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 :-).

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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. 🙂