steve jobs

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When a latent adult working at McCann-Erickson NY, I was lieutenant in charge of all the AT&T data products. These were the data lines, the network software services and whatever other B2B things that were not particularly sexy — during a very competitive time when phone companies were spending like drunken sailors. My services eventually became the internet so I had a grand time. And managed a great team.

Anyway, I had this idea that if ever the agency president (John Dooner) was asked to go to a meeting in Bridgewater NJ on some of these non-big sexy products (sorry Bartolo) he would need a primer. So the Fact Book was born. The idea was to put all the relevant facts into a binder that could be read in 60 minutes (on the way to the client), giving the reader a foundation of knowledge, e.g., overall market universe, market share, competition, product explanations, YOY sales trends and futures. I stole the idea from Marian Harper, a McCann and IPG CEO, from back in the 60s.

At What’s The Idea?, my current business, a key deliverable is the marketing plan. The first step in its development is a document called the 24 Question. It is much like the Fact Book. Anyone, at any company, in the marketing department should know the answers to the 24 Questions. They are the financial and marketing fundamentals of business. If you don’t know the answers as a marketer, you are a danger to the company.

If you are interested in seeing these questions, email me Steve@WhatsTheIdea.com. And we’ll talk.

Peace.

PS. Go see Steve Jobs.

 

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apple

I write often about “beyond the dashboard” planning and cite Steve Jobs as a main practitioner. Mr. Jobs asked not what consumers wanted, instead he gave them what he knew they would want…after he built it.  This approach is all well and good until it’s your job to start thinking about what people would want and you have to come up with the products. It’s easy talking about the future, much tougher predicting it. Just look at the sports betting business.

Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook may have just taken a page out of Steve’s book this week. In fact, he may have trumped him. Though the Apple Watch (Anyone notice the lack of i?) may not be the design breakthrough we were all expecting, the healthcare applications it promises are going to be market-changing. And if that was not enough, the new iPhone 6’s Apple Pay may be such an innovation that global banking, currency and commerce platforms will change forever. (Does anyone remember standing in long lines at Blockbuster for movie rentals 10 years ago?)

When you do innovation planning you start with pent up demand. Who, I ask, does not care about money and health? Hourly. This is not just another week at the office for Apple. This, as the kids say, is some shit!

I’m not saying the Apple Watch health apps and Apple Pay will hit on all cylinders, but this week and these “ideas to have ideas” will long be remembered. A little coming out party for Tim Cook, me thinks. Peace.

 

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Conde Nast just announced its intention to sell its Fairchild Fashion Media to Penske Media for a $100M so it can focus on its core brands. References to core brands and core business is what you hear from companies under financial pressure or companies with slowed growth. There was a lot of talk about core during the recession. The opposite is growth into new tangential businesses. It is what really profitable companies do. Growth companies are looking for that next big business thing. They are investing in futures. Finding places to write down taxes. Google’s self-driving cars, energy initiatives and hardware escapades are non-core.

Brand planners love the core. It helps them see what a company does really, really well. It helps them articulate and cluster competencies. It allows the planner to plumb the depths of consumer resonance. Understanding the core is important groundwork for beyond the dashboard planners. Those who do planning that is future-based. Before Steve Jobs and team came up with the iPod and iPhone, they had to understand the core. Then translate it into futures.

There are rearview mirror planners, sideview mirror planners, dashboard planners and beyond the dashboard planners. The best are a combination of all 4 — but focus beyond the dash. Peace. 

 

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I’m not a big template fan. They stifle natural creativity. A while back as director of marketing at Zude.com, a drag-and-drop web page building tool, I lobbied hard for no templates. The CTO and CEO understood where I was coming from but felt the masses when confronted with a blank white page would seize up. Better to give them some starter designs to build personal web pages. (So they could look like everybody else.) We were competing with Facebook when it had 18M users.

Facebook and MySpace were both template based products – database fed. Zude was more freehand. But expressive. The people who took the time to build their own pages (no HTML code was needed) created pages that looked beautiful – way more so than Face and My. There were also a lot of homely pages, mine included. But on my pages you could feel me. On my Facebook page – not so much.

In our jobs and lives we need to rely less on templates so we can experience new – experience more. Taking the annual marketing budget and shuffling the numbers is using a template. Revising the website using last year’s wire frame is templating. Sending out an email blast to a well-worn list? Templating. We all template but we need to do less of it. You smiling up there Mr. Jobs?

Peace.

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Kathryn Ruemmler, the current white house counsel, is leaving her post in May. A long running presidential advisor, one of her more highly rated skills is her “uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else anticipates.”  

Lots of marketers, myself including, tell stories about Steve Jobs and how he didn’t listen to research on what consumers wanted next. Jobs would tell consumers what they wanted next.  The oft heard “we don’t skate where the puck is, we skate to where the puck will be,” a Wayne Gretsky-ism also supports this forward looking approach. Seeing around the corner is more than a skill.  Tainted Tylenol.  Spittle-covered pizzas. Ignition keys that fall out of the steering columns. All examples of corners that couldn’t be seen around.  Business needs to be prepared for the corners. Those are on the negative side of the ledger; there will be many positives around the corner as well.

Brand strategy is built upon what customers want and what a brand is good at. One idea, three proof planks is the organizing principle which yields business success. The planks look backward and forward. Coca-Cola is about refreshment and refreshment is way more than high fructose corn syrup, for instance. Forward looking. 

When you evaluate your brand plan ask yourself if it is built to see around corners. Peace. 

 

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My first experience with the term Data Driven Decision Making was in the K12 education space. Sharnell Jackson, who helped the Chicago Public Schools improve online student learning, is a leading supporter.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t quite get the concept until she talked about taking student learning data and scrubbing it with outside demographic data, e.g, address, parental situation, income and the like.  For some reason I thought data driven decision making was more deeply based in education, such as learning styles, teaching styles, means and methods. Not demographics.

Data Driven Decision Making is also the rage in marketing.   Here’s some boilerplate from a leader:

Neustar is the first real-time, cloud-based information services and analytics provider enabling clients to effectively promote and protect their businesses. By using our unique, authoritative data combined with our clients’ information, we make data-driven decisions through actionable analytics. We uncover insights for our clients, thus making complex problem-solving easy for Marketers, IT and Operations professionals through our suite of complete, cloud-based workflow solutions.

Whether we are talking about education or marketing this dashboard approach is after-the-fact. It’s execute, automate and monitor, in that order. This is a billion dollar business and counting. It’s tactical, not strategic. It’s Ballmer, not Jobs.

Let’s take some of that billion and invest it in strategy. Start looking “Beyond the Dashboard.” I wrote the brand strategy for ZDNet in the late 90s “For doers not browsers.” It implied browsers were stepchildren of doers. I can see a time not too far off when the “dashboard” is stepchild of strategy. Peace.  

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Tomorrow Apple is announcing a lower cost iPhone along with its latest version of the new iPhone – what will that be the 6?  (Were he around, Steve Jobs would have killed the number thing.)  Anyway, as mentioned last week and long before, I think the Nokia/Microsoft strategy will be to cover the planet with Windows-based smarties and the way to do that will be, though a nice phone at a low, low price. Sold at cost (or a hair below), these Windows phone 8 Nokia hardware devices will be cheaper than two rounds of drinks with your signif. at a NYC hotel bar. Before tip.  I’m thinking US$49.  That’s my price point and I’m sticking to it.

Messrs. Ballmer and friends will create a Costco-priced, beautiful smart phone and price it in a way that the ROW (rest of world) will be hard pressed to ignore. It will offer the cool tiles interface, a good camera and enough design panache to bump iPhone and Androids growth aside for a while.

Rather than pay taxes or sit on the billions in the bank, MSFT is going to be bold and give people without smarties an affordably priced piece of hardware (and software) — effectively buying market share.  It will lose then make them billions. It’s a nuh-uh brainer.  (Go Geno and the Jets.)

And, of course, peace!

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Apple has been on the front page of many metropolitan newspapers over the last couple of years.  The FoxConn story on manufacturing in China under un-American circumstances, the hard looks at Steve Jobs during publication of his biography and passing and now its tax avoidance.  It’s almost as if some in the media have an axe to grind with this darling of American commerce and technology.  Overdogs often are targeted. Yet with all this bad press, most consumers still love Apple.

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Microsoft used to be the overdog and all consumers used their products — but most skewered them. Many techies loved to kill them on message boards, in offices and around the digital coolers.  The only Microsoft advocates worked at Microsoft.

So how why does Apple get stink on itself and still maintain the love? Products. And proper brand management. Much of the latter is due to Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat Day, Steve Jobs himself and the marketing Kool-Aid drinkers.  The Apple ads are fun, funny, sometimes biting, colorful and artful.  And clean like the products.

I’m hard-pressed to see how the latest tax image problem will be resolved by Apple, but I’m sure it will be. Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google Glass will fight Apple for share of wallet. But when it comes to the “love,” they will need to create and manage their brands with grace, insight and focus if they are to beat the overdog syndrome. (Google and it’s agency BBH have a clue. Eye on them.) Peace.

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There’s a neat article in the NYT about cable TV channel FX. John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX Network, is given a good deal of credit for the channel’s recent success. This guy is building a brand. He has a strategy and over time is implementing it. It is his brand strategy that guided the decision to greenlight shows like Justified and Sons of Anarchy.  It is this brand strategy that helps his people cast shows stars, name show characters and create program titles.

The brand strategy is what is providing consumers with the ability to articulate what the channel stands for. There is a vision here and it’s a vision in rarified air when it comes to TV. This is Steve Jobs stuff. Mr. Landgraf (land grab?) is not allowing focus groups plumbed from American Demographics magazine to decide his programming, he is using data smartly, but allowing his gut and (brand) vision to help consumers toward what’s next in programming.

FX has an idea. Brands need an idea.  Without, they are water lapping the shore. Peace!  

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Brand Mixology.

Brand planning is going to be huge.  Brand plan is an organizing principle for product and messaging and the need for it is growing exponentially as we turn brands over to the Web…and to consumers.  This came to me after driving home from Higbie Bagel Saturday morning listening to a “Coors Light Night Rules” radio promotion. “Send us your night rules” the spot asked.  Coors is asking people to sign up on their website and enter a fun idea about evening drinking behavior. Oooh. Tactics-palooza. Do it on the Facebook page, I’m sure, and all-the-better.

Coors Light has fallen into a cycle of promotions that is watering down (pun) brand meaning by using by non-endemic brand values and it is confusing consumers. When everything is a promotion, game, or boutique campaign, the brand loses essential meaning. And web and digital agencies, left unmanaged, are contributing to this fast twitch, near term brand mixology.

I was reading a recipe recently for a chicken dish.  There were so many spices in the dish it lost its taste focus. Like adding too many paint colors and coming up with brown. The mixology of brands needs to be well thought out, simple, compelling and most importantly managed.  Think Steve Jobs.

The soap box is yours. Peace!

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