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mass production

I am a big fan of content creation, the new marketing meme sweeping the nation. Content creation has been around as long as the written word. As a tool to promote and sell it has been around since Bass Ale invented its mark and the Sears Catalog was the Amazon of its day.  But the words “content creation” in this age of Google and iPhone movies has taken on, at least for me, a strong commodity meaning.  A creative-by-the-pound activity measured in attention then, maybe, sales.

I am a brand planner who measures success not by hits or vague engagement activities but by sales. And future sales. Sure I’ll write a speech on “web accessibility” for an agency trying to score points at a client’s annual marketing meeting, but I don’t want giggles, attaboys and future invitations, I want new customer contracts. Content isn’t oration, it’s selling.

So the brand planner in me thinks that content creation or content marketing ungoverned by a brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) is wasted effort. Every act or action that marketing achieves needs to motivate a sale in one way or the other. If you are doing content creation and it doesn’t move a customer closer to a sale, you likely don’t have an articulate brand strategy.




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Question. Is Uber a software play or a curation play? I believe the latter. The end game is a ride from point A to point B. That’s what consumers want. Is it software enabled? Sure. But you are not getting to the airport or home from your pub crawl sitting on your iPhone.  So is it in the software business? Curation business? Or transportation business. (Many would say transportation but remember, Uber doesn’t own the cars or employ the drivers.)  Travis Kalanick, UberCEO, is right when he says he’s in the logistics business. His business is software-enabled and consumer-driven — but curation-based. Jeremiah Owyang calls this the sharing economy. Me thinks it’s closer to the curation economy.

Amazon started out in the ecommerce book business. Then it moved into the mass retail business. It morphed into a curation business when it allowed other retailers to use its platform. Then there’s Google. Google loves to say it’s a technology company. Most think it’s a search company. If you ask their CFO, s/he might say Google is an advertising company – that’s where the bank deposits come from. Or is it a curation company? Hmmm. Curating access to information through the algo. As my Norwegian aunt might have said “Tink about it.”


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The Svelte Apple?

As big as the Chinese mobile phone market is, I’m not sure Apple should be pursing its current growth plan there.  And last year Apple sold 23 million phones in China. The price of an Apple mobile in China is in the US$700 area. The price of a locally produced Android based phone US$100.

In my view Apple should attack the Chinese market with a local start-up.  Don’t dumb down and feature down the 5Cs and 5Ss, to get the price margin better.  Leave them as they are, priced as luxury phones for the up market consumer. Start a new company to fight more fairly the Chinese manufacturers Lenovo and Huawei and South Korean behemoth Samsung.

Keep your R&D eye on the ball in America, the ball being other internet connected devices. We forget that Apple, when not bothered by business blocking and tackling (and shareholding-focused share gain), has a history of inventing new categories.  I fear that with all this energy focused on selling iPhones in China, Apple will regress in the ROW (rest of world) and start to slide.

Small share in PCs gave birth to the Apple of today. Stay the course. Innovate the form, the features and the software. Technological obesity in unbecoming. Especially for the svelte Apple. Peace.

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Data drives marketing. The most important data is sales. Duh. Always start with sales: daily, weekly, monthly, annual, forward and back. Data on purchase clusters, purchase frequency, bundling and demographics provide a wealth of insight, especially when compared to key competitors. One can look at dollars or units, regions, sales tied to marketing investments, both on and off-line.  However, as the data gets more complicated and pervasive, the sources require greater scrutiny.  How the data is classified and arranged is critical.  Consumer product data from Mitel and Euromonitor International aren’t always organized the same way and even when done so don’t always agree.

The next problem happens when marketers cloudy-up the waters by making hybrid products.  Can a beverage be a carbonated soft drink and water at the same time? (Ice, for instance?) Is a frozen, ready-to-bake cookie clssified as a frozen dessert or cookie? Many are these data dilemmas. It’s troubling. And if the data companies don’t know how to classify a product it’s likely consumers are having similar trouble.


Enter the Is-Does. What a product is and what a product does.  The Is is different from the Does.  The iPhone is a phone. Some product marketers don’t get the Is and it can be staggering – especially for startups. And the data dilemma is only making this phenomenon worse. So get your Is-Does right first and the data will follow.  

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Simple leadership.

I wrote an email this morning to someone in the health insurance space referencing an axiom I love “leaders educate.”  I learned it while working at McCann-Erickson on the AT&T business.  AT&T had some seriously smart marketers back in the day. Post-monopoly.

When consumers are confused and change is in the wind, they can make bad choices. Uninformed choices. The sturm und drang favors upstarts and competitors.  It is for this reason that leaders need to step up and organize the explanation. To remove the confusion. Simple is memorable. Simple stories, simple examples, simple “if—thens” are what consumers need.  With this out of the way, marketers can then provide the ability for a deeper information dive. (Think iPhone. Not iMultipleDevices.)

Some businesses benefit from complexity. Law. Finance. Privacy. Accounting. And insurance.  Nothing is too hard to explain and make understandable.  Sometimes marketers are too close and can’t see the simple explanation. This is why technology companies have a hard time branding.


As for the use of education in advertising and marketing, we need to do more. A Dorito chip bouncing around a room on a Super Bowl ad is not educating anybody.  It’s much like sitting in the same class over and over again. Leaders educate. Let’s lead. Peace. 


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AT&T, a brand that taught me many things about advertising and marketing, is rudderless from a branding standpoint.  Yeah, they are making ads. Yeah, they have a branding idea “Rethink Possible.”  And now they have a campaign idea “It’s what you do with what we do” intended to make the brand idea work harder.  But frankly it’s a qualifying idea that waters down the already watered down. Ester Lee and David Lubars know better.  This is a billion dollars of nothingness in one man’s opinion.

Back in the 90s both of these ideas would have been corporate advertising efforts for AT&T — a company that didn’t like to do corporate advertising.  AT&T liked products and services.  Bell Labs, now AT&T Labs, was a hotbed of innovation. It was innovation. I’m sure there are hundreds of engineers who will argue this from a patent point of view, but the labs have lost their way.

AT&T has become a mobile phone company with a bad rep for network, thanks to the iPhone’s history of dropped calls. For 20 somethings that has defined the company.  So Rethink Possible is simply a tag-along mobile strategy drafting a category whose imagination is being captured by Apple.  BBDO can do better. AT&T can do better. The labs can go better. Peace! 

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Google and Facebook are beginning to get a little stink on them due to all this privacy talk in the press and social web.   It’s like a drum beat.  The latest chatter is about the ability for geo-tagged personal photos be crawled and shared on the web without permission, thanks a to some hacks, apps and data scavenging.  It is also happening on Apple iPhones (according to today’s NYT) but Apple’s privacy rep is too strong, and they will do something about quickly.

As Facebook and Google stay reactive to this type of thing, rather than be proactive or preemptive, their images stain.  Blackberry, on the other hand, focuses on privacy; its geo-tagging photo app is a bit more transparent (Do I smell an ad?).

Priv-acy (love the Brits) is topical because it is a very human value.  The social web is helping us realize privacy is over-rated and that’s pretty that’s cool but it’s still something we need to control and protect.  If the target of this privay news was Microsoft the market would go ballistic. Because it’s Google, not so much.  But they (and Facebook) had better clean the smelly stuff off their sneakers quickly. Peace!

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Over the last two weeks I’ve read some great stories on Apple and its production situation in China.  The writers of the stories, both appearing in the New York Times, are certainly not Apple haters, but their point of view appears set.  The loss of American jobs is not a good thing but is justified by the low cost of production in China.  Factory workers there make about $17 a day. 

Anyone who reads the story, including references to 4 deaths and 77 injuries, might come away pondering avarice, patriotism, the quality of the American education system, population growth.  This is wonderful reporting and might, were Charles Dickens alive, make for a fascinating novel.  Do I smell a Pulitzer?  Mabes.

But here’s the real deal.  People want iPhones and iPazzles. The way to make them available is to offer them at a low price.  Apple wouldn’t have sold 200 million iPhones if they had cost $1,000 a piece. So this was just good business. It is a flat world.  Chinese production is our new reality.  African production will be our next reality. Then Antarctica.

We have pocketbooks and brains.   We can boycott Apple or buy Apple.  Americans love an underdog and we tire easily of the Overdog.  Apple, for decades, was the underdog – not anymore. Tom Cook’s job is going to be a hell of a lot harder than Steve Jobs.  Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t what? Peace!

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There’s a whole side business in marketing devoted to customer care.  And there should be.  Caring for customers is important.  Back in the 90s as telephone and computers were learning to get along, call centers were investing heavily in computer telephony integration.  Software was reading inbound telephone numbers and matching them up with database records, putting customer information at customer service people’s finger tips. It was a great use of technology.  Problem resolution was making great strides. But the equation required putting people in the call center, which was a recurring expense.

Along came something called IVR (interactive voice response) “for credit cards press or say 1.” This invention helped keep headcount down in the call center by providing recorded information via prompt. Enter the web, which allowed the web to provide problem resolution via FAQs and tutorials – again less people. 

I received a call from Chase Bank last night – automated, of course – asking me to call a toll-free number because someone was trying to change my account access code or some such. In a panic I called and for 15 minutes was pushing prompts. McCrazy!  They called me. Luckily, the wifus (pronounced why-fus) was nearby, because I stalled at a prompt number 12 when  asked for my debit card number…which I don’t own.  “They want your ATM card number honey.” Turns out everything was fine and it was false alarm. So they say.

I’m so glad JPMorgan Chase is developing iPhone apps to make people’s banking lives easier.  But do you think they – and everyone else with customers – could employ a universal “I want a human” telephone prompt like 0-0?  That would be progress. Peace!  

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My old  TV gave out this week so I went off to Best Buy to get a flatty.  Nice deal but I have to wait until Wednesday – post NY Jets. 1080 something, twice the inches (size queen), 120hz.  Anyway, lots of friends have hi-def and large screens and I’ve always been impressed by the quality of the picture for sports, but last night for the first time I was impressed (watching at my friend Ed’s)by a large format, hi-definition ad.  An ad for New York Presbyterian. This ad would be good on a 4 year old iPhone with a broken screen, but with awesome audio and huge video it made my world stop.

You’ve probably seen Munn Rabot’s first ad in the campaign a while ago with Ed Koch.  Well, this spot could win Sundance. As a movie.  Check it out.

What an “amazing” use of the medium.  The size of the little girl in the screen. Black and white format. The script. I’ve done and seen a lot of good work in the healthcare space – as has Devito/Verdi – but Munn Rabot has pretty much perfected the practice of selling healthcare. Are any of you pharmaceutical advertisers listening?  These guys are surgeons.  Peace.

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