Apple dodges brand-killing bullet by not launching cheap iPhone

Apple iPhone 5CI’ve read (primarily in the mainstream business press) a lot of criticism of Apple’s recent iPhone 5C unveiling since the big presentation last week. Most of that criticism is directed at Apple’s failure to add a device to its lineup that can compete with cheaper smart phones, deemed a particularly important strategy for competing in China and other Asian markets.

I don’t really understand the surprise. Apple has spent many years and a lot of money building their brand, one of the strongest brands in the world. A brand that offers beautifully designed, simple to use devices that deliver an incredible user experience … at a premium price. You can add to that products that last, thus providing value for dollar. I had my last iMac for eight years; granted, it was pretty slow by the end, but find me a PC that old and lets compare.

Had Apple followed the expectations of the investment community and launched a cheap iPhone, they would have destroyed their own brand. Suddenly, the conversation would shift away from “do I want pay for an iPhone or settle for something not quite as cool/beautiful that I can get a deal on?” to “which device can I get for less?” The brand would have started down the road toward commoditization.

Look what happened to Krispy Kreme in Canada when they started offering packaged doughnuts in gas stations. Their brand was built around the experience of getting a fresh, hot doughnut as opposed to one that had been sitting on the counter for hours. Or Starbucks when they expanded too quickly and started replacing baristas with machines. They killed the experience and nearly their brand – thankfully, for this brand fan, they pulled up in time.

There are hundred of other stories of brands that abandoned their core value to chase a market. Most end the same way: short-term gain that leads to the ultimate demise of a previously strong brand. Apple, wisely, dodged that future last week and held firm to their strategy. For a great explanation of what they did do in launching the iPhone 5C, have a read of this Daring Fireball blog post by John Gruber.

I think the biggest risk right now to Apple’s brand (other than our inability to re-animate Steve Jobs) is that they are publicly traded and the pressure that puts on delivering short-term results at the expense of building long-term value. I am not an expert on what it takes to succeed in places like China and India. I don’t know what Apple will need to do to build market share there, but I’m glad they were smart enough not to compromise their brand to do it (this time).

But I don’t think anyone should be surprised or disappointed by what they saw last week.


Being invisible is the key to good design

Good user design is about getting out of the way and letting people interact with each other. I think this is the key to good digital marketing with when we create a community interface.

I recently read an article about design sensibilities a Facebook in Fast Company. In it, Chris Cox, VP of product said, ” we don’t want people to remember their interactions with Facebook, we want them to remember their interactions with their friends and family.”

This makes so much sense to me. I love it.

My favourite marketing play this Christmas

Every Christmas one of the toys I get my kids impresses the marketer in me in one way or another. This year it was a new game for the Wii: Skylanders, created by Activision. I hadn’t even heard of this one before the holidays, it’s the experience that impressed me.

With most games you buy the disc, maybe there’s an attempt at an online community or web component, perhaps some merch if it gets really popular, but for the most part the company makes its money on the sale of the disc and that’s it. This one is different. The game comes with three little plastic figures. You place a figure on the “portal” and that is the character you play. Right away, it becomes more than a video game, it becomes tactile. That in itself is brilliant, and the hook. It’s also similar to what made the Wii popular to begin with. What they do with the hook is pure genius.

There are dozens of characters. Each with different abilities and powers that are needed to unlock certain parts of the game. How do you get access to these other characters? You buy them for $8 to $12 each. You could play the whole game with just the three characters you get with it, but you would miss more than half of the secret areas-which are not so secret that you don’t know you are missing them.

If you bought all the characters, I’d venture you would spend another $300 on top of the $70 you spent on the game.

I love it, what a brilliant play. And the games not bad either.

Book review: Digital Impact, The Two Secrets of Online Marketing Success

Finished! That’s book number one down in my 12-month challenge. I really enjoyed Digital Impact. I was a little worried when I saw the cover – a little too 1980s sci-fi, but inside was true gold. My biggest takeaway is still the subject of my last post, the assertion that fishing (attraction) is a more important strategy for today’s marketer than hunting (targeting). Beyond that, though, the book is really well structured and easy to read.

The two secrets are implementing good performance metrics and spending the time to create really compelling content (Magnetic Content). Those might not seem earth-shattering, but Mayar and Ramsey do a great job of breaking their ideas down into digestible, actionable chunks with solid examples.

For example, they propose a total of seven metrics and group them into exposure metrics (is your content getting noticed?), strategic metrics (is your content moving the needle on your goals), and financial metrics (is your content making you any money?). Through subsequent chapters they they explore six key digital channels and recommend the best metrics from each category for each channel. It’s simple and easily implemented. By easy, I mean understandable. They make it clear that doing it right takes time and money, but I feel confident I can take these channels on with a little trial and error.

Those looking for the quick and simple DIY model of digital marketing may be disappointed. Their approach, done right, is not something you could implement overnight. But, if you are looking for an easy to read, practical book that can apply to any business, Digital Impact is the one you want. It covers all the big channels, how to create great content for each and how to measure the impact of what you create.

So, that’s one book down and 11 to go. Up next: Six Pixels of Separation, by Mitch Joel. A long over due read.

Marketers need worms, not bullets

As I make my way through Digital Impact, by Vipin Mayar and Geoff Ramsey – as part of my journey through 12 marketing books in 12 month – one of the first concepts that struck me was the need to be a fisher not a hunter as a marketer today.

Hunting, they assert, involves “tracking and targeting your prey (the consumer) and then shooting them with your ammo (ad messaging).” Fishing, on the other hand is all about attracting the consumer with the right bait. That bait, of course, is the content you put out through various channels. The better your bait, the better your catch.

Any fisher (the real kind, not the metaphorical) will also tell you fishing also requires patience. You need to continue to put out quality content until it lures the fish.

Fishing alone won’t feed most companies, though. Mayar and Ramsey point out later in the book that the best content undiscovered will not bring in customers. So, you have be a bit of a hunter, too; to target your prey with ad messaging to let them know where your bait can be found.

So, what are your weekend plans? Hunting, fishing, or sitting on the dock with a beer?

A marketing book a month; what’s your recommendation?

So, I have decided to make the onset of summer a time to embark upon a 12-month journey towards becoming a better marketer. My chosen method of learning: books. More specifically, I plan to read a marketing/business book a month for the next 12 months and see what I can glean and apply from each, and share some of my thoughts on each here, spurred on by the fact that the list of titles on my wish list is growing and I never seem to have time to read them.

I now a book isn’t exactly a strange place to look for ideas, but it’s important not to overlook the obvious. And I know a book a month isn’t a huge accomplishment, but I’ve never been a speed reader – I like to take my time and float through a book – and I have to allow for the usual interruptions.

The first book on my list is Digital Impact: The Two Secrets to Online Marketing Success, by Vipin Mayar and Geoff Ramsey. Why this one? A few reasons, actually. I heard a great interview with Geoff Ramsey by Mitch Joel on Six Pixels of Separation; my company is going through a rebranding and we will be remaking our online presence; and I like that there are only two secrets. Two’s not too big. I can manage two.

I have a list of a half-dozen others that will be on my list over the course of the next 12 months; Six Pixels of Separation; Trust Agents; Flip the Funnel (I know it’s sad how many of these I haven’t read). I’m open to suggestions, too, so please post yours in the comments section.

I’d also really like to hear what you think about the books I’m reading and posting about. Maybe we can get a little MBA-type banter going and all learn a little something beyond what’s found in the pages of the books.

So, here goes. I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on Digital Impact as I make my way through it.

Will Facebook cost you more in insurance premiums?

We’ve all heard the warnings about sharing personal information and read the criticism of Facebook’s blatant disregard for personal privacy in the name of ad revenue. Now, it appears, that the use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter may hit us directly in the pocket book.

Insurance companies in the UK are making noise about increasing home insurance rates for those who use social media.

According to the operators of a UK price insurance comparison website,, users of social media sites could could face home insurance hikes as high as 10 percent.

In a recent article in Thompson’s World Insurance News, they cite recent burglaries in the US where the culprits used references to vacations and the use of location-based services on Facebook and Twitter to target homes for burglary.

The article also said that criminals are also using tools like Google Earth to plan burglaries from the comfort of their homes, or the local Starbucks.

I can see the logic from an actuary’s point of view, if I use these services I am more likely to share information that will lead to a burglary than someone who doesn’t. But with the proliferation of sites like Facebook and Twitter, it seems unlikely that insurance companies will be able to target those who use the services because … who doesn’t, or won’t in a couple of years? What it may mean is higher rates across the board, and more so in areas with greater internet penetration.

It seems to me that the real penalty should be on those who lack common sense; those who choose to share intimate details of their lives without paying attention to who can read them. But, because common sense is hard to measure in a questionnaire and insurance is based on pooling risk, it looks like we will all pay for the folly of the few (or the many?).

Thanks for the Tweets, Eddie; or how Twitter saved my wardrobe

I don’t know if Twitter will ever be an effective tool for marketing, but there seem to be more and more companies that are figuring out how to leverage this channel to enhance their customer service. I suppose you could argue that good customer service is good marketing, but I’m not going to go down that road today.

I recently had a great experience with retailer Eddie Bauer on Twitter. I received and email about a big sale and decided to head over to my local store to check out the deals. The store, though, told me they had a sale the week before, but it was over and they didn’t know what this email was about. Frustrated at having blown my lunch for naught, I tweeted my disappointment just to see what would happen.

What happened was that I got a reply tweet asking for more details of my problem from Paola via @eddiebauer. After a quick exchange, she assured me that it would be sorted out and someone would call me (I provided my number through the Direct Mail function, of which I had previously been unaware).

The next morning I got a call from Jocelyn, the district manager for my area. After some phone tag she explained the sale was over in Canada, but she would try to hunt down the items I wanted. I sent her a list and she found half of them and had them shipped to my local store, honoured the sale price with an additional 30% off for my trouble. All this from a tweet.

I doubt that I would have taken the time to call anyone about this. I probably would have just gotten angry and not gone back to the store. But, because it was so easy to use Twitter, and because Eddie Bauer is monitoring that channel, my bad experience turned into a great one. How many opportunities like this arise for all companies? How many of those opportunities are lost because no one is monitoring the channel, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or blogs.  These services are giving companies a chance to listen to conversations and rants that would otherwise only come out at the pub, or over dinner with friends. You’d have to be crazy not to take advantage, right?

I know I’ll be using this example as I continue to nudge my cautious employer toward social media dominance of our industry. For other case studies, I recommend Tod Maffin’s website, he’s got some great examples.

Now all EB has to do is fix the way they email Canadians sale information from the US. Are the email marketers listening as closely as the customer service folks?

Lost in the supermarket

I was wandering the aisles of my local Metro grocery store the other day when I stumbled upon a peculiar-looking machine. At first I thought it was a price checker like the ones you find in department stores, or a product locator like the ones in a Chapters book store – both would be good ideas for the grocery store.

This was something different, though. When I scanned an item in my cart I was presented with variety of menu options that included that ingredient. For kicks, I chose one and hit “print”. What I got was a smallish print out of the recipe and a list of ingredients The printout itself was a little disappointing. A bigger page with a couple colour pictures would have been nice, but it got me thinking about the possibilities.

In addition to the price checker and item finder I mentioned earlier, what if the machine let me browse the sale items by category, or choose the best items based on other criteria. For example, I could search ketchups by lowest fat content, or cereals by highest fibre, or any other criteria.

Even before I got to the store – and while I was still considering which of the six grocery stores in my area to shop at – maybe their website has a weekly menu form that I could fill out and get a list of necessary ingredients so I can go to the store prepared. And it cross-references the ingredients list against sale items to show me deals and estimate my purchase price. Or against my “low-fat” criteria. The options are endless.

Maybe I could get updates on my phone of sale items as I browse the aisles. The possibilities are endless.

Mick Jones of the Clash was warning us against this kind of consumerism in the song this post was named for, but I, for one, welcome the chance to be a little less lost in my supermarket so “I can shop happily.”

Where do you see the future of shopping – in a supermarket or anywhere – taking us?