Sony letting their hair down – but will it get the chop?

As we look forward to all the new opportunities that the New Year will bring – some of the technological ones we will no doubt see at CES next week – it’s worth looking back at what we saw in 2013 and one of the more unusual developments I saw was from Sony who perhaps gaining a little more confidence seem to have let their hair down somewhat with the announcement of their SmartWig project.

Sony SmartWigThe growth in wearable technology is one of the hot development areas as hardware truly integrates with software to deliver exciting new user experiences.

However, the key for the successful businesses will be those that really focus and deliver a great user experience – and this gets even more important as the user actually wears the experience and it becomes part of them both physically and as a symbol of their personality.

This is a really exciting area for us marketers and one that opens up an interesting question in marketing philosophy – to what extent should you and how can you use customer research to develop your proposition?

Marketing textbook 101 that I was taught at college always focused on the need for extensive customer research to make sure you were delivering against core needs.

During the 15 years’ I’ve been developing new digital and mobile propositions I’ve always tried to adhere to this but often noted the challenge as to how to get customers to respond to something uniquely different like SmartWig that they have never previously considered.

Of course, on the other hand some such as Steve Jobs have taken a more direct to market approach believing that the company knows best and that if you create something simple and special enough then customers will learn to love it – and of course this route has proven successful on various occasions.

So as Sony and the various other manufacturers continue to develop exciting new wearable technology it will be interesting to see which find the right approach to involving customers in the development of their propositions and importantly to get the all important customer experience great.

As for me, I’m potentially up for a SmartWig but I’d probably want one that was a more sensible colour for work but could change colours to party at the weekends. It’s also probably partly due to helping keep my slightly receding hairline warmer :-).

Are you going to get plugged in?

Big news last week in the world of electric cars with BMW formally launching their new i3 fully electric car model.

David Hilton, Marketing DirectorI have to say – and my friends will probably laugh – but my first thoughts were that this actually looks pretty great and if I was looking for a new car then this could be a good option. Then a few minutes of rational thinking took hold and I realised the significant barriers that the governments and car industry need to overcome before we see the tipping point of mass adoption of electric cars.

The big picture in the UK is to get to 1.7m electric cars on the road in the UK by 2020 but at just 0.1% of UK car sales there is clearly a long way to go – even with the UK government subsidising each vehicle by £5000.

Certainly having the weight of BMW entering the market with the i3 will help make these vehicles more attractive to the more affluent and they will no doubt push big marketing investment behind it to help position their brand as innovative and in touch with consumer interest.

However, for sales of electric vehicles to really take off I suspect a few barriers still need to be addressed:

1 – Cost – the BMW i3 was actually more affordable than I thought at £25,680 including the government and even though these are well kitted including satellite navigation this is still a 14% premium on the BMW 116d SE that already does 68.9 mpg and unlimited range for those looking at fuel efficient options. The Nissan Leaf at £15,990 is 45% more expensive than a new Nissan Micra.

I think that one of the ways that the industry can help with electric car adoption is to review the car ownership options more towards monthly contract options like mobile phones aided by the ongoing fuel savings.

2 – Future proofing the technology – when spending money on a new car we all want it hold as much value in the future as possible. Electric cars – and specifically the ongoing battery developments – run the risk of becoming ‘old technology’ very quickly thus making the investment even more risky. Manufacturers like BMW need to offer a guarantee that future improved batteries will be made to fit the current car models so customers can benefit and upgrade to new battery technology as it matures.

Ideally there should be a global standard to create a new competitive industry for low cost and ever improving electric car batteries.

3 – Charging points – much investment has already gone into electric car charging points in major cities with Manchester launching 200 new points in July this year. However, at the moment many of them remain unused waiting for the build up in electric car ownership.

One key barrier for me was owning a Victorian house. Whilst very advanced in many ways the Victorians lacked the foresight of creating a parking space for my house. Without that I – any millions of others in the UK – have no way to easily and securely charge my vehicle whilst at home. Parking is always an issue in busy Victorian towns like Kingston but if councils provided one residential charging bay for each main street then this would help people like me that want to take the plunge into electric cars but simply can’t.

Meanwhile I will stick with my diesel car and use my bicycle to ease my environmental concerns.

More than words can say – a simple case of ‘less is more’

I found this interesting post by Tim Brown and comments on LinkedIn today about how best to manage simple communication across complex global businesses.

Marketing Director

It’s highlights the leadership imperative to continue to think about the best ways to share and spread communication around a complex global business. With so many ways now to communicate and with many business becoming increasingly geographically diverse it’s little wonder that even with all the latest digital technology the words ‘a communication breakdown’ continue to be said.

One of Tim’s points is that in relying so heavily on digital communication we’re losing the ability to communicate properly using other senses as per Peter Drucker’s teaching.

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” 
― Peter F. Drucker

However, as much as I’m a fan of simplicity I’m not so sure it’s as simple as having more ‘face time’ although having worked in a big Global business at Sony I’m sure that there is plenty more that companies can do to streamline video communication within core corporate communication channels such as email/intranets/social media, etc.

To me, one of the greatest communication complexities that companies need to manage is self-made – simply having too many projects & initiatives without a simple or well-managed structure/process to channel communication.

I’m sure we’ve all been to too many meetings, with too many participants that don’t really deliver results. Very few meetings I’ve been to recently have the old-school basics of clear action points/owners that are followed up on. We’ve all got way too many emails with large distribution lists making many irrelevant. New good systems like Salesforce.com are being introduced but seem to add an extra channel of communication on top of existing email/intranets and other internal reporting.

Quite simply beyond the wise words of Drucker I think the key to simplifying communication in many businesses is simply to have less of it and make sure it is simply and appropriately channeled.

1 – Fewer projects that are only focused on the key business priorities – less small/secret projects that have minor incremental benefits and complicate the big initiatives.

2 – Fewer meetings and internal communication channels – with participants limited to those necessary and guidelines for good practice engagement rewarded.

3 – Sharper project management and communication of action ownership & status for key work initiatives – it seems to have become ‘dated’ to manage meetings and projects with some of the discipline of old but done well it can seriously reduce the time spent wasted clarifying next steps after meetings.

4 – More ‘Face Time’ – both the physical and better integration of video into the selected business communication channels.

A simple case of ‘less is more’.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – cut to the right size?

I’m not the first to comment on Nokia’s recently announced exciting new Lumia 1020 handset but I think if it is to succeed in the market it will need to be a great case study of excellent product marketing in encouraging customers to change their existing behaviour.

Nokia Lumia 1020

For sure, looking at it simply they are going to win ‘the numbers game’ with a staggering 41MP camera out-trumping the Samsung Galaxy S4 13MP camera and the iPhone 5’s miserly 8MP shooter.

But who the needs a smartphone that takes such large images?

Of course the real answer is no-one and it’s purpose is really to act as a ‘post shoot’ zoom – allowing you to crop the photo to size on the subject you want whilst maintaining a high pixel count for printing. This avoids the need for a physical zoom lens which would add extra weight/size.

But this is where it gets a bit tricky because you’re expecting people to understand and change the way they have taken pictures in the past which is to ‘zoom and then snap’.

I’m a strong believer that a great user experience can be the source of competitive advantage and if Nokia can execute this brilliantly then they could really be onto something.

But what do they need to do to achieve this?

  1. Create an interesting new name to try and ‘own’ this key feature and benefit – something like ‘Sharp Zoom‘ if used creatively and consistently could help differentiate the offering from other brands
  2. An interesting and engaging marketing campaign to focus on the benefits of this clear point of difference – e.g ‘what would you cut to size?’
  3. Show off the competitive comparison with clear and compelling digital assests to highlight the image quality benefits of this feature vs. Samsung and Apple
  4. Simple and fast ‘zoom’ app user experience on the device itself – making it easy to crop, size and use for different formats such as online publishing and saving for printing

If the Lumia 1020’s is going to tempt a significant number of users to dump their iPhones or Android smartphones then it will really need to pull off some clear & simple marketing communications to get customers understanding why they would possibly want a 41MP smartphone.

Nest – technology marketing that is hot and cold

If ever there was a market for for one of the hottest/coolest (excuse the pun) technology propositions the Nest thermostat it is the UK. One minute it’s sunny and warm but the next (and actually most of the time) it’s cloudy and cold. So surely us Brits are target market for better managing the temperature of their home.

 

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How much cooler does this Nest thermostat look than the drab old white or grey plastic thermostat that you have hidden somewhere in your house?

And that’s the great thing about this. By offering a thermostat that is attractive to look at and with a very simple user experience it actually means that you will interact with the technology to help you better control the temperature in your home and hence reduce your energy costs. 

The problem that they are hitting on is that if you’re like me your current thermostat is so fiddly to use and hidden that you simply don’t bother meaning that your energy consumption is very inefficient.

Even better the Nest thermostat uses smart technology to learn how you like your home temperatures and can regulate accordingly and also allows you to manage remotely via the web. This really promises to change the behaviour of how you manage your home energy. 

This then is a great example of breakthrough innovation technology marketing.

  1. Find a real customer need – improve home energy control and costs
  2. Develop a breakthrough proposition – a learning thermostat that you want to use
  3. Focus on customer experience – design an elegant and easy to use product
  4. Get people excited to talk about it – judging by the reviews in the US clearly the media and early customers are very happy to recommend the Nest

You won’t be surprised that the designer of this great looking product (Tom Fadell) was also responsible for designing the iPod.

It’s another great example to all of us that aspire to developing winning technology propositions to focus on how we want the customer to engage with our product.

While I wait for this great product to come to the UK I’ll just have to hope it gets sunnier again soon.

 

 

 

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.

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!