The power of innovation – recycling cycling

Sometimes you read something and you go ‘wow’. This week I was reading about how a designer called Izhar Gafni has designed a rather cool looking bicycle made largely from recycled cardboard and aimed to be produced for under $10!

As someone that has recently got into the cycling boom in the UK and having spent well over £1000 on a lovely carbon fibre bike I’m intrigued about the potential of a bike that weighs about the same and yet could cost much, much less.

Clearly the bike isn’t designed to win the Tour de France but it has the potential to be truly great because it addresses a number of key innovation success criteria:

  • An inspiring and exciting story that will be rapidly shared – ‘surely you can’t cycle on a cardboard bike’. Clearly both the intrigue and fantastic design create a really exciting story that has the potential to generate huge amounts of media coverage and of course offers the sort of ‘talkability’ that many brands aspire.
  • Unique position in a large growing market – I’m assuming that there are not too many folk as creative and determined enough as Izhar to have been spending the last two years in their sheds creating the perfect cardboard bicycle. I trust he has also been smart enough to protect the IP then he could enjoy a unique position in a large market for some considerable time.
  • Keeping the offer simple – Not only is the bike design beautifully simple but the idea itself especially the low-maintenance aspects of the bike are fantastically simple. It’s easy to know what this offers and of course how a sales person can sell it.
  • Opens up big new customer market opportunities – not only could this address the obviously large market potential in developed and developing markets for ‘low-cost’ bicycles but the additional angle of ‘easy maintenance’ hits another massive consumer need for convenience. Not only that but the more environmentally conscious audience opens up yet a third key customer target group.

Not only am I hugely impressed by the innovation in the product itself and the massive potential market opportunity but mainly I’m struck by the sheer focus and determination of this great innovator to prove that the impossible can be possible.

Whether this cardboard bike would really survive the often wet and pot-holed roads of the UK or even ever be produced at such aggressively low costs still remains to be seen but this is the kind of simple but challenging innovation that gets me really excited.

Good luck to them.

Have Nokia found the winning touch?

Nokia’s problems have been very well documented with many writers believing their cause to be terminal. Certainly their strategy to put all their eggs in the Windows basket is somewhat brave to say the least. However, there are signs this past week that suggests there could maybe be life in them yet.

Operating systems aside – and it is a big bet that Windows Phone 8 can be successful without a larger list of quality apps and games – it does seem that Nokia have been really thinking about creating a simple and enjoyable consumer experience that can differentiate them from the masses of Android manufacturers.

I believe this focus on consumer experience can provide real competitive advantage in a sea of similar smartphones – and I think Nokia might just have found the right touch.

Firstly, it looks like they will be among the first with a good consumer use of NFC technology – with a simple touch their new Lumia smartphone can automatically pair and start playing music on their new wireless speakers made in partnership with JBL. Sony have also announced a similar solution with their new NFC enabled speakers but it looks like Nokia will be quicker to market and could maybe give this greater focus in their marketing.

With Apple seemingly going to change the accessory speaker market for good with their new connector this gives great opportunity for players like Nokia to accelerate the growth in wireless speakers by making their usage so simple.

Secondly, and maybe more significantly, It appears that Nokia are going to use the simplicity of touch to charge their latest smartphones. Of course this isn’t the first time this proposition has been offered with Palm Pre back in 2009 but that was a paid-for accessory whereas it appears Nokia will offer free.

Not only this but it seems that Nokia have applied a touch of colour and fun to their designs which really stand out.

I believe there is a big chunk of the market looking for the next big cool factor. Maybe the simple combination of ‘touch to play’ and ‘touch to charge’ could be enough to encourage a sizeable base of people away from another Android phone – and who knows how excited the Apple fan base will be with a slightly longer slimmer iPhone.

With a focus on bringing new technology to life in a simple, fun and colourful way I believe there really is life left in Nokia yet. How much we will have to find out.

Can your brand bet on your customers?

The internet and increasingly the mobile internet are continuing to drive massive changes in our lives. As consumers we are spending more and more time happily tapping away at our smartphones and tablets engrossed in a myriad of exciting content.

At the same time as marketers we are constantly looking for new ways to use digital to add greater value to our own consumers, finding ways to differentiate our offering from competitors and of course hoping to find the holy grail of also increasing revenue/arpu for the business.

One really interesting area that is changing fast and opening up new commercial opportunities is online gaming and potential linkage with betting.

In UK at least, and despite the ongoing economic hardships with 17m people now considered to have wealth below the acceptable living standard we continue to see a significant rise in the propensity for people to gamble. In May Paddy Power reported a 28% increase in revenues driven largely by an increase in online betting and a UK survey by UK Gambling Commission saw a 15% increase in Gambling from 2007 to 2010.

Gambling/betting is increasingly socially acceptable to the point where I was almost surprised last week when we couldn’t place bets for the rowing races at Henley.

Where does this trend and opportunity leave us?

Many brands are looking to create exciting content including online games to drive greater engagement with their customers. At the same time online games are increasingly being integrated with ‘virtual goods’ to buy (it is estimated that over $4bn will be spent on virtual goods on Facebook by 2013) offering exciting new and highly profitable revenue models for those brands who can get this model to work.

Now this shift in brand and consumer behaviour may take a step further with a new betting service to be integrated into online games and mobile apps.

So the question is – can your brand tap into this increasing trend of providing online content to not just engage consumers but to give them exciting ways to spend their money online through either virtual goods or even providing a competitive gaming experience that supports elements of gambling/betting. Can this be a new and fun way to increase your interaction with your customers as well as increasing your profits?

This is of course is a difficult area for many brands to consider and won’t be right for many. But don’t be scared to at least look at how you could get this ‘new world’ opportunity to work for you.

At a time when consumers’ use of digital games are changing rapidly, their attitudes to gambling/betting are becoming more acceptable and you’re under increasing pressure to innovate and bring new profits into your business there really could be opportunities for you to take a considered risk too.

Just think this is another exciting new opportunity in the marketing proposition toolkit for us to consider as part of our innovation growth agenda.

Getting physical – the best way to engage

As highlighted in some of my earlier posts I am really excited about the opportunities new technologies allow smart companies to provide a greater experience of interaction with their customers – in essence creating the hallowed ‘greater engagement’ through gestures and physical interaction.

This new app from Bump allows you to simply share your photos between users simply by tapping your smartphones together. Not only that, you can store them on your computer by simply tapping your phone on the spacebar.

No more digging out the cables. No more hooking up the WiFi. No more uploading & downloading. Simply tap the two together and your photos will be easily sent across.

This is not about replacing Instagram and Facebook that have their own great photo sharing benefits for those far and wide. It’s about providing another simple way to address the need for an instant and physical share of the photo.

The new breed of smartphones with ever improving accelerometers and NFC will allow us to take this physical interaction with your brand to new levels as Barclaycard’s current PayTag campaign reminds us.

There are many benefits to this more physical gesture approach. Not only is it normally more simple that finding your way through a string of menus but we know that physical interaction is normally a fun and enjoyable experience.

As a marketer it allows us to focus on creating a more emotional connection with your brand and service. We know that if well executed this is a strong driver of brand satisfaction and desire.

There are many ways that we can look to use this and create more physical engagement with our customers.

Recently I have been asked by a couple of marketing agencies to think about the new opportunities for brands to connect with consumers and store staff using the emerging mobile and digital technologies. Needless to say that many include a simple and fun physical interaction that delivers a much richer benefit.

Of course these are still early days but a great time for you to plough a little investment of budget and time to think about ways that you could put more smiles on your customers’ faces by creating a valued physical interaction with your brand.

In the meantime, if you want another opportunity maybe it’s a good time to invest in companies that produce mobile phone screens. 🙂

Winning with ‘wows’ – the fuel for your social media strategy and business success

Having just read and enjoyed this great article on how to make your business more remarkable by offering your customers real ‘wow’ moments it really reminds us of the need to simply step-back and see how you can delight your customers in new and exciting ways.

Of course, like me you may read this and think well that’s great but surely it’s just good business and marketing sense. But how often do we really do this? Or do we find ourselves looking too much at the operational challenges and the next new campaign ahead of us.

How often do we really think about how to create these genuine ‘wow’ moments and what they could do for our business success?

We are all taking about social media strategy but like all media its success will be largely driven by the content. I really believe creating these genuine wow experiences will not just create the stories to make your social media a success but will also make your business performance a success too.

I’m sure we can all think of many examples like the Disney toy example that have caused us to smile and think ‘that’s cool’ and share it with friends & family even before Facebook & Twitter came along.

Personal current favourites include: Flipboard giving me a simpler and more enjoyable way to read my favourite media, Sky+ mobile app giving me a simple way to record my favourite TV shows when I am out and about and the Pure salad bar on Beak street where you’re presented with great choices of salads all served up and customised for you in a fast and fun way. And of course there is always Apple with their relentless stream of wow moments for us all to talk about.

Clearly digital services like Flipboard and Sky can easily build their wow moments and the ability for consumers to share them within their social media presence. For offline companies like Pure this requires a little more thought.

The rapidly expanding Tortilla Mexican Grill chain are enjoying long queues of customers waiting to be served their choice of fresh mexican food and seem to be driving a very active social media plan at the same time with various online promotions and community chatter.

The key to this approach really has to be to set aside some time and bring the right creative resources and really put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Really think about ‘the day in the life of’ when a customer would be using your product/service and what it would feel like. Compare where your competitors might be putting extra smiles on their faces.

Challenge yourself to create the wows that you think would really put a smile on your customers face and then give them an easy way to share their story.

Also, don’t forget to do this regularly and create new wow experiences otherwise your social media and business performance will suffer.

A couple of years ago Ocado would have been a top example. However, I don’t feel they have added anything inspiring or useful to their service of late and other brands have copied and caught up. It’s not surprising that they don’t seem to be getting as much buzz and their business performance is stalling.

Interestingly it looks like Flipboard are going to keep me happy and talking about their service by allowing me to listen to interesting content as well reading articles.

I trust that Sky are planning the next wow for me to keep enjoying their mobile app and Pure certainly need to think about how they will keep me excited about going back before they are overtaken by the 100’s of other great places to eat in Soho that I will read about on Facebook.

So don’t just think about your social media strategy – think about how you can first fuel it and your business success with wow customer moments and encourage them to share it.

The winners of the 5th screen will be …..

….. probably not the advertisers as discussed on this piece on ‘5th screens’ on Fast Company. I maybe wrong or simply short-sighted but I think the commercialisation of these screens just needs to be different.

The 5th screen’s role in life is simple – to tell you something useful and in a way that is easier and more beneficial than just getting your smartphone out of your pocket. It has to be designed to be useful in even more fleeting glances than the ever increasing times we spend engrossed with our smartphones.

So the winners in the 5th screen device market will have learnt from the 3rd screen (smartphone) and 4th screen (tablet) and be those that get the user experience right so that consumers actually want to view and in this case actually wear their screen.

As someone lucky enough to have used the Sony SmartWatch for the last couple of months I can tell you how important it is to get the design and navigation right. This is pretty cool but you really don’t want to be spending time fumbling around with your watch and looking a geek. This needs both a good resolution display and of course simple software UI.

This is what I think will define the winners and the good news is that that it doesn’t have to be Apple. I say this because:

  1. The smartphone user base is now much bigger than just iPhones given the massive rise in Android
  2. Hopefully enough players have hooked onto simple & smart UI design and can develop as quickly as Apple would need to for this new type of device

As an entrepreneurial lover of technology and gadgets I think it’s great that the Allerta Pebble smartwatch has raised so much funding to hopefully secure a successful launch. It does appear to have taken further steps in the right direction but the areas that I think need to be delivered by whomever wins in this area are:

  •  provide us something compelling that will genuinely get us to value this over a normal watch – This could be as simple as easily changing/personalising the clock/calendar but obviously has scope for other applications such as messaging, location, etc.
  • simple content presentation without too much scrolling around – you really don’t want to be pressing too many buttons or dragging content around the screen otherwise you will simply get your smartphone out!
  • battery life has to be good and easily charged – I love the built-in USB charger on the Nike Sportswatch that just plugs into computer, charges and updates apps
  • do not do what is inferred by the FastCompany post and clutter my watch experience with adverts – my watch is arguably more personal than even my phone and is definitely going to be smaller so a completely new thinking of commercialisation needs to be considered.
Sure, I recognise that monetisation of the business model can happen and potentially subsidise the cost of these sexy 5th screens in the same way as my post on monetising smartphones but let’s start by creating rich services that consumers would be willing to pay for rather than simply seeing it as another screen to serve adverts.
In my opinion this should be more ‘experience value driven’ by offering things such as a golfing GPS app or running/exercise app than by seeing it as another screen to monetise with adverts. Of course there are many other great opportunities for brands to get involved and build value into the experiences like this and use this to drive their business.
But do this in the smart way of adding value to the consumer on their new 5th screen rather than trying to find the right way to shoe-horn your advert onto the screen!

The power of dreams – not quite yet

As someone who would pay good money for a better night’s sleep I was drawn to the exciting news of the new Dream:ON app that helps to influence your dreams and give you a better sleep.

I’m not sure about you but I have had many nights’ sleep ruined by my dreams being distracted by thoughts of work, things I have forgotten to do and other mundane things. I certainly know that I sleep better when the dreams are about enjoying a relaxing family holiday, shooting a 68 at Pebble Beach or of course doughnuts if you’re Homer Simpson!

What a beautiful and simple innovation – giving people better dreams and helping them improve their sleep. How much would you pay for that as a business proposition?

But can this dream become a reality? At the moment the Dream:ON service is linked to a study at the University of Hertfordshire so isn’t really a commercial venture but I tried it myself last night and here’s my thoughts:

Well initially I was struck by the simplicity and ease of use of setting up the service. I wasn’t too sure how the 2 free soundscapes would influence my dreams but I went to bed excited about the night’s sleep ahead.

Sadly, I guess you can argue that it didn’t work! I didn’t get to hear any of the soothing music and I certainly didn’t get any better dreams. In fact, I actually had a worse sleep as I was worried about my iPad laying on my bed and even had to rescue it when it fell off and smashed against the bed side table.

However, looking at it optimistically I can see that there is real potential for developing the service whereby it works better both functionally and commercially based on a few tweaks:

  • using a specialist device such as the Jawbone UP to monitor your sleep patterns rather than leaving your mobile phone or tablet laying on your bed. This should give much more accurate results and save you worrying about your phone as much. It would also allow the service to work on memory foam beds!
  • having the Dream:ON app working with wireless/bluetooth speakers so that the music can be played via your existing bedside audio system
  • a simpler business model that gives a two-week free trial to a wide range of dream soundscapes so that consumers get happy the service works for them before then charging a small monthly fee – something I would happily pay for a proven way to better dreams and sleep!
So I won’t be using Dream:ON again tonight as I try and catch up on some sleep.
However, maybe the guys at Jawbone or anyone else that has a potential interest in this exciting new proposition can dream something up so that we can all sleep a little bit more peacefully!

The mobile innovation conundrum

Well this may not exactly come as news to many of you but this week really reinforces the conundrum facing mobile operators – and therefore all of us – in the quest for new service innovations to support their future business.

In the week that we have seen Facebook’s staggering $1bn acquisition of a non-revenue generating business we have also seen the recent results showing that revenues at the UK’s leading mobile operators have declined by 2.3% in 2011 as their customers are simply using their latest smartphones & data packages to communicate and entertain themselves in many other ways than the high margin voice business.

Clearly the mobile operators are not starting from scratch and some such as O2 have had a business innovation unit going for some time looking at creating new services in areas such as health, mobile payments and monetisation of mobile search and web.

However, this week clearly demonstrates the need for them to accelerate their innovation even faster and I just hope that they focus the resources and take the appropriate risks to make this happen.

Don’t forget if the operators don’t get this right and help find new profitable revenue streams they will be forced to continue ongoing cost-reduction measures.

And the worst income in this would be a continued reduction in their subsidy of the shiny smartphones and tablets we are all using to drive the innovation in the first place.

Of course another scenario is that the over-the-top services such as Apple, Amazon & Google continue to drive the innovation themselves. However, even though Amazon are reportedly subsidising the Kindle Fire to a tune of $50 per unit that’s an awful lot of incremental margin they need to make and even then it’s a much smaller subsidy than the mobile operators have typically been able to support on new devices.

So let’s hope that between them they can get this right –  especially how the operators can better partner with the OTT service providers as they plan the build of their new 4G networks – so we can continue to enjoy the shiny new smartphones and tablets driving this fantastic innovation.

 

Tapping your customers up with NFC

As someone that likes thinking of fun ways new technology can be used to provide better customer experiences it is sometimes depressing that so much of the talk surrounding the fantastic NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that is built into my new smartphone (and will probably be in your next one too!) is based upon the notion of us using it as a mobile payment system.

I’m sure that this will definitely happen over time and will indeed offer us a simpler way for us to make many of our lower value purchases. However, given that this technology is now literally getting into many of our hands I think there is great opportunities for brands to use this to drive their own innovation and creativity with customer propositions and communication.

So it’s refreshing to see that Clinton Cards are looking to make better use of NFC to improve their customer experience and provide greater value. In doing so they will obviously help expedite use of it as convenient payment mechanism also.

My old company Sony Mobile are also looking to drive better customer experiences by providing NFC tags that allow their users to more conveniently programme their phone into customised settings – such as setting GPS, maps and voice activation simply by tapping their phone on a tag left inside the car.

So who are going to be the creative brands that really grasp this new technology and do something simple, fun and mainstream that really gets people talking about their brand in a positive way?

For instance we all know that Facebook wants to drive more ‘check-ins’ and entertainment venues/bars want to drive more customers so why doesn’t someone produce simple Facebook check-in stickers to go doors so you simply have to tap your phone as you enter to immediately activate the Facebook check-in?

We know that brands are struggling to find ways effective ways for using QR codes in advertising and other channels to drive consumer engagement. Basically QR codes are a bit ugly and it’s still not always convenient or attractive to get your phone out and take a picture of a poster. I would propose some start to shift to NFC instead which can offer a better customer experience and at least may help positioning for the brand in a better way.

Other ideas where the simple tapping of a mobile phone to a company’s marketing or actual product may make sense could include store promotions/vouchers, free content, network integration, etc.

Clearly many will want to wait for a bigger critical mass of NFC phones and others may be sceptical that this could be another passing technology that never really takes off.

But I applaud the marketer that can really show the innovation and drive to build their brand by being amongst the first to really embed NFC into their marketing and customer proposition.

At least I will have more things to tap my lovely new smartphone on! 🙂

Who will pay the price for online privacy?

The last few weeks have yet again given rise to lots of noise regarding our privacy rights when using the internet and the use of our personal data.

There clearly seems to be a wide range of reactions from those that are simply accepting ‘that’s the way it is when using the internet‘ to those challenging the Big Brother state and  fighting legal action in breach of privacy rights often citing a number of scare stories regarding misuse of data.

But let’s be clear that there are two distinct things here that need to be considered:

  1. Collection and use of our online behaviour and personal data to drive legitimate targeting of advertising and offers
  2. Misleading and illegal practice of our personal data and our internet usage (more later)

The reality – that some have already bought into – is that #1 is a requirement we all need to accept to enjoy the many great experiences such as Facebook, YouTube & Google that we enjoy on the internet without having to pay a fee. For instance, Facebook’s IPO valuation of $100bn is not based on getting money directly from the c850m Facebook users but based primarily on driving revenues from the brands that are looking to connect with their target customers on the Facebook service.

You can certainly sense the online advertising market is progressing rapidly and I can personally notice much more personalised targeting of adverts on many of my favourite websites – but in respect of my own privacy I won’t tell you what they were for!! 😉

However, clearly many companies including those named above are still not getting this right in many peoples eyes. Despite the large-scale of concern on this issue the development of the internet and advertising market is not going to go backwards. I remember leading BT’s internet advertising at the turn of the millennium when there was initial consumer resentment to pop-up adverts and we stopped using them. Several years on, in a seemingly unspoken agreement to continuing to use them for free, we have got used to some of our favourite websites being almost completely taken over by brands.

To continue to be successful online I believe that what internet services and brands need to do is to provide a more simple and transparent approach to their use of customer data and provide options for those that are more sensitive to the issue.

Some of the more simple ideas that I would recommend are:

  • Only share and provide your customers data with trusted partners. This may sound obvious and we are all used to ‘ticking or not ticking’ the box about providing data to 3rd parties but clearly there are some cases where this is not the case or at least in the customer’s mind the perception is that their data has been compromised. You need to be seen to be ‘whiter than white’ with this data and so for instance why even try to confuse (which sometimes seems to be the case) which box to tick in the first place!
  • Having a clearly visible code for what data you collect, what you will use it for and who you trust it with. Linked with the above I really believe that transparency and honesty is key so that customers can decide if this is a fair and appropriate return for the benefits they get from using the site. Simplicity is also important and you should allow customers to view whatever data you are holding on them and make it simple for them to amend or delete.
  • Provide options for those that are more sensitive to use of their data. This of course opens up the issue about whether we will we pay for using many of the internet services that we have become accustomed to using for ‘free’. I don’t for one minute think we would all start paying to search the internet and this is maybe as much about providing a ‘premium service’ for those that agree to the use of their data. That being said, how many might pay £2-10 per month for services like Facebook and YouTube if all their concerns about personal data and privacy were removed?
  • Help customers privacy for those that share computers. Some of the more vociferous complaints on this issue have been about serving inappropriate adverts to young children or partners using a shared computer. This is a clear issue so any internet service or brand that can create a simple solution to serve adverts only appropriate to the user would be a winner. Maybe someone can quickly develop something akin to Android’s ‘Face Lock’ so that the computer knows more accurately who to serve adverts to.

Clearly there are more things that need to be done to improve customers trust but I do believe that there is a strong future for internet services and brands that manage this  transparently, simply and legitimately with their customers.

This brings us back to #2 above which is where I really believe the big problems and scare stories occur from. There are much more shady operators than Facebook and Google out using the internet with their various hacking and phising scams.

Sadly there is no silver bullet to fix this and criminality will continue to exist on the internet as it does in all other walks of life.

However, I do also believe that those brands benefiting greatly from online advertising and e-commerce could help themselves further by clubbing together to create a more straightforward and consistent use of customer data across the internet. This could help in the better self-regulation and policing of the internet and make the nervous amongst us more comfortable when interacting with brands online.

In the meantime, we as customers seem to be left to do much of the hard work by trying to manage the data we provide the multiple services we use online – if we can find out how to do this on their site –  and of course importantly making sure we have an up to date firewall to try to prevent us from the really nasty stuff!