Obama is a PR persons dream. Or is he?

Is quality the enemy of marketing?

Marketing execs love product quality for good reason.  A well made product is far easier to promote than one that falls apart in a matter of minutes.  But today’s products are becoming so well made that the need to replace them is moving further into the future.  This latest recession proved the point.  People who would normally replace their cars, computers, appliances etc every few years, didn’t.  Many will have come to realize that the car they are driving doesn’t need replacing.  People are realizing that their existing product will actually last a very long time (thanks to its quality) and so many people  are simply not seeing a need to change or upgrade.  It’s for this reason that many PC makers will have heaved a huge sigh of relief when Windows 7 emerged.  While Windows 7 runs fine on older PCs, it runs much better on newer, more powerful machines.  But there is no Windows 7 for cars, or appliances.  Better gas mileage is a plus but if you have an older Honda, the cost of moving to a newer one far outways the savings on gas.  For car makers like Honda who have a good track record on product quality this creates a problem.  Their customer’s existing product is still working just fine and does 99% of what the new model does.  So how do they convince people to swap?  Indeed, should they even bother?  Of course they have to try and get people to buy their new cars but I wonder how many of the marketing execs wish that the cars on the street were a little less well made?

Why do we want to be entertained?

My wife is convinced I have ADD.  She may have a point in that I struggle to stay focused on anything for longer than 20 minutes and in truth I struggle to read most newspaper articles in their entirety without my mind wandering off.  Part of my problem is that I struggle with content that doesn’t grab my attention and then make a serious attempt to hang on to it.  Like my own blog for instance.  I need content that gets me thinking, makes me laugh, cry etc.  A good book, movie or TV show can do this for millions but what is it about this content that keeps us engaged while other content causes us to head for the coffee maker?  The answer to this question has enormous importance for people in marketing and yet when I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, asked this question to marketers they, like me, have no real answer.  Like me they tend to… well, make something up.

If like me, you decide to look up on the web what keeps people’s attention you will find some pretty weird blog posts that tell you to use the word ‘and’ a lot and to put confetti in your envelopes (I pray that doesn’t happen to me).  Indeed it seems that to holding people’s attention either nobody has written the definitive work, OR the person that has figured it out is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.

And yet, just as we all like to get attention we all love to give our undivided attention to great content.  Just think about the number of times when talking to friends to talk about books, TV shows, movies and concerts you’ve seen, read etc.  It seems we like both the process of being engaged AND the process of reliving that engagement.  When I started work the founders of my company spent hours each week recounting lines from various Monty Python films or shows.  They derived huge satisfaction from this, much more in fact than they did from the actual work as far as I can tell.  That level of engagement is a marketers dream.  Yet I doubt for a second that anyone who had responsibility for the Python franchise knew why people loved their content.  They just knew they did and they made every effort to take advantage of that.

Of course it may be that trying to capture engagement in a bottle and analyze it is a fruitless exercise.  It may be that the ingredients of fun are a secret we shouldn’t learn.  That said, authors, movie makers and comedians do have formulas they use to create successful products.  We all know that these formulas fail from time to time though.  Witness the Bruno movie that repeated the Borat formula.  In other words even the best of us know only parts of the formula.  As a result the secret ingredient that makes an idea work either shows up and turns it in to good work, or takes a vacation and leaves us bored and rather annoyed.

What is clear is that humans love to be entertained and engaged.  We love a book (Kindle) that we can’t put down.  We love a movie that makes us laugh for days afterwards.  I for one have no idea why we crave this in the same way we crave food that is bad for us but we do.  We seek out great content as if it were that food.  Unlike fattening food, however, this content stimulates our brain and gets us thinking.  Sometimes it gets us to think about profound issues, and sometimes it gets us to think about topics so irrelevant we get to escape our daily lives for a few minutes.

In short, therefore, it seems clear to me that the marketer who could figure out some magic formula for grabbing and keeping our attention will make billions.  Until then we will all keep guessing at that formula time and time again.  Sometimes we will succeed and other times we will fail.  But at least we’ll have fun trying!

Call 911, he hasn’t tweeted all day! He must have died.

Like a lot of you I follow a bunch of people on Twitter and some of them are constantly tweeting.  Indeed I had to turn one off today because he was filling my Twitter inbox and I couldn’t see any other tweets.  One of the other people I follow, who normally does a pretty good job of tweeting – say 10 a day (about 9 more a day than I average).  Today this person didn’t tweet.  Not once.  Indeed the absence of his tweets mad me wonder if he was OK.  Now I wasn’t exactly about to call 911 but it did make me realize that Twitter has become a measure of someone’s state of mind etc.  I could easily see that you could develop a tool that analyzed people’s tweets to determine what kind of mood they are in and whether this would be a good or a bad time to call them and ask them for that $100 they owe you, or to buy something from you.  Of course this would only work with the people that tweet in enough volume but that guy I turned off earlier today would be a perfect candidate for such a tool.  So, you prolific tweeters – look out, you may be getting that sales call right when you least expect it and you are unwittingly at your weakest.

Why News Corp has made a mistake

murdo_1457305cNews Corp’s decision to start charging for its web content is in my opinion a mistake.  A huge, can’t believe they really have done this, mistake.  Now I fully appreciate that media content companies are struggling to find a meaningful source of revenue in an online world BUT the move to charge readers in this way is, in my view, a mistake.  The traditional print media world is so different form the online world that applying the same model is flawed.  When you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine you make a lasting commitment for sure.  But your choices are limited.  If you want to get your printed news from a different source one morning you can but it takes effort.  You have to physically go and get it.  The same decision online is a matter of clicks.  Furthermore, news is essentially now free and people don’t want to pay for it.  They can get the basic news from thousands of sources for free so why pay one to deliver it?  What they may pay for is a unique and valued perspective.  BUT that need will change with the content they are viewing. Again, paying for a single day’s perspective in three month cycles or longer isn’t attractive to most people.    Last, thanks to blogs people are becoming more attached to people who create perspective than they are to publications.  Signing up to subscribe to a publication that is online seems to be like renting all the magician’s equipment for your kids birthday party and then finding out that the magician has gone to work elsewhere.

I don’t envy the challenge the media faces here.  It isn’t easy to see a great solution to the revenue challenge other than advertising revenue.  That said the ad revenue model should be something that can be made to work.  Online publications ought to be far more cost effective to produce and thus require less ad revenue to support.  Online publications are also more able to track how users really use their sites by the hour, so they can improve their product far more efficiently.  Indeed when you look at all the advantages online media offers it seems even more sad that News Corp simply defaulted to the old way of charging for media consumption.

All I can write about these days is Apple

https://i1.wp.com/www.gizmag.com/pictures/hero/apple-magic-mouse.jpgUnlike recent posts I want to congratulate Apple for something – namely the launch of the mighty mouse.  It’s a great addition to the product lineup.  It’s a bit of a pain to install and to make use of all of its features requires everything to be updated – including the mouse software for some reason.  Anyway, despite an install that reminded me of what Microsoft products used to be like to install, it is a great product and shows that Apple can reinvent technologies, even peripheral ones.

PS – the Motorola/Verizon/Google Droid officially launched today.  That means we won’t be seeing any more of the teaser ads.  But has anyone really paid attention.  I stopped by Best Buy at lunch today and saw one person playing with the new phone.  Not exactly the mania a new iPhone creates…

Apple stumbles in China?

Thanks to a tweet by Joe Kingsbury I picked up on a news story on Street Insider which claims that in the first four days since the iPhonebroken-iphone went on sale in China a mere 5,000 have been sold.  If that’s true it suggests that Apple’s largest potential market isn’t as in love with the device as western markets.  Now if someone else were to market a smart phone that did become a hit in China, such as Nokia or Motorola, then perhaps Apple would start to feel the pressure in western markets before long.

Enduring brands – do they still exist?

Earlier today I was pondering the fact that someone will inevitably produce a better iPhone.  I have no clue whether that product is the Droid.  I very much doubt it.  But it may be.  At this point in the game Apple holds most of the cards.  It has a well designed product, reasonable customer service and the iPhone links to that wonderfully closed world call iTunes.  Google is trying to do an end run around all that with its own links to music producers and it may well get somewhere.  The Android technology also looks like it will be good enough to keep some Verizon customers who would have shifted to the Apple/ATT world.  But Google has a huge mountain to climb.  The noise level around the iPhone is still huge.  A Google news search shows there are roughly 87,000 news stories about the iPhone versus a little under 10,000 for the Android phone.  The stats on YouTube are even more in the iPhone’s favor with just 11,200 hits for the Android versus 385,000 for the iPhone.  But I expect things to change on that front and change quickly.  I have two reasons for believing this:

1.  Verizon has to throw a lot behind the launch of the Droid and when that happens the US public will know that the Droid is a real competitor to the iPhone.

2.  I think the world is ready for someone to compete with the iPhone.  Innovation on the iPhone seems to have stalled.  I own one and I love it but the 3GS isn’t that much better than the original.  The battery life is still dreadful.

All this makes me wonder whether there really is such a thing as an enduring brand anymore.  Competition is more fierce than ever and the tools for competitors to compete using social media mean that any weakness can be exploited and any opportunity grabbed.

We may well have seen Apple’s peak, or we may have seen another competitor try and fail.  We’ll know all too soon.