Nom de Guerre
A newly announced credit card has set a new a record for Longest Product Name.
"Asiana Airlines American Express Card from Bank of America".
A Case in Point
Another example of Apple's disruptive marketing. The company's online store has gone down and intrepid bloggers are on the case. Apple's fanboy minions are rallying, effectively launching whatever new product has coming... for free.
Swimming Against the Tide
I must confess that I find it hard to get excited about laundry detergent. I find it harder still to get excited about the marketing of laundry detergent. But there's little question that smart marketers ignore Proctor & Gamble at their own peril. This excerpt from Roger Martin's recent book The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrated Thinking, featured in BusinessWeek , is a perfect example as to why. He offers an anecdote concerning A.G. Laffley, President & CEO of P&G, that offers some useful takeaways for marketers.
Lafley's originality came into play when he faced a big decision about compacting packaged laundry soap. Though P&G's research and development folks had devised a way to compact the big fluffy granules of powdered detergent into a form that was less than half the volume, consumer tests showed a lukewarm response and P&G mastery would have said that without a clear test win, the new product should not be launched.
But that verdict didn't sit right with Lafley.
With his carefully nurtured capacity for originality, though, Lafley focused on what was potentially unique about the situation that might call for a novel response from P&G. He saw that, unlike the majority of product upgrades, this one had the potential for massive cost savings for retailers since the smaller boxes would take up half the space in warehouses and on store shelves for the same dollar of sales. In addition, P&G's manufacturing and logistics operations would reap the same cost benefits as the retailers. And the voluntary comments that some of the consumers added to their quantitative research forms revealed that while consumers weren't wildly enthusiastic about compact detergents, few were actively hostile to the idea.
Lafley totted up the data points. Retailers saw compact detergent as a big win, and so did P&G manufacturing. Consumers were neutral at worst. So despite the lack of conclusive consumer evidence, Lafley argued for a huge investment to convert all powdered detergents to compact. It turned out to be a big win for P&G. "We ran and we won the race," Lafley says. "It was huge, absolutely huge."
A couple of things struck me here. First, Lafley trusted his instincts and was not blinded by the results from consumer research. Research is useful but too often substitutes for innovative thinking. Research participants, it should be noted, often don't know what they don't know. There's something to be said for gut instinct and common sense.
Second, Lafley considered the economic and strategic benefits of the new product to his company as well as the benefits at various points along the entire value chain. He then weighed the cumulative benefits against the research. In so doing, the new product launch seemed a no-brainer. As marketers become more and more active in product development, they need to understand the business they're in as much as the needs of the market.
The Zune Brand
I received my new 8GB green Zune yesterday. The product has been reviewed extensively, here, here and here, but I wanted to post about improvements to the brand. (Disclosure: Microsoft is a 1066 client, although we did not work directly on the Zune branding).
The first manifestations of the the Zune brand felt over-stated and clumsy. The announcement videos were so far out as to be unapproachable. The awkward "Welcome to the Social" tagline was a well-intentioned attempt to differentiate based on the innovation of wireless sharing. But when this functionality fell short of expectations, mostly due to the 3 plays/3 days DRM limitation, there went the brand differentiator.
The newest brand positioning is less ambitious and ultimately far more successful. I'll admit that when I first saw the ads I was a little skeptical of the "You make it you" concept. Patrick Daughters' trippy, down-the-rabbit-hole advertising was beautiful, but ultimately a every good value proposition must be based on real value. I wondered if "making it you" was a big enough promise. The execution of the brand in the customer experience has convinced me that it does.
The Zune Originals idea is brilliant, simple and flawlessly executed. The range of artists commissioned, the quality of the illustrations and the pleasingly tactile end result all amounts to a very satisfying and unique brand experience. By giving the customer a hand in the creation of the product, the "make it you" idea is paid off very well. I can't think of a more successful mass customization of a consumer electronics product.
A recent visit to the Zune "store" within my local Target felt more like the Zune v1 branding, but with a much better line-up of accessories and better product displays.
Microsoft knows that it is facing an uphill battle against iPod/iTunes. In this second act the Zune team has hit upon a brand concept that both complements the Microsoft brand and serves to differentiate against the established player. The challenge now will be to sustain the brand over time and resist the urge to go into continual reinvention mode.
Kindle or kindling?
The entertainment world has been transformed by digital technology. Television has been reinvented by digital video recorders. Apple is now the most significant music company in the world. It's hard to find a field of entertainment that hasn't experienced some kind of upheaval with the emergence of convenient digital technology. Every field, except books, of course. Consumers just haven't jumped at ebooks the way they did iPods.
Amazon thinks its new wireless reading device called Kindle is going to succeed where others have failed. But at $399 will consumers toss aside their paperbacks and embrace ebooks? Amazon seems to be betting heavily that they will given the prominence of the launch and the marketing support behind it.
Amazon's got a number of obstacles to overcome beyond the high price tag. Kindle is being called the iPod of the ebook market, but Apple succeeded with iPods for a couple of reasons that aren't necessarily true of Kindle.
First, there was a built-in market. Digital music consumption was growing independent of the availability of quality players and convenient (and legal) music sources. The iPod's success was as much a function of iTunes, which made finding your favorite music easy, cost-effective and legal, as it was of the simplicity and appealing look of the device itself. It's not clear that there's much of a market for ebooks. Amazon's basically trying to create a market whereas Apple created a superior product and improved the distribution system in an existing one. Amazon faces a much stiffer challenge here.
Second, music is a much different product than books. Music does not really have structure. The CD had already more or less destroyed the aesthetic appeal of records. Cover art, liner notes and other non-essentials had been sufficiently marginalized by the time digital music arrived. Consumers were quite willing to trade a large CD collection for a single device which would allow them to play whatever song they want wherever they want - at home, in their car, on a jog, whatever.
Books are much more complicated. They are essentially content, yes, but the physical appeal of books is far more significant. The touch of a book, the effect of the paper on your eyes, the font on the page, all of these aesthetic qualities are a major part of the book reading experience. If there were demonstrable value in having access to myriad books at one time (as there is in having access to one's entire music collection) it might be enough to overcome the emotional connection a consumer has with a book. But apart from the convenience of having a multiple books at your disposal on a long vacation, there aren't many instances where a consumer really needs access to all the content Kindle provides.
The Kindle does offer a number of useful features. An owner can sample books before buying. He or she can have top magazines and newspapers delivered directly to the device and access top blogs. But other devices, most notably, cell phones allow you to access many of these sites as well.
I suspect digital books will one day find their niche; it seems inevitable. If Amazon is betting on them becoming mainstream in the same way the mp3 player has... well, let's call that a longshot. I just don't see that many people spending that kind of money for something with pretty minor utility.
I was walking to the office from a meeting this afternoon and I saw a group of the new Volvo S40s near Astor Place. They were there on the last stop of a nation-wide tour to promote the new line and its wagon cousin the V50. Needless to say I stopped to talk with one of the drivers and to hear a little about the new line.
Volvo is doing some really interesting stuff from a marketing perspective. In fact, it seems like most car companies have put some more fuel in their marketing tanks recently. Obviously these new cars are an effort to get away from the safety conscious soccer mom crowd which has traditionally been drawn to the brand and to get some of the spendy Gen X/Y crowd. The ads -- subtly co-marketed with Xbox -- are probably a little too young and too rough for this crowd, but they are an intriguing departure.
Auto show next weekend. Look for many automotive posts and pictures.
Fortune-telling and the marketer's task
Looking for an example of how hard it is to market technology products in a fast changing and capricious world? How about the--until now--theoretical battle between music download and temporary music subscription?
The music download model is the one that is more familiar to us. Services like Apple's iTunes allow you to download digital music files which you then own and use as you see fit (as long as you don't share them with your friends).
Things are about to get a bit more complicated however. Cnet ran a story last week about a new technology called Janus that would enable a kind of "renting" of music files by enabling the expiration of files after a certain amount of time.
The question then becomes: will people want to pay a little less for something that they only use temporarily? After all, music is different from videos where there is a precedent for renting media either from the video store or an online service like Netflix: people are still much more interested in keeping a "music collection".
The problem is not much of a problem for anyone except marketers at online music services (like Napster) or at device makers (like Samsung) who have to decide if and how to market the new technology. Of course, there is no way of knowing how the market will react to the service, and everyone involved must suspect that people will not want to pay for something that will eventually just disappear.
Hold the Gmail
By now you have certainly heard about Google's 1 Gig email service, Gmail. Yesterday there was some question about whether or no the whole thing was a hoax. Today the question is: is this a good idea?
CNET's Charles Cooper has an great piece today which describes Google's fairly worrisome intention to use keyword search within a users email box to serve up contextual advertising. Cooper makes the excellent point that the launch of the Gmail service is a move against Microsoft and that Redmond will be "holier than the Pope" in sticking to a hardline on privacy in its email service.
Getting into Mind of the Customer
Onfolio is a new .NET applications that works with Internet Explorer to help you save and organize information that you find online. One user called it "bookmarks on steroids". It's certainly a great application and one which will most likely do well.
More important from our standpoint, however, its a great marketing challenge. How do you convince people that they should spend $29.95 for a product that they have never heard of or experienced? A product that is fairly straightforward, but which the average Web surfer might have trouble understanding?
The marketing people at Ofolio obviously have a great sense of this potential customer base, their concerns and how to address them. Aside from the de rigueur Flash demo, they have created a set of clear and interesting "usage scenarios" which do a fantastic job of both explaining what the product can do and at the same time, getting users excited about the possibilities.
This is a truly great example of a company getting into the mind of the customer. The company obviously knows that they have a great product (and that everybody should run out and buy it immediately) the challenge is how to get beyond this mindset and make others see it. Ofolio has done a terrific job at this.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had coverage of a new foundation (well not really a foundation, yet, but they are working on it) which blurs the line between marketing initiative, grassroots movement and non-profit advocacy. The Boomer Coalition describes itself as "a catalyst for action" against CVD (the acronym for Cardiovascular disease that the group invariably uses in its communications).
One of the group's founding partners—alongside the American Heart Association—is Pfizer. The group's web site focuses on prominent baby boomers lost to heart disease as well as on baby boomer's fascination with themselves as a force of change in the world. The organization is planning a rally and concert (how boomer!) to be held in NYC in the Fall.