By APNWLNS payday loans
May 21, 2013
I got a great surprise after a poor response to a bad surprise.
After updating Android on my cell phone, Google Maps began aborting. Being a reformed tech guru, I naturally wasted a lot of hours combing through message boards to determine if I could fix it myself instead of throwing the phone at my carrier and demanding that their technically suspect store clerks do the repairs.
After a while it became clear that the bug was in a new graphics driver, and thus was caused not by my carrier, Google or even the handset maker. I penned a letter to the president of the carrier company, politely explaining that as the vendor and integrator of record, they needed to fix their products, regardless of who broke it. Realizing that the solution lay somewhere between Google, the chipset vendor, the handset maker and my carrier, I was not expecting quick action, especially since reports of the problem on the carrier’s customer forum web site had been raging for a while.
So I was surprised to get a phone call from their product manager and four days later received a new phone with twice the CPU and memory, eight times the storage and a different chipset that didn’t manifest the same defect.
Every customer interaction defines your brand. Until I took the time to send snailmail to the carrier’s president, my interactions with them had been fruitless. It is damaging to prop-up a customer self-help forum and assign monitors when complaints and product defects posted there are not addressed. In other words, pretending to listen is worse than not listening at all (and to Google’s credit, they say up front that they don’t listen to many of their sponsored forums). The sense of abandonment customers experience when false fronts mascaraed as support ports is palpable. In the forum hosted by my carrier, some threads border on open rebellion due to long-standing issues with no feedback or help from the vendor.
Contrary, when the product manager called, I was more than satisfied. Even if a fix was not immediate, I was willing to work with the vendor and even assist in their debugging. Their willingness (albeit forced by my letter) was a sign of customer commitment. When the product manager took that extraordinary extra step to resolve the problem by giving me a better phone, I was extremely impressed. He single handedly rescued a negative customer interaction and salvaged his company’s brand.
Your brand hangs on every interaction, or lack thereof. When erecting online points of interaction, state clearly if you will or will not be participating, and if you are, do it fully. Listening requires upward or lateral action, not the mere appearance of participation.
May 14, 2013
To dominate or not to dominate. That is the non-rhetorical question.
Being a former IT guru, I hang-out virtually with some of my former peers in forums where we argue about everything from driver code to global warming. Many years ago I announced to that cabal that Android would dominate the smart phone market due to its business model. iPhone fanbois who littered this clan insinuated I had lost my mind – that Apple’s elegance, simplicity and market lead would forever overwhelm Android’s then 3% market share.
This week Gartner announced Android makes up 75% of all new smart phone sales.
My prognostication was based on market mechanics while my techie chums were enamored by Apples early technology differentiation. But like Microsoft before them on the desktop, Google decided to use the ecosystem to spread an operating system, which is a good way to get a lot of companies to drive sales and share. Google’s goal was to dominate the market and gain profits by means other than hardware sales.
Which was never Apple’s objective.
There are many ways to make money. In smart phones Apple and Google have different objectives based on how they plan to grow richer. Google wants to be the center of people’s online universe and to sell advertising. Theirs is a low margin, high volume end-game. In order to make mega money in mobile, Google had to dominate the market to drive tangent revenues.
Apple makes money via margins. Recent studies of the PC market show that Apple has insanely high margins, allowing them to be vastly more profitable on a per PC basis than every other vendor. The same strategy is at play with smart phone and anything else Apple sells. The only thing Apple has to do is maintain and extend the impression that they provide the slickest and easiest to use technology on the planet (this was their brand until the infamous Apple Maps fiasco and the seemingly interminable wait for a much more clever iPhone 5).
Marketers often lose sight of corporate objectives. Marketing strategy exists to achieve corporate strategy. Yet many marketers spook when confronted with seemingly superior competition using different business models. Google measures their success differently than Apple because they have different objectives. I’m sure hands are being wrung at Apple given the rapid market dominating success of Android, and there are temptations to fight Google on Google’s turf. Rumors abound that Apple will release a cheaper iPhone just to stem the bleeding (even though their sales are rising despite people delaying handset upgrades, awaiting an updated iPhone 5). Apple’s strategy – to invent, create insane brand loyalty and charge obscene prices – is good and remains sound. But Apple has to stick to it and not chase Google’s model.
All marketing actions – in Apple or your organization – must drive the corporate objective. Only when those objectives prove flawed and are changed should marketing change their strategies. Measure your success against metrics that make sense for your corporate objectives. HP measures PC unit volume (the highest in the business) and because of that is less worried about their low margins. Apple measures success by margins and less so by units. Always avoid using your competitors’ measurement of success … doing so causes failure.
May 7, 2013
“You can get better quality than we offer, but you can’t find a higher price than ours.”
Oddly, that pitch works when not stated so bluntly. Known in marketing circles as the Mercedes Effect, it shows that people are willing to pay money for no added value aside from perception. Mercedes, Coach handbags, Apple computers and many other products have remarkably higher prices and margins than competing products of equal functional value. The difference is almost entirely because people want to own the brand and enhance their sense of self-worth by proxy.
There are other reasons for cultivating cult brands aside from getting obscenely rich. Great brands, well-crafted and relentlessly enforced can:
- Create buyer/market/investor faith in the product/company/cause.
- Bias purchase decisions, thereby increasing the number of conversions per promotional dollar.
- Create a sense of mystic relevance (or as the authority on propaganda calls it, perceived hidden underground knowledge).
- Allow you to charge vastly more money for similar functionality.
A good example of the power of branding is in the allegedly dying PC market. A recent study by Asymco shows Hewlett Packard ships nearly three times as many personal computers as Apple, yet Apple has more than double the per PC revenue and six times the margin per PC than HP. In other words, HP is working harder and earning less. Soon HP may start losing money on each PC they make, though they claim they will make it up in volume.
Apple’s mystique, eroding as it may be, was not accidental. Any review of their advertising shows that Apple knows their market, understands buyer biases to which they offer differentiation, and how to subversively appeal to those buyer motivations. Apple has crafted a brand perception so strong that competitors mock it in order to do what good marketing people should – attack their opponent’s strengths. This has assembled an army of Appleytes fully devoted to the product line, as iEverything shoppers demonstrate.
Few companies ever bother to define their brand. Fewer still match brand to buyer motivations and differentiation. This is a major sin in marketing and especially for start-ups who need to capture market mindshare as rapidly as possible. Take the time to get branding right. It pays big over long periods and makes you worthy of mocking.
April 30, 2013
“Maybe Microsoft suffers from too much leadership.”
That surprising statement came from an industry analyst with one of the major groups. We were recently splitting lunch and enjoying some obscenely great Silicon Valley weather, discussing the tech industry as a whole and wondering if Microsoft might soon be known only as “The Xbox Company.” We mutually marveled at how seemingly inept Microsoft has become, with one market disaster after another. Since we both had experience with start-ups and big vendors alike, the discussion focused keenly on leadership and ossification.
You never want to be the leader for the former.
Microsoft has two primary problems when it comes to innovation, the first of which is that they remain consumed by former glories and the old ways of thinking. This same analyst told me that – at least until recently – Microsoft sized their markets based on the number of PCs in an organization, not the number of information workers. Like the IBM of old where all activities revolved around the mainframe, Microsoft revolves too much of its thinking around desktops. Given mobility and Microsoft’s late/flawed strategy for making mobile work, it may be that their PC inertia is throttling their other ambitions.
This is sadly amusing given that mobile is a very personal computing experience and Microsoft started as a personal computer company. To flounder so badly at this fundamentally personal computing pivot point would be perplexing were it not for historical comparisons. The most vivid is IBM, who despite bringing Microsoft to fame via the original PC, was myopically focused on their mainframes. Indeed, much of IBM’s PC business was constrained by making the little machines part of the mainframe ecosystem, not letting it evolve and profiting from that evolution. One could argue (and I will) that Windows 8 was an attempt to bridge mobile to maintain desktop superiority, and failed both markets.
This may be why my analyst friend thinks Microsoft suffers from too much leadership, for they led the Microsoft troops into creating a digital Frankenstein monster that was universally repulsive.
The intersection of markets, trends, leadership and management is conceptually simple. An organization is either ahead or behind a trend (really great companies create trends out of stuff thinner than air). This is where leadership is essential, because leading requires creating and communicating a vision of something that doesn’t exist. Even Microsoft demonstrates this from time to time as they did with their Xbox project, which was so tangent to desktop computing that Microsoft had no choice but to let the Xbox team take their own path.
Management is the essential antithesis of leadership. It is a more mechanical process, one driven by numbers and bureaucracy. Leadership into new markets requires decentralization and flexibility, whereas maintaining a product line leans on management. The tangent problem herein is that management can be infected by inertia, such as Microsoft counting PCs and not people as their market. For Microsoft to have a chance requires delivering different products to different groups, and this requires different groups within Microsoft lead by different visionaries, bridging teams only when necessary. It is a really good to have a single underlying software architecture, but leave the user experience and marketing thereof to decentralized team leaders. After delivering a core OS, separate servers, desktops, mobile and games entirely. Leave the applications group to decide on which platforms they can make a buck.
Microsoft may not have too much leadership, but what they have is too highly concentrated in a single place.
April 16, 2013
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Two cynical definitions of language neatly describe many marketing communications:
The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another’s treasure …
The source of misunderstandings.
Marketing’s job is to charm people out of their money, preferably by articulating the true value of necessary products. Yet many marketing managers slip straight to snake oil salesmanship and leverage a ton of text and bunkers filled with buzzwords to attempt recruiting prospects. Misuse of language is a chief cause of unhappy customers and board members.
The first task in marketing communications is to promote value. Here at Silicon Strategies Marketing, we defined (copyright alert) value as “the intersection of need and differentiation.” Value intersections tend to be precise, and the language used to describe a particular value must be as well. Generalized and buzzword-heavy statements like “the most cost-effective, easy-to-use, and universally accessible” detract from precise value articulation. The results are customers who see no specific value and thus have no specific motivation to further investigate a product.
The lure of easy buzzwords is obvious. Clear market messaging is both science and art, and few folks (outside of Silicon Strategies Marketing that is) have both skills. Marketers lean on what seem like obvious value points, which is the problem. If the “value” point is obvious, then it is likely (a) universal or (b) universally claimed. Either way it violates half of the value equation, namely that your product is somehow different. Weak messaging also has the negative habit of putting readers to sleep, which makes communications even more difficult.
When crafting your value propositions, and from those your value headlines, take four steps, none of which are fast or pain free:
Understand the real value: Using our definition of value, be 100% sure that you have any. Keep in mind that the value delivered is likely different for each market segment and buyer genotype.
Customer language: Customers have their own language for their needs. Use their language, not yours, to describe the value you provide. This creates instant cognition.
Explore your thesaurus: These books exist for a reason. The word you dream-up to describe value may be good, but not precise. Find the best words.
Compare competitors: Make sure you are not saying what your competitors are. Doing so eliminates perceived differentiation.
On that note, I have to end this blog and create alignment to establish clear goals that expand diversity and empowerment in order to leverage organic growth in our new paradigm and thus create a win-win scenario.