Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

Helping Customers is a Smart Strategy

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

With technology in particular, there’s a tendency to get excited about a whiz-bang bit of “breakthrough” or “innovative” or worse “unique” gizmo or piece code that some smart guys in India cooked up for you. Seriously, who cares if something is unique or first if it’s completely useless?

I’m the first to admit that technology is cool, and I can easily get excited about a gadget just because it’s cool. I have many gadget sitting on shelves gathering dust for that very reason. Once the excitement was past, it turned out that the gadget wasn’t all that useful, reliable, or helpful.

In his Convince and Convert blog, Jay Baer makes the point that finding out where customers can use your help can improve your marketing efforts. He advocates implementing your marketing activities in such a way that customers will find some utility in your communication. One example I have is a newsletter we get from a local auto repair shop full of quirky tidbits and useful tips on gardening or cleaning out the attic. My wife actually takes the time to read it, and then gives me the coupon for an oil change.

Applied to technology marketing, helpfulness should be a big part of your strategy. It’s important to remember to always tie your messages back to what your product or service actually does for the customer. Ask the question, how does this help make the customer’s life better in some meaningful way. Ideally, you should be able to make that case that if people fit a certain profile, they will be significantly better off using your product then they were previously, or if they used a competitive product. If you are struggling to understand your audience’s needs, maybe it’s time to do a bit more research and message development.

Tools like ROI calculators that give customers a way to evaluate whether or not your product will help save some money are incredibly valuable. Yet, too often I hear about how hard it is to figure out ROI. These days customers are most interested in saving money so demonstrating how much money your software will save is a great strategy for anything in the B2B world.

On the B2C front, a big part of the iPhone’s success ties back to the huge catalog of apps. While many of them are fluff, a large number are actually helpful. Once people find something to be useful, they tell their friends who in turn run out and buy an iPhone. The real genius in the iPhone isn’t the touch screen, but a friendly UI that lets people discover and use truly helpful apps.

Want a blowout success? Think long and hard about how you can help your customers. What are their pain points and how can you help?

Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Pardon me if I’m a week behind the times but I was out last week. But even being away from my desk for a few days didn’t shield me from the fiasco that Apple has been enduring. For the situation to be referred to as a “Toyota-style PR crisis for Apple sure says a mouthful. By now everyone has heard about the little glitch that the iPhone 4 is suffering from. Even Consumer Reports jumped on the bandwagon and said it couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 after giving it a positive rating initially.

Now let’s take a step back for a minute. Apple has one of the strongest brands in the world. Known for quality and innovative products, the company has always been more user-friendly than just about another other tech company. Yet somehow this killer new product has fallen on hard times (from a PR perspective, sales seem to be holding up for now) due to a technical error with the antenna. In reading the coverage it seems that more people are interested in the PR fiasco than the actual error, probably because Apple has handled the situation so poorly. As my noted colleague discussed, is the hype around the problem bigger than the problem itself? So what does this Fortune 500 company, with one of the strongest brands in the world, do to manage this crisis?

They tell customers to hold the phone differently.

What do users say? Use duct tape Not exactly rocket science here but you get the picture.

What’s most amazing to me, a PR professional that worked at Apple in the 1990’s, is how badly Apple has handled this crisis. Most of the PR experts who have weighed in on this one agree that there are some very basic principles you follow in a crisis situation like this one—acknowledge the problem, ensure consumer trust by saying the issue is being examined and addressed, craft your story and stick to it.

Many PR pros who focus on crisis management have weighed in on how poorly Apple has handled this one:

Instead of addressing the problem and offering to find a solution like Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol tampering in the early 1980s, Apple has come off more like Toyota and BP during their recent reputation-annihilating incidents. “The biggest mistake (Apple) made is they keep changing their story,” said Ira Kalb, professor of marketing at USC Marshall School of Business. CNET

After users reported problems with signal strength and dropped calls when they touched the lower-left portion of the phone, however, Apple suggested that consumers hold the phone differently or use one of many bumpers to insulate the antenna. It also said that all phones suffered from similar problems when they were cradled a certain way. These comments were widely laughed at in gadget blogs. New York Times

To say it isn’t good to be mentioned in the same breath as BP and Toyota would be an understatement.

So my question is…how could Apple have made such a big mistake in how they’ve handled this? And what impact will this have on the Apple brand? Granted, sometimes you can’t control the story the way you’d like to but Apple really blew this one. Apple has had product issues in the past yet as philosopher Edmund Burke said “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Guess Apple didn’t study its own history. Or is Apple getting a little too big and too arrogant for its own good?

So what communication crisis have you had to manage? Any tips for readers out there?

Apple helps HTC build its brand – on Apple’s dime

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Over the years, Apple has done a masterful job of building its brand.  From the epic 1984 commercial that launched the Mac to the cute and effective “I’m a Mac” campaign, Apple just seems to be operating at a different level from everyone else in the tech industry.

Apple fans are everywhere, willing to pony up a significant premium for spendy Apple computers and gadgets. For the perceived design and innovation they overlook considerable product flaws like crummy battery life or Apple’s proprietary, controlling policies. The Apple brand and flashy UIs mean that much for many consumers.

Given the power and advantages afforded by this brand, why on earth is Apple throwing it away because it thinks HTC – and of greater concern, Google’s Android OS – might be stepping on some of the almost laughable patents it secured on gestures?  With Google’s backing, HTC has little to worry about.  But it stands to gain a lot of brand equity.  An obscure Taiwanese maker of smartphones, HTC must be doing something right if Apple is worried. The exposure alone has been worth a mint.

iphone paten

Apple was, somewhat bizarrely, able to get a patent for a swipe as shown from the patent app. Is there an app for that?

Meanwhile, suing little guys doesn’t do the Apple brand much good. Nobody wants to see the hip Mac dude running around slapping lawsuits on people. Doesn’t really fit with the friendly, funny persona. Evil is more like it. Steve Jobs with horns?  I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m pulling for HTC and Google in this one. It’s tough to feel sorry for billionaire bullies.

What I expect from Apple is a way to buy the iPhone on a better network. How about Verzion for starters? How about some different variants of the iPhone? How about cooking up ways to deliver unlimited 4G bandwidth for $10 a month? Apple should keep thinking about the needs of customers and finding ways to help the industry to put our needs first. Lawsuits?  This is not making me happy.

As ex-Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz details in what possibly might be one of the best blog posts of all time, patent wars among tech titans have been going for a long time.  Most of the time, Company A steps on Company B’s IP, but it turns out that Company B is also stepping on Company A’s IP, so they leave each other alone. Nobody wins in a nuclear war.

In this case, Apple might have the upper hand from a patent volume perspective CNN reports. But winning the courtroom battle will be a wan victory if it leaves the Apple brand bludgeoned beyond repair.

ANYWHERE – Still Not Here

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

The other day I was in a Tacos del Mar munching down a burrito and scanning through email on my BlackBerry. An email push from Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagle Green caught my eye. She was hyping her new book called ANYWHERE about the global connectivity revolution.

The email made it sound intriguing so I clicked the “more info” link and instead of jumping to a Web page where I presumably could learn much more about the book and possibly even order up or download a copy, I got an error message that the location I was in couldn’t handle data traffic.

Oh the irony.

Here I am reading about how connectivity will transform our businesses and lives, only to not be able to access it ANYWHERE. Instead I had to access it from somewhere else.

Recently my daughter came up to visit from college on the bus. Being a diligent student, she was working on the bus but was ultimately frustrated by the lack of connectivity and power for her laptop. “Why is that dad?” she wondered. On the University of Oregon campus, there are plenty of power outlets and Wi-Fi signals are strong, plentiful and free.

My colleague Megan, who has a 3G USB modem for her laptop, has a persistent problem on the ride from Portland to Seattle. About 20 minutes outside of the urban centers, connectivity disappears. No connectivity = no productivity.

I definitely share Yankee Group’s enthusiasm for ubiquitous connectivity. I look forward to the day when it becomes reality, and agree with the premise that we should all be preparing for the connected future, especially those of us in the PR and communications field. But the full realization of that vision won’t happen until the following developments are in place:

  • Battery technology takes a significant step forward – at least 2x capacity compared to today’s best in smaller packages
  • High-bandwidth wireless blankets the country, and works reliably in both cities and rural areas
  • The cost of data connectivity drops significantly so everyone can afford a seat at the ANYWHERE table – $40 to $50 per month per device is too much.

Building out a truly reliable, ready-for-prime-time network is not a trivial undertaking.  But it is just as important to our national competitiveness as highways and bridges.  Perhaps more so.  Are we really doing everything we can do to improve on the ANYWHERE experience? I’m thinking not.

Let’s Get Brand Appy

Monday, November 16th, 2009

With the successful launch of the Verizon Droid, the best-selling Android phone to date, app-capable smartphones are well on their way to becoming the standard for

The new Motorola Droid on Verizon.

The new Motorola Droid on Verizon.

cell phones.  The wireless service providers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all seeing big spikes in revenue and profit as consumers sign up for data plans in droves. This is leading to escalating battles to build out faster, more capable networks and over time lower prices for data plans.

What all this points to is widespread, mainstream adoption of incredibly powerful and well-connected smartphones. Within a few years, there’s no doubt that today’s spiffy Droid will be obsolete and Verizon will be all but giving them away if you sign up for a two year deal with a heavily discounted data plan.  Sure there will be people who say they don’t need all the features etc., just as there are people who still don’t have email accounts.  Whatever.

The era of smartphones in everyone’s pocket has arrived.

If you’re in the business of building your company’s brand, now is the time to figure out your personal branding app strategy.  Stake out your space, figure out what works and what doesn’t work.  Over time, you can count on your competitors to match your every move, but there’s a big advantage to be had for those who figure it out sooner rather than later.

One objection we’re likely to hear is that with so many apps already available, how many apps could someone actually need or want?  The answer is that people will want as many apps as make their life better in some incremental way or add entertainment value.  There will also be a long-tail phenomenon and every app will find a target audience of some sort.  The way I see it, the opportunity to get customers to interact with your brand on a personal and meaningful way is too good to pass up.

As a homeowner and committed do-it-yourself type, I spend a lot of time snooping around my local Home Depot. I could see how a well-designed app could improve my loyalty to Home Depot, improve my shopping experience and save time and trips on projects.  The app could start with an intelligent shopping list function with helpful tools like conversion tables and so forth. Once the list is built, the app would confirm with the local stores if the items I want are available. At the store, turn-by-turn navigation would route me through the aisles in an efficient manner. It would also alert me to specials based on my buying patterns, and of course provide plenty of sponsorship opportunities for manufacturers to explain why their tape measure is better than the next guys.  The app would also link to my Facebook account and let my buddies know about the great deals on nail guns or PVC pipe.

And lest you think DIYers aren’t’ a great demographic, check out this list of the 10 Essential Apps for Do-It-Yourself already available on the iPhone.

This brings up the platform discussion. While Apple has a big lead at the moment and has demonstrated the value of the smartphone application model, my take is that Android is poised to become dominate in short order. It will be similar to the PC industry where Apple sticks to its closed, proprietary and heavy-handed control over the developer community and keeps about 10 percent market share.  Android is more open, developer friendly and being promoted by a host of vendors. It’s the industry vs. Apple all over, and in that scenario Apple loses.

Want to build your brand? Start looking for an app developer, preferably one who’s been to an Android developer boot camp.

Update: Highly influential blogger Robert Scoble on his Scobelizer blog stresses the importance of apps on smartphone. His post is in response to comments by Microsoft exec Ray Ozzie that apps won’t be a differentiating factor on smartphones.  I’m not sure Ozzie realizes how ridiculous he sounds, but Scoble’s response is more proof that apps are where the action is in mobile. Check out the discussion here.

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