Low cost iPhone changes perception of Apple

If, as is being widely reported, Apple launches a low cost iPhone and an update of the iPhone 5, rather than regaining leadership in the segment, it spells the end of the company that Steve Jobs grew from almost bankruptcy in to a technology leviathan. The company that was once a leader in innovating technology, feared by its competitors for the unbending loyalty of its customers and as a company that consumers aspired to own will have gone full circle – and be competing in a commodity market – where price is more of a differentiator than the product itself.

I’ve written about my concerns about Apple’s marketing in recent years. It has gone from being industry leading to being sugary-sweet, self-congratulatory, contrived and a parody of itself – and competitors, most recently Google – have taken delight in poking fun at the company.  This is a slippery slope – just ask BlackBerry.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company lost sight of what its loyal customers wanted and, as a result, lost many of them. It failed to innovate and the result is clear to anybody who has been following the fate of the company formally known as Research in Motion.  Without an insanely awesome announcement that changes the smartphone industry Apple runs the risk of befalling the same fate as its Canadian rival.

Apple needs to announce a $1000 iPhone, not a cheap handset for the masses in order to regain its market competitiveness and reestablish itself as an aspirational brand.  It runs the risk of becoming the Burberry of the mobile phone industry!

You can read more on some of these topics here: thinkdifferently.ca/differently/tag/apple/‎

Do you agree?  What’s your take on Apple’s latest announcements?  I’d love to hear your views in the comments section below.

KitKat 4.4 – The Best Apple Parody. Ever.

Google announced the name of the next generation of its Android OS yesterday – KitKat 4.4.  Dubbed ‘The Future of Confectionery” Google had some fun, which chocolate bar-maker Nestle fully embraced.

One of my favourite parts of the launch is this – a parody of Apple’s design videos.  It’s not too throw-away, or cringe-worthy; it’s short, and also communicates a very clear message in a fun way.  It also pokes fun at Apple who have, in my opinion, become slightly too self-celebratory and cliched in an attempt to cover the fact that there’s been a lot less ‘insanely awesome’ to Apple’s recent product announcements by over-intellectualizing the process.

KitKat 4.4.  Take a closer look
Take a closer look

Take a closer look here http://kitkat.com/#/acloserlook and let me know what you think in the comments below.  Have you ever poked fun at a competitor while trying to promote your startup?

Designed by Apple in California

Apple’s once legendary marketing has taken on a new look recently.  It’s cluttered. Wordy. Complicated.  This is not a good thing.

Designed by Apple in California
This is it… more evidence that Apple’s marketing and PR team is losing it!

Once the envy of product marketers around the world Apple’s team – both internal and external – appears to have lost their midas touch.  I’ve seen the company’s ‘Designed By Apple in California’ TV spots and winced at the sugary, self-congratulatory tone of the commentary.  As a self-confessed Apple fanboy [I own an original iPad, a Macbook Air and a Macbook Pro Retina] I’ve felt uncomfortable with the company’s design videos where Jonny Ive attempts to over-intellectualize the fact that the phone design hasn’t changed much – the company claims that they ‘now measure the variances from product  to product [they] now measure in microns’ – for those that aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a unit of measurement that is 1×10−6 of a metre or one-millionth of a metre, or one-thousandth of a millimetre.

Then I opened a recent copy of Wired and saw one of Apple’s iPad print adverts – and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It’s an advert that falls in to all of the bad practices that the company’s competition has continued to make for years. It’s everything Apple’s competitors have been doing for years. Not running adverts like this was what set the brand apart.

The advert in Wired has 16 lines of copy, which, I admit, I couldn’t be bothered to read in full until I started writing this post.  The example, above, taken from the Apple website, for the iPhone has 28 lines of copy.  28 lines of copy?! On an advert.  Adverts talk about their passion for producing users’ experience, about focusing on a few great things and about how ‘Designed by Apple in California’ is its signature.

I can’t stand the latest campaign – it’s not an advert that Apple runs!  What happened to, ‘The iPhone you’ve been waiting for’ or ‘This Changes Everything. Again.’ or ‘Get the web delivered. Like you never have before.’ adverts?  ‘Designed by Apple in California’ would be enough to deliver the message – nothing of value is added by 16 or 28 lines of copy! I doubt anybody reads them anyway!

We’ll have to wait until September 10 to see what direction the iPhone is heading, but on the evidence of its current advertising campaign Apple’s signature marketing is heading in the wrong direction!  As product failures of a long list of companies – from $BBRY’s BlackBerry 10 and $MSFT’s Windows 8 – illustrate a good product can fail because of bad marketing and PR.

For Apple this latest change of marketing direction could prove to be disaster. What do you think to the company’s departure from its enigmatic minimalist adverts? Is less more?

PR is about values! [Why Your Value Proposition Matters]

‘What’s your value proposition?’

It’s a question I ask almost every entrepreneur I meet.  I’m always surprised how few can articulate it well.  Some look at me with confusion.  I rephrase the question. “What problem are you solving for your target audience?” Again, I get way too many blank faces or, “I’m building an app/software that does X or Y”.

I want to respond with, “So What?”.  I rarely do, but perhaps I should do it more often because it’s the question that almost everybody that you meet as an entrepreneur wants to know the answer to.  Why should they care? Your value proposition is key to answering the ‘so what?’ question because it explains in a few short sentences why they should care; why they will want to purchase your product or service, or why they would want to invest in you.

Without a clearly defined value proposition it’s difficult to create a strong, valid, set of messages that form the basis of every good pitch deck, investor proposal, PR and marketing campaign and, most importantly, sales collateral.  Without these a business struggles to acquire early adopters, customers and investors.

And, without those a business struggles to survive.  So, what’s your value proposition?

A&F “plus size” comments are simply brand positioning

A lot has been made in the media recently about comments reportedly made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries about plus size women’s clothing.  Aside from the fact that Jeffries doesn’t appear to have said anything specifically about plus-size clothes [I can find no evidence for him specifically using the words claimed and most stories appear to have come from an interview Retail Analyst and author Robin Lewis gave to Business Insider, and the fact that the interview being used by many media outlets to support their story was in a 2006 edition of Salon magazine, the companies focus on ‘the thin and beautiful’ appears to be little more than brand positioning.

Sure, Jeffries position on the type of customers he wants in store might be offensive and misplaced.  They might, ultimately, be bad for the company image as they transition to a high-end luxury brand targeting a wider demographic than their current customer base, but in reality, they are simply a brand positioning exercise – and marketers could do worse than follow Abercrombie’s example.

Abercrombie & Fitch brand positioning
Abercrombie & Fitch knows its customer demographic

Why? Because Jeffries clearly knows who his customers are – the so-called ‘thin and the beautiful’ – and his comments [albeit not those he’s accused by many of making] simply reinforce the company’s brand values [thin, and ‘beautiful’] to his target audience to those that already buy his clothes, and those that aspire to shop there – people who believe they are ‘thin and beautiful’.

You can argue his mis-guided definition of beautiful – I’m not suggesting Jeffries is accurate – but A&F’s is on display in every piece of marketing the company does.  As socially unacceptable as his comments might be he isn’t worried about upsetting the wider mass market, because they’re not likely to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch.  It’s actually smart brand positioning.

Other brands do exactly the same thing as A&F – just more subtly.  Ferrari produces $250,000 vehicles that it knows its core customer base will buy.  It does not make a $30k subcompact or a station wagon [OK, so it made one for the Sultan of Brunei]. Nor do you ever hear people complaining because they don’t make a car for the mass market.  Apple’s  core business for many years was high-end, high-priced personal computers for the semi- and professional customer… the list goes on.  Their brand positioning and marketing are also highly targeted to the people that buy its products and those that aspire to own them.

Mike Jeffries comments from 2006 are also a welcome reinforcement that in the era of the real-time internet, everything you say can be easily found and be revisited at any time and used against you.  This might cause the company problems if, as reports suggest, it has a plan to transition to a broader high-end luxury fashion brand with a broader potential customer base but, if he’s as skilled a brand manager as he appears, it’s unlikely.

Public Relations is long-term, not just real-time

DISCLOSURE: Ford Motor Company Canada provided me with a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid to drive from Toronto to SXSW, in Austin, TX, and back. I covered all additional costs including gas. Since my return I have also driven two other vehicles from the company – a CMAX and a Focus Plug-in Hybrid.

In return, Ford has not asked for anything. They have not asked me to write anything or that anything I choose to write be favourable. Nobody has seen or asked for editorial oversight prior to publication.

This post has been almost ready to publish on more than a few occasions, but each time I’ve read it one last time and thought it could be improved. I think it’s a more interesting piece as a result.

“When can I expect coverage” is the question I’ve been most often asked by clients during my public relations career. They’d done an interview and the focus has then switched to when the article or news piece will get published. Over the years it’s become a bigger issue: the real-time internet has grown and publications have switched to online-first and this has driven the the requirement for instant gratification.

Almost eight weeks ago Ford Canada kindly agreed to lend me one of their Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicles to drive from Toronto to SXSW, in Austin Texas, and back again. In total, I drove more than 7500km in the car and, as I’ve worked on this post in its various iterations, how often do you think they’ve asked me when something was going to be written about my trip? Not once. Never. Zilch.

If I’m honest, they’d have been perfectly justified in asking. They gave me a vehicle, worth more than CAD 30,000, for a week. They could, justifiably, be keen to see some kind of return for their investment. And yet…

The initial focus of my post was going to be on the car. I’ve never been a fan of hybrid vehicles and wanted to see how the Fusion worked. As a bootstrapping entrepreneur I wondered whether a hybrid could deliver significant additional value for people like me. I’ve not actually counted, but I think I went to the gas station seven or eight times during the whole trip – that’s about once every 1000kms, which – compared to the other cars I’ve driven, is pretty impressive.

I recorded more than 200 videos during the trip and, if you’re really interested, this video – as I drove back in to Toronto on March 14th – tells you everything you need to know. Would I spend my own money on the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid?

But, as time has gone by what I thought about the car has become less important.  I started with lofty, an unrealistic, ambitions of creating some kind of Top Gear challenge video, but with only a few days between finding out I could have a car and the trip, and a business to run, I wasn’t properly prepared. I had also hoped to tweet as I drove down the backbone of the US but driving 3000km in three days leaves very little time for tweeting or blogging. I could blame Ford – they hadn’t created a tweeting car – but that’s not accurate. OK, so they’ve not actually built a tweeting car, but they’ve created a vehicle that, had I had a cellular data package for the US and one of the voice to tweet apps on my handset, the car could have tweeted. Location, gas economy, temperature, photographs… it’s going to happen.

Earlier in the year I was invited by Ford to attend the company’s digital summit, held alongside the North American International Auto Show and got my first insight of how it is approaching public relations and is using social communications, bloggers and influencers. I spoke with the Ford’s Head of Global Social Media, Scott Monty and I was impressed, but it’s easy to present an image over a short period of time when you know people are watching – isn’t that what public relations is all about, after all? It’s delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time, in the right way… it’s all about perception, right?

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I questioned Ford’s commitment to its community-building PR and marketing strategy – just that, having worked in PR for so many years and helped companies to create the right perceptions, it’s not always easy to maintain the standards you set when the focus isn’t on you. It’s all too easy to forget one of the key, but often forgotten, parts of public relations – the creation of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and an audience [technically described as a public].

It’s far easier to focus on the short-term “when can I expect the coverage” than it is to build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship, but if I had any doubt that FORD gets it the last few weeks have answered them. Their tagline says Go Further – and FORD’s PR and social strategy is focused on the journey – building long-term relationships with its stakeholders – not just the destination.  More businesses need to understand this.

Was the #BlackBerry10 launch was a success or a failure?

Sadly, after a long wait, it was an unmitigated failure.  RIM… sorry, BlackBerry, needed something a little special as it launched the product that it believes will see it through the next decade – but what we got was more of the same.  While we won’t know for sure what impact the launch of #BlackBerry10 will have on sales – my prediction is that it won’t be positive – here are some specifics about why the launch was a car crash for RIM.

It started late.  The event was scheduled for a 10am ET start, but didn’t get going until 10.15.  The video stream started at 10, but it was a series of interviews with the product development team and a haircut for Kevin Michaluk – otherwise known as Crackberry Kevin.

It was preluded by somebody having their ponytail cut off!  I’ve done a few product launches in my time – and I’ve studied more than I can count – but it’s the first I’ve see where the main event involve somebody getting a hair cut!  I’m guessing it will also be the last one I see.

It was presented by Thorsten Heins.  It shouldn’t have been.  Given the company announced Alicia Keys as Global Creative Director why not make the announcement  before the main product announcements and have Ms. Keys do the launch?

It was held on the wrong date.  Given the company has invested in an expensive Superbowl advert why hold the launch four days before?  Especially when the US marketing effort doesn’t start until Sunday.  BlackBerry should have held the event on Monday February 4th.

It was two-speed.  Pedestrian and clunky presentation on stage, interspersed with high tempo video promos – there was no rhythm to the launch.

The products rose from the stage on a music stand.  What was that all about?  They’re pocket-sized… could Thorsten not have taken them out of his pocket?  What was the music stand all about?

The livestream was a tight one shot. Which meant those not at the event missed what was on the screen behind.

The demos were too long and tried to show too many things.  You also felt like you were eavesdropping on a private conversation between Thorsten and Vivek Bhardwaj.

The response in the room at the New York City launch was muted.  BlackBerry clearly underestimated the lack of enthusiasm they’d get from attendees.  They should have called Rent-A-Crowd in order to ensure a rapturous welcome for each announcement at the BlackBerry10 launch event.

No carrier support.  There were a few carrier contributions in the preamble, but none on stage to support the launch.  With US Carriers being critical to a BlackBerry revival, their absence was worrying.

No app developer support.  They may not have been asked, but if they weren’t… why not?!

No hint at the marketing effort.  RIM has invested in a commercial advert for this weekend’s Superbowl, but there was no hint of what we might expect.  This was the perfect opportunity to get people buzzing about the spot BlackBerry will run.  The marketing, according to reports, starts on Sunday – FOUR DAYS after the official #BlackBerry10 launch.

Alicia Keys.  The way they built it up, I expected to hear that BlackBerry had poached Jonny Ive… or persuaded somebody like Norman Foster or James Dyson to come on board to help their product design efforts as Global Creative Director.  Aside from the why… why announce it at the end?  Why not have Ms. Keys do the presentation – she knows how to command an audience and there would have been hundreds of press images of her with the new devices.  Sure, there were some taken after the event, but she didn’t touch one of the handsets during the launch.  A huge mistake.

Keep Moving.  Less than 30 seconds was spent on this.  It sounded interesting and, presumably, will be a large part of the company’s marketing efforts.  Why not at least show a preview or name some of the athletes involved.  Could this be the Superbowl spot?  [I had to Google ‘BB10 Keep Moving’ to find the video]

It just kind of fizzled out.  There was no summary that told viewers they’d reached the end of the launch.  The screen on the webcast just faded to black [or blue].

Based on the #BlackBerry10 launch, if the company avoids oblivion it’ll be more luck than judgement.


What BlackBerry needs to demonstrate today

Today is #BlackBerry10 day! We’ve waited a long time for it.  I’ve been pretty pessimistic about RIM’s chances of turning things around over the last year. BlackBerry claims its new operating system is ‘Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented’ so today I wanted to write about what I’m hoping to see at the launch today.

Without them there’s no chance RIM will be Re-serected.

Passion.  It’s the foundation of every great brand and I’m hoping that today RIM starts re-building an emotional relationship with both existing and potential new customers. A straight product introduction won’t cut it for RIM this time.

Some ‘Holy Sh!t’ moments. Steve Jobs was famous for them, and RIM needs to deliver a few at today’s launch presentation. RIM needs to disrupt the market and without any moments it’ll be fighting an uphill battle to make BlackBerry 10 a success.

Renewed Focus.  I wrote last year that one of the biggest missteps by RIM was that it lost sight of its customers. Having built an established Enterprise following RIM chased the iPhone crowd – and has been on a losing trajectory ever since.  BlackBerry10 will have 6 products in 2013 – and each one needs to be targeted at a specific user demographic group.

A killer strategic and tactical marketing plan.  RIM’s marketing has been woeful for longer than I care to remember – and that needs to have been fixed. The company has invested in its first Superbowl commercial to support the launch of BlackBerry10. It’s got to be good. The company also needs 7 tactical plans – one for rebuilding the corporate brand profile and one each for its six new BlackBerry10 products launching in 2013.

If RIM still hasn’t fixed its marketing problems it’ll be the marketing, not the technology, that kills BlackBerry10!

Carriers. In order to make BlackBerry10 a success RIM needs to have major carriers willing to take its new handsets from day 1 – a strong turnout of support at the launch would certainly settle investors nerves. Without them, BlackBerry10 could be dead on arrival. If reports I’m reading about a story in today’s Wall Street Journal later today are to be believed… RIM could be in trouble.

Something ‘cool’. And I’m talking subzero cool. While the reviews and leaks of the new BlackBerry Z10 handset and OS look good, if RIM wants to persuade former BlackBerry customers to return to the fold – let alone persuade dyed-in-the-wool iPhone and Android users BlackBerry10 will need something cool. And, I’m talking Samuel L Jackson cool!

RIM is streaming the long-awaited launch via its newsroom page which starts at 10am ET/7PT/3pm UK

Does #newamerican reinforce old stereotypes of Americans?

On January 17th American Airlines launched it’s new livery and brand identity.  #newamerican replaces the classic theme the company has used for the last 42 years and also includes a revision of the classic American eagle that has adorned its ‘silver birds’ since 1967.  Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the outgoing livery has described the new logo and livery as ‘having no permanence’ and the reaction from social media commentators has been mixed.

Personally, I think it’s a mess.  The tail fin design is unrefined, the font used for the American letter is plain – the company has moved away from the Helvetica Neue Bold it’s used for the last four decades] and the fact it wraps over the window line just doesn’t look good.  I thought it was a mess from day one, but wanted to take some time to live with it rather than rushing to judgement.  Having done that I still think it’s a little gawdy and I can’t  help feeling it reinforces many of the negative stereotypes that  many people from around the world associated with America – a little too loud, a little unrefined, and flag-waving at every opportunity – often a bit inappropriately.   The new logo resembles a pair of 80s 3D TV glasses more than an evolution of the American eagle.  What do you think?

I’ve also been having an interesting conversation with a few friends [@JennaLee, @JoeyJOH, @WirelessWench, @Amoyal and @MsMobileConverg on Twitter and we’re planning a Google Hangout to talk about the challenge faced by companies looking to re-brand – especially when their existing colours are such an intricate part of the fabric of the organization.