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?

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.

Porsche launches Versatile campaign

The Porsche brand is rooted in performance and racing heritage. Their decision to build an SUV (Cayenne) and a sedan (Panamera) has been followed by a new positioning as the everyday car. Is this good product/market extension strategy or brand suicide?

Check out a spot from the Versatile campaign here.

Check out the Adweek article and the other spots here.

Charmin hopes toilet paper can be sexy too!

I have always held the notion that social media is not for everyone. There are obvious candidates who benefit from social technologies because their audience is online and already talking about their brand, for example Dell tapping into the active tech community with product ideas through IdeaStorm.com. Other brands can create interest based programs by focusing on their customers’ problems or related interests that can then be associated to the brand, for example P&Gs beinggirl.com talking adolescence to sell feminine products. And then we have things like toilet paper… until now.

Charmin recently launched a search to find five super-fun, enthusiastic people to work at the Charmin Restrooms in Times Square this holiday season. Their new micro-site, EnjoytheGo.com, explains the program in detail. The job description is simple: Greet and entertain bathroom guests and then blog about the experience, and the payout is big: $10,000 for 1 month.

Before we focus in on the logistics around potty blogging, I want to highlight two key qualifiers that every organization should ask before even dabbling in sexy social technologies:

• Does my target audience use social technologies?
• Does my target audience use social technologies to talk about my brand, industry or a related interest?

While some or most of Charmin’s target audience might be active users, I find it hard to believe that their audience is using social technologies to learn about the brand, or toilet paper or a stranger’s bathroom experience.

This doesn’t pass my sniff test, how about you?

Is Green Marketing still worth the risk?

A recent article by Sarah Mahoney (FTC Slaps Kmart With ‘Fake Green’) highlights how the FTC, in its ongoing efforts to protect consumers from the increasingly sneaky “greenwashing” terms used by marketers, has charged Kmart Corp. with making “false and unsubstantiated claims” that its private-label paper products are biodegradable.

This charge however is splitting hairs according to Liz Gorman, VP of corporate responsibility for Cone Inc. Although the products actually are biodegradable if disposed properly, it’s only because of the way most people dispose of paper plates that they’ll never have a chance to.

And if the FTC doesn’t get you, the enviro bloggers are also watching. The Greenwashing Index, promoted by EnviroMedia Social Marketing in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, calls out offenders on greenwashingindex.com. And not to be outdone, Greenpeace’s StopGreenwash.org has been developed to confront deceptive greenwashing campaigns, engage companies in debate, and give activists and lawmakers the information and tools they need to confront corporate deception.

To make matters worse, according to the July 31, 2008 report “A CMO’s Guide To Corporate Social Responsibility” by Forrester Research, consumers are very skeptical of any claim. 77% of consumers agreed with the statement “Almost all companies are saying that they are environmentally friendly, and it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth” and 70% said: “I don’t always think companies are being genuine when they talk about how they help the environment and society.”

The takeaway is not that companies should stop trying to be environmentally conscious or pursuing “green” ventures (such as eStatements) that also make good business sense. If anything, the environmental push in the last decade has raised the minimum bar by which all companies must now operate.

The point is that marketers need to be very cautious about promoting their efforts, taking credit for its effects, or leveraging these activities to differentiate or market their brand. The “green marketing” first mover advantage is long gone and the risks now seem to outweigh the potential benefits.

If you get brand jacked don’t call the police, invite them in for dinner.

Twitter will be experimenting with a beta preview of what they’re calling Verified Accounts this summer. The experiment will begin with public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other “well known” individuals at risk of impersonation. While this is a positive (albeit small) step to help improve the lack of identity confirmation on the web, marketers shouldn’t wait for the police to show up before taking action.

With Facebook and Twitter adoption continuing to pick up steam, even cautious marketers are starting to take notice. A common recommendation for these lagging marketers is to 1) monitor ongoing conversations to understand what is being said about your brand or industry and 2) register your brand to avoid being brand jacked and shut down existing jackers.

For the prior there are several free tools like, search.twitter.com, blogsearch.google.com and technorati.com, that are easy to use and a good place to start. For the latter I would recommend the martial art of Aikido, whose techniques blend with and leverage oncoming energy instead of trying to stop it.

If you find a brand advocate, give them the tools and access to spread the word and recruit other advocates. Like the ability to post on your corporate blog, access to figures and facts or insider previews to new products and strategies. If you find a brand hater engage them in a public discussion, focus on creating clarity not winning, or ask for their recommendations to improve your products and strategies.

The value of social technologies is the ability to have authentic, and transparent conversations with customers and prospects, whether they are positive or negative. If someone is passionate enough about you and your brand to start the dialogue then 1) they are probably not the only ones and 2) the conversation will happen with or without you… so you better invite them in.

Did this recession make value branding the only option?

Marketing in a recession often requires marketers to change tactics and do more with less, but does it require a change in brand strategy? There are conflicting opinions around investment in branding before, during or after a recession or for that matter around any significant market shift. Optimists suggest there is an opportunity to increase share of voice, capture new markets, and defend against private labels for those marketers willing and able to increase brand investment. But is this back and forth confusing for consumers and damaging for the brand in the long term?

A recent article by Patrick Seitz, of the Investors Business Daily “Best Buy’s Own Brands Gaining Steam” highlights how Best Buy’s private-label product sales rose more than 40% in its fiscal year ended Feb. 28. What does this mean for Sony and Panasonic? Has the recession changed consumer sentiment enough to require a new brand strategy?

Home Depot apparently thinks so, as they recently made a significant shift from “You Can Do It. We Can Help” to “More Saving. More Doing.” While I agree with changing tactics to reflect market conditions, for example shifting budgets from client acquisition to client retention, I am cautious to assume consumer sentiment has been so affected by this recession that value is now and will be the only viable positioning.