Is Sergey Brin the new Steve Jobs?

This post may focus on hardware, but the implications for anyone designing a product are pretty abundant. If you can design a product with appeal that overcomes reason, you’ll always do better than one with better features:

Remember when we all used to salivate at the thought of the next Apple convention? What did Steve have up his sleeve? What amazing piece of kit would he reveal that would have us all ignoring Apple’s rather large price premium and just slap down our cash to have a slice of that amazing Apple cool? Year after year, product after product they seemed to do it – iPod (multiple versions); iPhone (fewer versions); Macbook Air; iPad… the list was amazing and made even Mac-sceptics like me feel the urge to just get me one.

What Apple Did Well

There wasn’t much secret to it, in true Apple style it was simple, they just made fantastic products that worked in perfect harmony with each other backed up by a beautiful OS. The trick is that it’s really hard to do well. Google (with Android) for all of its dominance was far too fragmented to match Apple in that compelling human way. Its OEMs were far too focused on that bane of the OEM – features. Bigger screen this, faster processor that, brighter, more colourful etc etc etc. People bought these things certainly, but deep down really they just wanted an Apple because their devices worked better.

But something has changed… at least that’s how it seems for me. Less than a year or so on from the untimely loss of Steve Jobs, Apple has continued to release fabulous products – Jobs made certain there was a few years worth in the pipeline – but something is different. As I see it, they’ve taken to marketing them in a really misguided way. Apple has now fallen into the features trap, it seemed to start with the “New iPad” with fab new screen but not much else to speak of, and has continued with the recent launch of the new Macbook with Retina Display. Don’t get me wrong, both are excellent devices; powerful, beautiful and functional. Fanboys and tech geeks adore them and there’s no shortage of evidence of sales, but it’s a dangerous road that Apple has taken themselves down.

The Features Folly

Why should this be a problem? When you play the features game you get yourself into a margin-destroying arms race, and whilst Apple is king right now, this advantage can be very quickly chipped away by hungry and capable competitors like Samsung who have already taken top place in Mobile sales, have blitzed iPhone in terms of performance, and can’t be far away in terms of desirability. Likewise HTC are doing a reasonable job of a come back with the HTC One. Previously Apple traded on its desirability and the “lifestyle” aspects of the brand to retain dominance, but now Apple has decided to play the feature game, how long will this residual goodwill last (especially when brands like HTC roll out campaigns like this for the HTC One). I’m not saying that Apple won’t see a spike in awareness and sales whenever they release a new product, this is natural. But the longer they play the feature game, the shorter those periods will last. The inevitable grind of the product cycle demands this; the market for smartphones has now caught up with Apple, it’s only a matter of time before the same happens in other categories.

The Benefits of… umm… Benefits

Which brings us back to the subject… what is the opposite of the feature game? In marketing terms it’s the “Benefit” game… and we’ve just had a Jobs-like demonstration of this from Google with their Glass. In one self-deprecating swoop, Sergey Brin and his tech guys and assorted extreme sports buddies at Google have just laid siege to Apple. Sure their Nexus tablet may not knock the iPad off, but with Glass, Google have done what iPad did, created a market, showed everyone in a real and highly compelling way the benefits of Glass (and mind-bending Hangouts are just one potential of the device) and induced the I WANT ONE factor at a level not seen since people twigged to the iPad. True it’s not everyday you get to demo a product like Glass, but the principles are the same – show people how their lives can be better using the product rather than getting all fetishist about the product itself.
This won’t happen overnight. Jobs did remarkable work and has build a generations-worth of product goodwill, so Apple may hold out for a long time to come, but if Google have really figured out what made Apple so desirable, then it’s just a matter of time before things get really interesting.

Do tech companies (and people) misunderstand advertising?

Firstly, let me apologise for writing yet another post that mentions Facebook; I promise, this will not become a Facebook-focused blog. In my defence though, there’s an awful lot happening with it as a business and much of it is incredibly interesting for new age marketers – ie. app developers. So on that note…

There’s been a lot of ink (both real and virtual) expended in recent weeks analysing the current and future performance of Facebook, and putting aside its rollercoaster IPO, much of that ink has been devoted to the performance of Facebook in the advertising realm. A quick whip around the news sees stories about: declining revenues; inability to get mobile right; the loss of GM’s business just prior to the IPO; and of course comparisons with business like Google who did get their advertising model right prior to IPO. Most, if not all the analysis warns that Facebook hasn’t got their advertising model right and that with its weakness in mobile it’s falling further behind. Firstly, this is fairly obvious, but as the actions of GM show, some marketers, some commentators, and perhaps even Facebook itself, seem to have a misunderstanding about how advertisers can make best use of Facebook’s facilities – the key here is considering how users interact with Facebook.

Continue reading Do tech companies (and people) misunderstand advertising?

Facebook launches its app store

It’s definitely a fascinating development.

For app developers the opportunity to be hosted on a market designed to put the universe of apps out to 1/6 of the world’s population is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. Get it right and you stand to own the world, get it wrong and you’ll be buried by everyone else with the same thought – a needle in a haystack-sized pile of needles.

Yes you do need to market your apps! A Marketer’s Manifesto

As you may have guessed, this blog covers marketing for apps. The title is derived from the first common mistake of app developers – expecting your app to “go viral” is not a marketing strategy. If your app does go viral and you make a billion dollars then good luck to you, you probably don’t need to read this blog. That is unless you’re a potential investor in other apps, in which case you do need to read this blog because marketing apps is going to become the biggest single challenge for app developers in the future. So just to be safe, everyone with any involvement in apps should read this blog.

Continue reading Yes you do need to market your apps! A Marketer’s Manifesto