy stuff all over his face. And then the razor. The heavy chrome handle that would pop open by turning a knob on the bottom. Slide in a Super Blue from the special dispenser, twist the handle closed and then let the shave begin. When completed he’d sprinkle Aqua Velva on his hands and slap it on. Done!

I also remember feeling his face. He had a heavy, scratchy beard, something I inherited. After the shave, his face felt smooth as glass.

Is it any wonder that at 10, I desperately wanted to shave too. Dad would always say, no rush, no rush. It really isn’t fun. And if you don’t do it right… ouch. I remember those little dabs or two of toilet paper on his face to staunch the bleeding on a bad day.

As you can see, there is deep connection I have with the process and the Gillette brand that transcends the actual experience itself and sets me up as a classic Early Adopter in this category.

In this light I recently found myself excited when Gillette announced that it’s latest and greatest Fusion Pro Glide System featuring 5 thinner blades with a special low resistance coating and a suspension system that would eliminate that pesky tug and pull. I couldn’t wait. My excitement mounted as the launch day, June 8, 2010 approached.

Needless to say, I got one right away and the product does not disappoint. It’s awesome! It really feels like the razor is literally gliding as I shave, and afterwards my face, well it feels smooth as “glass,” even smoother than my Dad’s.

The Right Message for the Wrong Audience?

Now regarding the marketing… Yes, it’s slick, it’s integrated… And it’s old hat. Not to say that this is bad. Or not effective, at least as far as it goes. After all, the previous flagship blade in the Gillette line, Fusion with its Turbo style imagery, was the most popular razor in the world. But is there more?

Here is a screen capture of Gillette’s today.

As you can see, in the current state, the message is all about the product and its features and the primary message is turning Shaving into Gliding. As an Early Adopter, see arrow, I am sold. And in truth, it didn’t matter what the claim or message, I was sold even before the blades hit the market.

It All Comes Down to Connecting the Dots

The goal in positioning is to connect dots and answer questions for the customer, not pose them. And as we have learned from Apple and other marketing virtuoso’s, linier time as far as the Product Adoption Lifecycle goes is often a self-imposed obstacle. So why wait if you don’t have to, especially when there is so much at stake on a global scale?

With this in mind, and stepping outside of my Early Adopter mindset, what do we see with Gillette’s Fusion Pro Glide?

Product Lifecycle: A Quick Review

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, here is the famous Product Lifecycle bell curve made famous in Geoffrey Moore’s landmark book Crossing the Chasm.

Early Adopters like me love a product and it’s features. We are not price sensitive and are always on a quest, in this case, for a better shave. We have to have the latest and greatest right away.

However, Early and Late Majority buyers, where the heart of the lifecycle (and greatest profits) resides, have no interest in product features.

The Early Majority is concerned with “what does the product do for me” coupled with market leadership and peer adoption. If my friends buy, so will I. These buyers are also willing to pay a premium for the acknowledged leader.

The Late Majority is concerned about price… getting the product for the lowest price. They also don’t want to be bothered with the rest.

Positioning to Win for Maximum Impact

As we all know, Proctor and Gamble, Gillette’s parent company, is a brand and marketing powerhouse. And Gillette is an established market leader in the razor space and has been so for decades.

This means that a big part what it takes to capture and exploit the Early Majority is in place already with brand leadership and millions of satisfied users around the globe.

In it’s current state, you can see that the current product messaging is actually talking to Early Adopters, NOT the Majorities. The marketing question is, is this it for now, or is there more we can do to exploit the new Fusion Pro Glide product?

If we look at positioning best practice, the answer is yes!

Here’s a structural model of how this can work (by segment):

1. Early Majority

A. Leadership
These buyers appreciate and will pay a premium for the leading product in the category, making this is a clear sweet spot for this particular product now.

As mentioned earlier, the key to effective positioning here is connecting the “what’s in it for me?” question in the clearest terms possible that yields maximum results. In this case, Gillette has opted for a “Turn Shaving Into Gliding” message, which begs the question, “What does Gliding mean?” It glides, perhaps, but so what? What does Gliding do for me?

And yet buried deep in the current presentation, there is an answer… all the wonderful product features, YouTube videos, NASCAR endorsements, and Dream Job promotions are designed, perhaps indirectly to support the message that Fusion Pro Glide delivers “Gillette’s most comfortable shave ever.”

That’s what Early Majority buyers looking for. Now we get it! The big benefit, the compelling reason to buy. It was there, but buried by the Gliding message. All we need to do is call this message out front and center. And if you want to be slick about it, again from the current messaging, add… “Guaranteed.”

Roll it all up, here is what’s in it for the Early Majority buyer. Pro Glide Fusion is: Gillette’s most comfortable shave ever. Guaranteed.


B. Peer Influence
The next element to drive this segment is peer influence. “Do my friends have it, and do they like it. If so, I want one!” This is where endorsements fit. Gillette is a master of professional endorsements and has been so for decades. Today it’s in the form of NASCAR personalities and the “Young Guns” Challenge.

Even more interestingly perhaps is Gillette has begun to masterfully use social networks to get the “every man” endorsements that most likely will be more important as a marketing activity moving forward.  It takes a lot of guts to surrender control, which is essential for authenticity to address “Do guys like “me” use it, love it, etc.”

This is where Early Adopters come in. If we love the product, we are natural advocates and influencers, and can be one of these authentic  guys “like me” who heartily recommend the product to our “Johnny come lately” friends. What we need is some help or incentives to voice our feelings. In other words a promotion.

Example:
Right now men are invited to vote for their favorite “NASCAR “Young Gun.” The winning driver gets to donate $10,000 to their favorite charity. What do we get? How about adding a Win Blades for Life! premium? This could be for the vote if the person registers. And if we are looking for real endorsements by real men, it could be for submitting the funniest Pro Glide testimonial. And the prize, along with the charity donation could be presented to the winner at say, a NASCAR event.

2. Late Majority

Research I found seems to indicate support my Dad’s feelings about shaving. It is a necessary evil, something we have to do due for social conventions, but inconvenient at best. This attitude sets up commodity-style, low-price “just get it over with” thinking.

As it stands, Gillette has a dizzying array of lower cost blades and razors from earlier category leaders Fusion and Mach 3 to a whole slew of disposables. “Dizzying” is the operative word. Extremely complex.

What we need here is a clear roadmap of products, perhaps broken down into 1. blades and 2. disposables from Good to Better and Pro Glide in the role of BEST… with a blade price of “lowest” to “more” to “most” expensive. Your Choice.

And since Fusion Pro Glides fit in millions of Fusion handles already in the market, it is easy to slip in a free blade and coupon for later purchase in the package to engage these established buyers and get them into the pipeline.  We have to assume this is in the works already.

3. The Best A Man Can Get: Positioned for Growth Across the Lifecycle

If we go back to Gillette’s core brand, we can see we have the platform we need to cut across the whole razor line… “the best a man can get.” I was surprised to see that it is still alive and core… embedded right in the logo treatment itself. As one would expect with a brand of this caliber, it was like seeing an old friend. Powerful indeed.

This offers up a value platform with the opportunity to move customers up the ladder from “cheap” to Better and Best products and from a commodity buyer to a premium one. I call this Marketing JuJitsu. Here is where positioning focused on costs per shave and other metrics commodity buyers think about can come into play to demonstrate brand value to the these buyers too.

Example:
Let’s assume we can get two-weeks of shaves out of one Fusion Pro Glide blade. (Note: I have gotten up to four weeks, even with my heavy beard). Two weeks of comfortable shaves at $3 per blade equals approximately $.21 per shave. Let’s assume you can buy a disposable for $.20 per razor that safely delivers a shave, or two. Now the value proposition to this segment can be turned around to something like…

“For just pennies extra a day you can move up to Gillette’s closest, most comfortable shave. Take the challenge to see and feel the difference for yourself. Low(est) cost and most comfort from Gillette… The Best A Man Can Get.”

Here is what the structure looks like all together with above.

As you can see, now we have a Strategic Framework capable of positioning Fusion Pro Glide in multiple segments across the Lifecycle simultaneously under the Best A Man Can Get Brand Platform:

  1. Early Adopter with Glide
  2. Early Majority with Comfort
  3. Convert Early Adopters to Influencers building on incentives and promotions
  4. Create simple and understandable tiers of lower cost products for Late Majority
  5. Drive a Cost per Shave Value Message and convert Commodity into Premium buyers


3-D Movies: How to Kill the Golden Goose Before It’s Time… Coming Soon to a Theater Near You!

April 2, 2010

I want to preface this posting to say I don’t like to look at movies as a horse race or the “who wins the weekend box office $’s derby.” I realize this is one way to measure popularity and success… and if movies are a popularity contest, don’t we like to invest, ooops, I mean spend our hard earned cash on the winners, the ones we know we will enjoy? But is volume the real measurement of goodness? In the herd mentality, of the if everyone else likes it, it must be good, kind of thinking, yes. But of actual goodness, perhaps not.

Earlier in the week, I was reading Lauren Shuker’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘Dragon’ Movie Fails to Tip Scales as Price Increases go Into Effect (March 29, 2010), which has gotten some great reviews, and am once again struck by the apparent marketing incompetence that seems all too inherent in the entertainment industry.

Here’s why.

It appears that there is no doubt that audiences very much enjoy today’s 3-D film experience. Huge 3-D successes such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, and the IMAX sales of each testify to this.

Now of course, in the sequel style, copy-cat mania that seems to be Hollywood these days, everyone and his brother wants in the bonanza. I gather that How to Train Your Dragon was filmed in 3-D, but for example, but Clash of the Titans, which will be released next week, was enhanced after filming was concluded and is not a native 3-D film, as Avatar and Alice were.

I have no problem with the studios tripping over themselves to milk the 3-D train for all its worth. But the operative word here is CARE. In the drive for revenue (greed?), it is becoming clear that if studios and exhibitors over reach, sales will be diminished and the technology reduced once again to fad status.

When looked at through our marketing lens, there are a couple of things to remember to prevent the latter while maximizing the revenue generating opportunity 3-D presents:

1. It is and I think always will be the story. James Cameron and Tim Burton are at their core master story-tellers which, love them or not, informs all of their work. 3-D is an enabler to the story, not the driver of it.  In other words, if you are going to charge a premium, it probably won’t work for lesser fare, at least until the film has built a core audience.

2. The last few years haven’t been all that kind to the movie industry. And we are still living through a recession. The market is price sensitive. The new price for 3-D movies under the new structure is approaching $20 a ticket! This can easily add up to  $100 per outing for a family of four, which makes a night at the movies a very pricey, special purchase, not a casual and affordable date night type of event.

3. Seeing a movie in a theater has some communal benefits and people love to go out.  However, part of the audience dip these last few years has been a convergence of sorts… where home movie systems with surround sound offer a near multiplex movie experience at a lower cost. And if that isn’t enough, 3-D capabilities are coming to a flat screen TV in your home, very soon!

So considering these elements, what should the exhibitors do to maximize this technology in a manner that makes marketing sense?

Make Sure That 3-D Adds Value to the Communal Theater Experience!

Central to the exhibitor point of view has to be exploiting the positive elements of the communal viewing experience and doing everything possible to add value to it.

I live in the Boston area, and one of the pioneers of the multiplex phenomenon is a locally based company called National Amusements.

Multiplexes were great for revenue generation, but with ever smaller screens and smaller auditoriums that result, the exhibitors themselves over time have diluted the big screen viewing experience thus opening the door for home theater to be a competitive threat today.

So much so, perhaps, that National Amusements itself is now leading the charge of such innovations as stadium style seating to enhance the comfort and viewing pleasure of their guests in such a way that is very hared to duplicate at home. They also created Cinema De-Lux, a first-class section in selected theaters offering food & beverage service and plush seating that audiences happily pay a handsome premium for.

The dilemma for 3-D is to add value without adding price resistance. The way to do that is to understand and then compress the product adoption lifecycle.

How can we do this successfully — Grow the audience for films and exploit the revenue generation potential?

There are a couple of ways this can happen.

The Simple Method

  • Keep prices low and raise them gradually for general screens.
  • Raise prices and focus marketing activities on IMAX and De-Lux venues, where movie goers expect to pay more.

The trick to remember is that 3-D is a positioning “ace up the sleeve”, something that can be compelling and different that makes the communal movie-going experience special versus the home theater and other options available today.

This in essence creates a tiered pricing structure. And of course prices can also be adjusted should say another Avatar-style blockbuster come along. The key then is not raise prices prematurely until the audience demand is established.

The Complex Method
Don’t raise prices for 3-D films shown on “standard” screens for an initial period, say the first week or so.

This offers a couple of extra powerful benefits:

  • The Power of Choice & A Sense of Urgency
    By setting up “Popular Pricing” now with a higher price later, an incentive, is applied to drive business for that first critical weekend that offers the audience a choice—go now pay less, or wait and pay more.
  • Audience Empowerment
    In this way the public can literally join the critics and other influencers to help decide the fate of the film, especially by getting the word out through social networks to their “friends” and support films they love.

Option #1 focusing price increases on the self-selecting premium segment piece is easier to adjust with the already high priced options such as IMAX and De-Lux in place. In other words raise the first class price and gradually raise coach fares over time.

Option #2, however, offers a variety of counter-intuitive tools that can help launch new films, stimulate choice and create a great reason for the public to join with others to get the word out that can also serve as the basis for a whole variety of promotional activities.

In either case, once the public is used to a staggered pricing schedule it will be easier for prices across the board to rise over time.

Care however, must be taken to matter what directions are taken (or not) to exploit 3-D as a value added tool to support the movie theater experience first. This is the golden goose that must be nurtured and protected at all cost.

Otherwise audiences will turn in other directions, which will negatively impact each new film’s success as we have just seen with Dragon, a worthy effort where it seems great notices are not enough to overcome resistance to new, steep and sudden price increases.

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.

Starbucks… Back to the same old Grind???

December 17, 2009

Recently Starbucks launched its VIA Instant Coffee product, for $1 a packet or cup. When I first heard about it, I thought they were crazy! Here you have a true category creator, in this case premium coffee, coming up with what to many is a downscale, basically commodity type of product. Look at it this way, currently you can get a 20 ounce cup (“venti”) for over $2 today in the Boston area where I live, or you can get a cup of instant (Nescafe and even Tasters’ Choice) for pennies.

Is there a difference in taste? You bet. Then does this mean that Starbucks is lowering its standards?, in essence looking to capture that “cup of joe” on the run crowd?, probably not, at least directly for a $1 a packet.

To most of us Starbucks means affordable luxury, infinite choices, the third-place on top of home and office, “Venti” and “Grande” instead of large and jumbo, rich flavored beverages, etc. How does this square with a product category that we associate as bland, chemically adulterated, “instant” coffee…

The danger here is if we associate VIA as an instant coffee product. If it comes down to price, it is very expensive. And if it is not positioned strategically, then the “instant” product can take the Starbucks brand down a notch or two. Talk about a potentially very dangerous brand conflict in the works!

If customers begin to associate a premium brand with a commodity product, the risks are:

  1. elevating the commodity product while at the same time lowering your brand value, and/or
  2. trying to swim upstream and justify an off the charts price against other much cheaper products in the, in this case, instant coffee category.

A mis-fire and at best the product will fail with worse consequences possible if people sense that brand is deteriorating and losing value.  Talk about high risk and high stakes.

And Starbucks has muffed it before.

Remember how in their zeal to speed up service they mechanized the bar drink process in order to serve more customers more efficiently? They reduced the hand crafted nature of the beverage and role of the barrista. This opened the door for potent “new” competitors such as Dunkin Donuts and even McDonald’s to leverage mechanical processes and also offer such beverages, enter the premium category and take market share.

Add to this that the company has taken what appears from the outside to be a passive marketing posture these past few years with flattening sales to boot, and I wondered how they could pull this off.

Glad to say, Starbucks did it… and did it with superb marketing intelligence!

You could see this high level of marketing thinking in the launch itself.

If you are a Starbucks fan you may remember that this past fall they had VIA tastings in each store as part of the rollout. The interesting thing was what they tasted VIA against. My initial thought was that they would taste against Instant Coffee to show how much better (hopefully!) it was.

But instead they did something completely different… they tasted and literally positioned VIA against Starbucks brewed coffee itself and used Instant to define convenience, not the category.

I will argue that this was a stroke of marketing genius. Here’s why.

  1. They redefined the instant coffee category into Blue Ocean, uncontested territory, from a low price/commodity play to convenience… take it anywhere.
  2. Instead of trying to push up market in the instant coffee category ($1/cup price for a product costing in the pennies), they pushed down in the brewed category (Starbucks flavor for $1/cup).

Roll it all up and with VIA now you can now have a cup of Starbucks you can take or have almost anywhere for a buck! Sounds good to me, and tastes good too! Apply marketing at this level to the company overall, well Happy Days may indeed be back at Starbucks again.