Tesla Recall Offers a Better Way Forward

Tesla-Model-SA possible recall for Tesla may seem like a bad thing, but its quick fix for the offending Model S shows why this savvy car manufacturer is way ahead of its competitors.

After two incidents involving Tesla’s 2013 Model S striking metal objects on highways, causing punctured batteries and fires, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a preliminary evaluation of the car’s safety.

This is a serious concern for Tesla – over the past five decades 390 million cars, trucks, buses, recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and mopeds, have been recalled by the NHTSA.

The impacts of a recall or the threat of a recall are immense. Analysts estimate the financial blowback from Toyota’s 2010 gas pedal global recall could total more than $5 billion. This after a 10-month investigation by NHTSA safety officials absolved the electronics in Toyota vehicles saying driver error was to blame for most of the incidents.

In response to the NHTSA evaluation, Tesla has done something pretty interesting. It’s released an over-the air update that will enable vehicles with the Smart Air Suspension package to automatically adjust the suspension to higher levels at highway speed. Another software update expected this month will give the driver direct control of the air suspension ride height transitions.

In layman’s terms, over-the-air updates mean Tesla owners don’t have to trade in their old cars or take them to the shop to get upgrades installed. Instead, with the use of connected software, drivers get an automatic update.

In this way Tesla is addressing the threat of regulation and delivering product enhancements instantly and at minimal cost.

The use of software to get ahead of the game is not new to the auto industry. As manufacturers are hit with more and more regulation, software can play a key role. Software and sensor driven Engine Control Units (ECU), for example, enable manufacturers to develop engines that comply with Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards.

Tesla, however, is leading the way with over-the-air updates – made possible with AT&T network chips that also allow for free Internet browsing, navigation, and streaming music.

The “air suspension” update may not satisfy NHTSA regulators and a physical product recall could still happen. But what started as a regulatory threat may in the end validate Tesla’s strategy. Investors seem to think so, Tesla shares were trading up $5.87, or 4.7 percent, to $127.43 in the first hour of trading after the news broke.

Google Invests In the Internet of Things

nest-thermostatIn an ironic twist of fate, Google, and many other tech companies, are beginning to realize that they need things to capitalize on the enormous Internet of Things (IoT) opportunity.

We live in a smart, connected world. The number of things connected to the Internet now exceeds the total number of humans on the planet, and we’re accelerating to as many as 50 billion by the year 2020 according to Cisco. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report, Disruptive Technologies, finds that the IoT has the potential to create an economic impact of $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025.

The bad news for tech companies is that the majority of those 50 billion things are not going to be computers and phones. They are going to be homes, cars and bodies. Google may dominate in the traditional computing platforms, but this new smart, connected world is the wild, wild west.

The connected home. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of buzz around Google this week after it agreed to pay $3.2 billion in cash for Nest Labs, which makes a smart, connected thermostat and smoke detector. However, Google has been focused on establishing its platform in the home since 2011 when it announced the Android@Home framework for home automation. The vision is that all of our home appliances, gadgets and infrastructure will communicate with one another through a new computing platform. Owning that platform, like owning the OS on your computer is key, and Nest may be Google’s Trojan horse.

The connected car. At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas the IoT was once again a central theme, and auto OEMs lead the charge. Audi and Chevrolet announced plans for embedding 4G LTE connectivity in their cars, and with connectivity comes new apps and services all requiring an OS. Apple had already announced iOS in-car capabilities with the release of iOS 7, and not to be outdone, Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) at CES. This global alliance of auto industry leaders including GM, Honda, and Audi, is committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014.

The connected body. As reported by Financial Review, Google was awarded nearly 2000 patents in the United States last year, almost double the number of all previous years combined. This highlights a race to stake out promising new technology markets, as fields such as wearable computing become the next frontiers for growth. Much of the wearable computing focus for Google has been associated with Project Glass, Google’s effort to develop augmented reality glasses. While Google offered Google Glass to a handful of developers and technology enthusiasts for $1,500 this year, there is buzz a public release is likely early next year.

“Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone,” Nest CEO Tony Fadell wrote in a blog post. The world is changing faster than ever, and Google is betting on homes, cars and bodies to be the things that enable competitive advantage in a smart, connected world.

Apple Defines the “Holy Trinity” for Product Companies

Apple AdsThere’s been a lot of chatter on the internet recently about Apple’s new ad campaign. Some positive and much of it negative. Author and former Apple ad man Ken Segall hates the ads because they “make customers seem so clueless.” The truth is that most users are clueless about technology, yet Apple needs those same users to buy more Apple products.

In their latest quarterly earnings Apple delivered a rare earnings “disappointment” after sales rose only 23 percent to $35 billion sending its stock down five percent in after-hours trading. When you are a $570 billion company, attracting larger markets and developing new revenue opportunities is everything.

So what is the strategy today? How can Apple continue to innovate, differentiate and justify its price premiums? How can it accelerate the transformation from a company for MacHeads to a company for most?

Let’s start by taking a big step back.

When Steve Jobs introduced the first iMac back in May 1998, the focus was on the product hardware: a G3/233 processor, a 15 inch monitor with 1024 x 768 resolution, 100MB Ethernet, etc.

The punch line to his presentation, and the real differentiator for Apple at the time was the radically different and simple design. The all-in-one package, the translucent candy colored box, the carrying handle. As Jobs described it: “This thing looks like it comes from another planet… a planet with better designers.”

Fast forward nine years and Jobs presents a very different, but additive, perspective on Apple’s unique value. In his May 2007 “All Things Digital” conference interview, Jobs defined Apple products as really just software.

“It’s software in the iPod itself, it’s software on the PC or the Mac, and it’s software in the cloud for the store. And it’s in a beautiful box, but it’s software. If you look at what a Mac is, it’s OS X, right? It’s in a beautiful box, but it’s OS X. And if you look at what an iPhone will hopefully be, it’s software.”

What should we take from this? Yes, you need beautifully designed products, but the innovation, differentiation and value for users is really taking place at the software level.

Now, five years later, Apple is refocusing once again.

These latest Apple ads paint a very different picture of the company. The emphasis is not on beautiful, sleek products or rich but simple software (although they are mentioned in the ads). Rather, it’s on the Genius customer service representative helping users do amazing things with their Apple products better and faster.

What’s Apple really saying about itself in these ads? It’s saying, we not only have the best hardware and software, we also have the best service out there. It’s promoting Genius as a third key value.

Perhaps Apple’s realized that successful products are not only about hardware and software, but also about delivering value throughout the entire lifecycle – including services.

If you are a product company that aspires to be more like Apple, these ads are a good indication of what the tech giant thinks it takes today to deliver differentiated value for users and subsequently for shareholders: product and service delivered seamlessly.

What do you think of Apple’s new focus on service?

The Drive to Mastery

I just finished reading a great book by Daniel Pink: Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The core, but likely oversimplification of his argument, is that business needs new motivational tools to foster the creativity, collaboration and innovation required in today’s service economy. The three keys to this new approach are:

1. Autonomy: to direct our own lives
2. Mastery: to continually get better at something that matters
3. Purpose: to do it for a larger cause

There are a lot of great concepts supported by extensive research and examples, but one idea really stood out to me. Mastery.

Daniel Pink argues that mastery is first a foremost a mindset. That is you need to believe your abilities are infinite and adaptable, but acknowledge that mastery like an asymptote is impossible to fully realize. Also, mastery is a pain. It requires effort, grit and deliberate practice over your lifetime. There is no easy button.

I think this concept of mastery is especially important for marketers today. Two reasons:

First, the skills, tools and mindset required to be a successful marketer today is very different from what it was five years ago and what it will be next year. Most recently, the proliferation of social and mobile technologies requires marketers be armed with new tools and a different mindset in order to just survive.

Second, as Thomas Friedman recently described: the world isn’t just flat, it’s hyperconnected. We are all competing with the global connected workforce and disruptive technologies. Creative design, application development, even your tweeting can be outsourced because there is someone else who can do it cheaper, faster and better.

My takeaway, it’s imperative to not only deliver distinct value but to continually pursue the Mastery of it.

Check out this great article from Fast Company describing how Generation Flux succeeds in this new world of chaos.

Designing a Business

With so much talk about “customer centricity” these days, it is great to see some real innovative thinking from Colin Raney at IDEO. Great stuff.

The year of the digital wallet

Image2011 was the year to talk about the digital wallet. A Google search for “digital wallet” will deliver about 250,000,000 results… just for the past year.

Although the conversation around the space is white hot, George Constanza’s wallet will continue to be valuable for years to come. 2012 will not be the year of the digital wallet, neither will 2013 or 2014 or even 2015.

First, the market is yet to be clearly defined. The “digital wallet” market includes solutions like: mobile payments using NFC technologies that allow consumers to wave-and-pay using their phone, barcode or QR code scanning for self checkout or price comparison, and coupons or loyalty rewards which are linked to your account or phone instead or a card or cutout.

Second, the there are a myriad of potential solutions coming from every direction including merchants (e.g. Starbucks), financial institutions (e.g. AmEx Serve) and tech companies (e.g. Google Wallet).

Unless you are a financial institution, mobile carrier, or technology company you are best to wait until the dust settles. Consumer adoption will be low and fragmented and the likelihood of guessing wrong and investing in the wrong space is high.

Two posts that describe the space well:

Forrester Research Blog “The Battle For the Digital Wallet”

http://blogs.forrester.com/benjamin_ensor/11-11-25-the_battle_for_the_digital_wallet

Fast Company Infographic “Mobile Melee”

http://infographics.fastcompany.com/magazine/161/smartphone-infographic.html

What is your Google + circle strategy?

Over the last month there have been a flood of opinions and articles about Google +.

Mike Troaino reported early on that its Google + vs. Twitter, not Facebook, Jeremiah Owyang later agreed and provided 5 Ways Google + Can become Mainstream, only to be outdone by 6 Ways Google + is Winning and Losing. Then, only a month after launch we learn that Google + hit 25 million visitors, at which point we acknowledge having Social Media Fatigue or maybe just Circle Fatigue.

The core differentiator and value proposition of Google + is circles. The idea is that I don’t want to talk or listen to everyone in my social network at once, just specific circles of individuals at a time.

It sounds easy right, make some circles put the right people in the right circles and you are ready for “real life sharing.” Not so fast.

If you have ever participated or better yet led the Information Architecture (IA) phase of a website redesign project, you will understand that defining what content goes where today is difficult. Planning for tomorrow, requires professionals. Taking from those experiences, here are a few ways to think about circles:

  • add new circles as new things come along does not require any planning but will eventually result in dozens of redundant and overlapping circles. Google already responded to this problem by adding a new feature.
  • create a circle for each of the groups in you life is easy to align to the real world today; work, friends, family, etc., but managing the overlap of the individuals within these groups will be difficult going forward.
  • create a circle for each type of content you want to share is a better approach because it is less important that I play soccer with a group, than it is that I want to share “personal” content with some individuals and “soccer” content with others.
  • limit Google + to a specific group or content type is the most common approach I have heard, probably because we have all been trained by bad Facebook experiences. It will keep things tidy, but using Google + for just a specific group or content misses the point.

There is no question that leading with circles is a big idea, but only time will tell if Google + is a revolutionary platform or just another social network.

How are you managing your Google + circles? Share your tips above.

Why 5 Big Brand Marketing Campaigns are Betting Big on Social Gaming

The answer: Because their agency partner convinced them to buy a shiny new social game.

In a recent article by Mashable author Brian Anthony Hernandez titled Why 5 Big Brand Marketing Campaigns are Betting Big on Social Gaming, Brian attempts to tout the big wins coming from social gaming. To be completely transparent, I am a social gaming skeptic, but was eager to understand how brands were successfully leveraging this buzzing tactic. Upon reading this article I am more skeptical than ever.

The reason is in the results, or lack thereof. Here are the “results” that marketers and their agency partners point to:

  • “92% of We City players have incorporated Century 21-branded structures into their virtual cities”
  • Martercard game got “30,000 Likes and gets more than 80% of visits from returning visitors. On average, gamers spend 45 minutes on the game page each visit.”
  • “After the launch, users’ time on the Psych website increased from an average of 14 minutes to 22 minutes…”

The only thing this proves is that people like to play games and if you put a game on your site people will play it. Unless the objective was to have someone play games on your site, I don’t see the brand benefit.

All marketers should reserve 10% of their budget each quarter to test and trial new ideas and tactics like social gaming. However, until there are tangible ROMOs from these trials, let’s agree that its just for fun.

Fourzam (AKA IntoNow)

Shazam is an amazing music discovery engine. It allows you to identify, buy and share any song that is playing. Just hold your phone to the speaker and shazam!

Foursquare, Gowalla and a few others allow you to share your location with friends. The promise is that you can find friends nearby and explore new places.

Put these two concepts together and you get IntoNow. It allows you to connect with your friends around the TV you love. Just hold your phone up to the TV, IntoNow identifies the show or commercial, and shares this with your friends.

What I find interesting about this integration of tools and technologies. These mashups are not just for MIT grads with some startup cash, Marketers should take the time to understand what is possible with their own tools and technologies.

Here is an example of how marketers are using this: Tag a TV Ad, Get a Free Pepsi

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