Are Facebook and Twitter the virtual Starbucks?

Look at any major retail area and you’ll find a Starbucks somewhere in the mix.  Starbucks was, for some time, such a draw that mall owners would give them incentives to open stores.  After all, with a Starbucks in their complex other retailers would benefit from the people seeking a latte.  Facebook and Twitter are becoming online equivalents.  Imagine you launch a new smart-phone and you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter app?  Well you just wouldn’t.  There aren’t many apps that are essential for smart-phone vendors but access to Facebook and Twitter top the list.  Imagine that Facebook decided only to offer an official version of its app to say Microsoft.  It wouldn’t hurt Apple much right now but it could be the kind of move that could put Microsoft back in to the smart-phone wars.  They wouldn’t do that surely.  But imagine if they did.


Lines for Apple products are another’s opportunity

It seems that whenever Apple intros a new version of the iPhone or the iPad customers are prepared to camp out overnight just to be one of the first to own such a product.  While I drove past the Palo Alto store yesterday and studied the line I couldn’t help but think that these lines were a marketing opportunity for someone.  I could easily see an app vendor creating some stunt that gave the first 100 people in each line a free copy of their app, so that their app instantly became a hit just as the new platform comes out.  I could see consumer brands such as Dr Scholls (the people who make foot care products) creating ‘Apple Line Waiting’ gift bags.  I could see Starbucks offering a ‘mobile (get it?) latte service’ for the people stuck in line.  Right now the only people benefiting from the lines is Apple.  With lines formed in major cities across the world, surely there’s an opportunity for someone to capitalize?  Come on all you creative consumer marketers, get your thinking caps on.


Why Apple can’t launch the Verizon iPhone

As the media speculated about the launch of the iPhone 4 there was a lot of chatter about them also launching a Verizon version of the new phone.  Rationally this was never on the cards for a few simple reasons:

1.  AT&T has really struggled to provide reliable service in two major metros (New York and San Francisco).  If Apple had opened the door to Verizon, customers would have fled from AT&T at an alarming rate.  I’m pretty sure AT&T knows this and will have been negotiating with Apple to keep the exclusive arrangement until its coverage issues are resolved.  According to Mr Jobs that should be by late summer if his answer at D8 is to be believed.

2.  The Verizon version of the phone uses different technology.  One presumes that the engineers at Apple will want to get the version they know working before they introduce an alternative.

3.  Apple actually likes the single supplier deal it has with AT&T.  Apple never went down the clone route because it loves to control as much as it can.  Having multiple carriers isn’t something Apple wants as it gives them more risk.  Apple signed up single carriers in lots of other markets – eg O2 in the UK.  They’d prefer to stay single carrier as long as they can.  Multiple carriers makes life more complicated and unless they need to do it, they won’t.

Don’t get me wrong, at some point Apple will let other carriers in, not many but some. But right now it is no hurry.  It can sell all the iPhones 4s it can build.  Pre-orders on eBay are already going for over $1000.  If they open up now they will simply have two channels they can’t fill.  They are much better waiting ’till the buzz has died down around the 4 and then introducing it on Verizon.  My guess is late this year…


How to make people pay for media

We all consume media on a daily basis.  We love the stuff but we are paying less and less for it as our parents die and we all get our content online.  And as we all know, news online is almost all FREE.  Free isn’t a business model that really works for media.  Good journalism is expensive and tough to support through online advertising.  Rupert Murdoch has responded aggressively to this by putting a charge on many sites such as WSJ.com.  This hasn’t worked too well in part because you can still get to the content through a Google search for free.  He’s threatening to change all that though for the simple reason that they are struggling to make the economics work even with an online subscription model in place.

I have a suggestion for Mr Murdoch and other media moguls.  In the same way that we pay a cable fee in this country and even a TV license in the UK, why not charge a monthly media fee that would enable you to access all the media without having multiple subscriptions.  You’d need an aggregator such as Apple’s iTunes to get in to the mix but I’m pretty convinced that in the same way as people will pay $10 a month for satellite radio, they’d pay $10 a month to access the top 100 publications in the US.  Now there’d be a challenge figuring out which magazine or newspaper got what out of that $10 each month but I’m pretty sure it could be worked out.  It would also enable one player to take over the challenge of managing the online advertising for a host of publications, instead of having a fragmented model as they do today.   It would also mean as a user that you would only need one login.  I’d almost pay $10 a month just for that as I keep forgetting what username and password I have for various online titles.


Does Apple do the best PR?

When Apple announces anything, or even hints at announcing something, the media and blogosphere light up.  Steve Jobs face beams from magazine covers and social networks buzz with inside stories.  Most, if not all, that attention is positive.  Is this great PR at work or simply great products at work?  I’d argue that Apple doesn’t do great PR but because they make great products they don’t need to.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they execute their PR with great professionalism.  Their positioning is as crisp as their product set.  But they don’t do high risk tactics, or even stunts.  They do build excitement and then they deliver products that match that excitement (for the most part).

There are lots of companies that could match Apple at PR.  But to compete with Apple they need a CEO who can sell like Steve and products that are as good as the ones Steve sells.  With those ingredients they could out PR Apple.  Indeed with those ingredients they could wipe the floor with Apple.  Truth be told the media don’t love Apple, nor do many bloggers.  But they do love that Apple keeps turning out great products and keeps saying provocative things.  But if someone really wanted to take them on and had the substance to match them, the media would enjoy taking Apple down.  Then we’d find out how good Apple was at PR.


Is the iPad a PR success?

Apple‘s launch of the iPad has gone very well from a PR perspective.  They got a mammoth amount of press and social media coverage over the weekend, with virtually all the major news outlets covering the excitement around the product.  The excitement has caused a minor crisis in that some analysts got so caught up in the moment that they raised already lofty sales expectations for the opening weekend to silly levels, levels it turns out Apple can’t meet.  That aside there have been no negative stories out there.  Early reviews are good, the machine seems to actually work and therefore there are no stories of users with problems.  All, it seems, is well in iPadland.

Looking behind the launch a little further you can see that Apple did some sensible pre-launch PR including the product placement on Modern Family last week.  They also had some nice touches such as Steve Wozniak and Jobs attending different Apple stores to lend their tech celebrity status to the proceedings.  Lastly the app and content vendors have started to promote the product with announcements of new applications, books etc.  As a measure of the noise level, do a YouTube search on the Apple iPad and you get over 14,000 videos.  Do a Google search on the Apple iPad and you get over 136 million mentions.

We are only days in to the life of the iPad but I think it’s fair to say the PR has been a success and market has been created.  Indeed, while there was nothing really innovative about the iPad PR, you can argue that what they lost on creativity they more than made up for on execution.  Anyone that doesn’t know this product exists, probably never will.  Now it’s up to the iPad to actually sell to the masses and not just the Apple faithful.  That said, the Apple faithful is an awfully big market these days.


Will the iPad be good for the media industry?

Another way to ask this question:  “will Apple’s iPad be bad for the media industry?”  Right now traditional media is struggling.  I’m not referring simply to print media which is getting more and more desperate for ways to stay alive but also broadcast media, as people spend more of their free time online.  The iPad could be a game changer for the media.  Why?  Well, the iPad does two things:

1.  It creates a new platform for the media – early views of the WSJ on the iPad suggest it is a far better product than the current online version.  This in turn suggests the iPad offers, magazine publishers in particular, new ways of presenting their content.  That’s got to be a good thing.

2. The iPad puts media back into the time equation – people currently spend their time online looking at Facebook, YouTube and Google because they like to explore, make connections, learn etc.  But the iPad creates the opportunity for media to be a part of what they find and even look for.  I, like many others these days, like to get news online.  That said, even a laptop isn’t a great substitute for a good magazine or newspaper.  An iPad may well be.  In other words, given we have all become used to spending time with our computers that we would have spent with our TVs, the iPad may start to shift the balance back towards consuming media.  Of course it will only do that if the content is worth us spending that time.

One thing is clear, if the media doesn’t grab opportunities like the iPad and the Kindle by the horns, then its steady demise will only continue.  That would be a sad, sad situation.  One that’s bad for society and of course for the media moguls.  The latter doesn’t bother me so much but the former most definitely does.