Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

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The Joys of Disruption

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Brands and brand strategies can be viewed as conceptual frameworks that demand consistency of execution. It follows then that brands promote continuity. Competition disrupts continuity. So if you are not acting disruptively, odds are that a disruption will be visited upon you by someone you might not have even realized was a competitor.

The point is that you must do everything possible to be disruptive. Strategically disruptive. Disruptive at the product or service level. Disruptive at the marketing communication level. If you want my attention, you need to disrupt whatever else is holding my attention. If you want my business, you need to disrupt whatever is causing me to do business with someone else.

Remember, attention has become the most precious commodity in the marketplace. Also recall how difficult it is to create real change.

There’s a problem with staying in the center of the strategic “box.” This kind of behavior gets an A+ for consistency but a D- for attention-getting. Tactically, your job as a marketer is to bang the hell out of the walls of that box, all while still staying inside. In other words, get creative. Make noise. Promote change. Always keep moving. Always keep building. Always stay “in-strategy.” But first and foremost, always make noise.

Generally, the only way to ensure a discontinuity is to create it yourself. Whatever that discontinuity is, it must work to your advantage, and therefore must play into your brand strategy.

Napster disrupted the music market, but in a way that could never make money. Apple disrupted the music market in a way that did make money- generally a better approach.

Yahoo! disrupted the way we find information, but then acted as if it had no idea what it had done. Google knew.

In fact, when you look at the big four- Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook- they are in the process of disrupting about a hundred different markets. You may not think  you compete with these guys, but the odds are that sooner or later you will. Don’t wast energy figuring out if this is true or not, just figure out the how of the disruption- then beat them to it and make it work to your advantage.

Amazon sold books, but created a disruption through the Kindle. In some ways the company even attacked its own business in order to build that business. If Amazon hadn’t developed Kindle, the book business would’ve been disrupted by- you guessed it- Apple. This disruption would have been terrific- as long as you work in Cupertino and not Seattle.

Today, Google owns the idea of search. Now it’s up to some aggressive new player to create a new discontinuity, one that works to the advantage of its brand strategy. Search is now ubiquitous- it is indeed the Internet’s killer app- but therein lies both Google’s opportunity and its vulnerability. Search has begun to splinter into several specialized segments. Who will own music search? Who will own television search? Who will own local search?

If strong specialists don’t disrupt the flow, Google will own all of the segments because it now has continuity working for it. Bing proved to be insufficiently disruptive, attacking Google head-on instead of doing something different- something truly disruptive.

Unless someone creates a true disruption, Google will continue to control the agenda. But the reality is that the brand most likely to disrupt the search market in some way is Google itself. Why? Because Google is really good at it. Disruption is hardwired into its DNA.

Check back next week when Austin challenges tackles the ‘M’ word–Marketing,  and learn more now by reading Brand Is a Four Letter Word

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Differentiated Advantage

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Without a doubt, positioning your brand starts with difference- but there are many ways to be different. In fact, any idiot can be different. The trick is to be different in a way that is highly relevant to your audience. Different in a way that creates competitive advantage. Advantage that is, over time, as sustainable as possible.

All of which to say- it’s not easy.

You’re playing the game to win. To win, you need to be better than everyone else who is also playing to win. Generally, we marketers get this fact. We’re very prepared to play to win, but we’re not so prepared to be truly different. Why?

Let’s blame the system. Most of us grew up with similar names, dressed in similar clothes, went to similar schools. We ‘manage’ our differences lest our peers find us strange. We make fun of the odd ones. We fit in. This is why most of our highly differentiated brands were created by oddball entrepreneurs. They grew up different. They thought different. There were different. And therefore they created highly differentiated products and services.

But I digress.This is about advantage as much as it is about difference.

Difference + Advantage = Differentiated Advantage.

If you look at Batman, he’s different because he actually went out and built his own powers. He’s a self-made superhero. But does anyone care? Turns out that kids do, in fact, care. As a result, the Batman brand can position itself through differentiated advantage.

Apple is different because of its elegant design fusion of software and hardware. Bill Gates didn’t think people would care enough about this to overcome a superior business model. He saw it as a profound disadvantage, in fact, and he was almost completely correct- but Steve Jobs took that ‘almost’ and ran with it. More, recently, some have questioned whether, in a cloud-based content world, anyone would care about elegantly designed devices. But play with an iPad, then with a Kindle Fire- you’ll care. Apple is different. Apple is better. Apple has differentiated advantage.

It’s great that Dyson carpet cleaners (and now heaters) are different, but they are designed in a way that is both different and better. It’s nice that Virgin Airlines wanted to create a unique flying experience, but it succeeded because that experience was markedly better than that offered by traditional airlines. Hybrids were clearly a different kind of car, but until Prius designed a better kind of car, that difference was without meaning.

In the eyes of your customers, better but not different can still win the race, but it’ll be hard-fought every inch of the way. Different in a way that your customers don’t perceive as better won’t take you very far.

Difference + Advantage = Differentiated Advantage = Great Positioning

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s Strategy team and author of Brand is a Four Letter Word. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more humble advice on the art of positioning.

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Eccentricity Rules

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Differentiation or eccentricity- you can’t just paste it onto your business with the glue of marketing communication. It needs to be solidly baked into the business. It needs to be real.

Now we move on to my call for a more extreme approach to differentiation. In today’s volatile, global economy it is no longer enough to be different. You now need to be eccentric.

Many of our favorite brands are eccentric. Not surprisingly, their eccentricity often grows out of the fact that many were built by determined and equally eccentric entrepreneurs. Richard Branson of Virgin. Herb Kelleher of Southwest. Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Phil Knight of Nike. Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Charles Schwab. Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google. Steve Jobs of Apple and Pixar. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards. Ben and Jerry.

We need to go to school on these people.

These people were (and in many cases still are) eccentric, but they’re also leaders in the best sense of the word. Perhaps they weren’t always the best managers, but let’s not confuse management with leadership. And let’s not confuse planning with vision.

Each of their businesses have more than a clear position; they also have a strong and heartfelt point of view. A point of view considered downright eccentric by some. In addition, the people who work for these leaders have a real passion for what they are creating. They have a sense of mission for which they are willing to make enormous sacrifices.

As customers, we picked up on the missions. We joined the movements and we felt a sense of ownership- and we happily urged our friends to join us.

These leaders had an elemental need to build something different. They started something different, hired like-minded people to help them, and then stuck around to ensure that what they built remained different. We also know from their biographies that each one of these leaders were told in no uncertain terms by people supposedly more expert than they that the thing they wanted to build could not be built. They listened and then they did it anyway.

“Doing it anyway” is eccentric.

Most who follow this path actually fail, but the few who succeed become famous- and very rich. Let’s face it: most of us lack the nerve and sheer willpower to be one of these people. But we can learn from them- particularly when it comes to marketing.

In many ways, things are so much harder for entrepreneurs. Using their own money and their own sweat- their passion is on the line. They are all in.

In other ways, professional marketers have the more difficult job. They don’t have the luxury of starting with a group that is committed to their vision. They must convince an entire organization to do something that no on else is doing. They have a harder case to make because truly differentiated positions, while built on logic and analysis, almost always require an intuitive leap of some kind. Once the case is made, that case has to be successful.

True differentiation is a lonely road. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s worth it.

Stay tuned for more on the advantages of difference from Austin McGhie

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New Episodes UP! on Design Matters

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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Fresh new episodes of Design Matters with Debbie Millman are now up on Design Observer! Check out the latest conversations with Jonathan Harris, Joe Marianek, and Debra Bishop by clicking here<<


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Sterling Buzz…

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Last night, Debbie was joined together on stage with design and creative influencers from Instagram, Apple and The New York Times at the In-The-House 4 event. The evening discussion gave an inside look on how the digital format has changed the course of design in the scope of culture, connectivity and content, from an in-house design team perspective. These lead creatives also gave valuable insight on the culture ‘in-house’ and getting your foot in the door at your favorite brand-homes.

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Derek Scott of Instagram led off with a passionate talk on how pivotal the brand mission is in creating meaningful and follow-able content on a visually-driven platform. He presented an impressive list of membership and viewer stats that should make everyone stand at attention.

Instagram challenges brands to show us how they see the world, and as Derek said, it’s not always easy for brands to take this view of themselves. A few of the success stories he cited were Nike, Patagonia and Michael Kors.

korsFashion brands like Michael Kors jumped on the Instagram platform early, honing years of visual and artistic industry expertise.

Second up was Renda Morton.

Somewhat new to The New York Times, Renda gave up her studio overseas to become the product design lead there, and she strongly encourages you all to Subscribe. Additionally, Renda revealed some of the process behind the NYTimes website redesign in 2011, and then subsequent redesign after that one. The site is now device responsive, in that it adjusts to every format from laptop to tablet.  And just this week, in response to research about news content, the brand has rolled out a new app called NYTNow (read more about it here) that pushes early edition and late edition news briefs to extremely busy readers and also offers non-traditional news and entertainment stories written by a dedicated content staff.

One of the most interesting secrets revealed is that the NYTimes design team recently went through 116 design templates just for the top page of the web version of the paper. Clearly, more thought than ever is being put into presentation that pleases the new digital generation.

nytimes116 templates the New York Times’ digital product team explored for the top page, alone.

nytnowA peek at the new NYTNow app, which will be evolving with feedback from users.

And lastly, Joe Marianek spoke about his valuable experience becoming a ‘company man’ at Apple, and the enthusiasm every individual has for the brand inside the complex at Cupertino. Having worked agency side, in-house and now for himself at his newly established design firm in NYC, Joe gave students aspiring to take the leap into in-house some valuable interview advice.

Joe encouraged designers not to just walk into an interview with a portfolio filled with perfect works, but to also remember to include a design challenge, or even disaster, that struck in their former job or educational experience that they were able to solve. Design is all about problem solving.

joeJoe encouraged in-house designers not to get swept up in the occasional monotony of designing iterations of the same thing; rather to focus on the creativity and individual talents of the people you work with, and constantly find small innovations for more beautiful design solutions.

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Want a Great Brand? Build a Great Product.

Monday, March 17th, 2014

You can only sell sizzle for so long. Sooner or later a person’s got to sit down and eat.

Over the course of a year, strategists from Sterling Brands conduct face-to-face interviews with some ten thousand people about brands. In one study in 2005, Sterling talked to teens across the country about which brands they felt were the “coolest.” Actually, the team introduced them as brands, but the teens consistently responded by calling them products. Keep in mind, these teens are some of the smartest consumers to ever walk the planet. They totally understood the concept of brand, but they invariably started with the quality of the product or service.

For example, the Sterling team talked to these teens about Microsoft. Now, if you’re an adult, that particular brand carries baggage. Back in the 90s, Microsoft was perceived as a bully. It cast FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) over the competition, then showed up late with a product in need of improvement. But to teens, Microsoft was about success, ubiquity and utility. For them, Microsoft worked, and it worked well; after all, it made their lives easier. To them- at least early in the new millennium- Microsoft was almost as cool a brand as Apple, but for wildly different reasons.

Then along came the iPod and the iPhone. We’ve literally stopped asking young people questions about which brands are most cool or “get you the most.” The answer is almost always the same: Apple. It gets boring after a while.

Sterling strategists also talked to teens about buying games. In one instance, they asked a boy what might influence him to buy a specific game once he was in the store. The response was, essentially: “You’d have to be an idiot, or an adult, to make your mind up in the store.” Pressed for more detail, the teen explained: “You go online and read reviews, look at a demo, email or IM your friends and then borrow the game if you can. If you can’t, you rent it. Then (and only then) do you put $50 in your pocket and go to the store.”

This chapter could also be called “U is for Utility.” Today’s customer, particularly the younger one, is all about utility. What can it do for me and at what price? Value has always been an implied and personal equation of utility over price. The difference is that today’s information technology makes the equation so much more transparent. Indeed, mobile apps are rapidly transforming information into a new form of entertainment.

With information ubiquitous and accessible from a variety of personal devices, your utility coefficient had better be higher than than of your competitors. Either that or you’d better have the infrastructure essential to support a lower price. You need to pick one road or the other, because information acts to take the middle road away.

To place this in perspective, one study found that just 4 percent of people said they would “stick with a brand if its competitors offered better value at the same price.” Maybe this percentage has always been really low (though I’ll bet it has dropped dramatically in recent years). But the scary fact is that now, whether using their computer at home or their cell phone while standing in the store aisle, customers know the exact price (and utility) difference.

This is critically important, as I still hear people wanting to talk about brand equity or brand essence as if it’s this free-floating construct. Any conversation that isolates the brand, separating it from product or service utility, ignores the realities of the marketplace- and thus risks a tragic outcome.

Stay tuned for more from Austin McGhie next week…

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What the Hell is a Brand Anyway?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

“A brand is something that won’t come off in the wash.” - Cowboy’s adage

Now that we’ve driven the B word into a box, let’s look inside that box.

Charles Revson, who founded and built Revlon, is often quoted as saying: “In the factory we make cosmetics, but in the drugstore we sell hope.” In other words, companies and products build intellectual relationships while brands build emotional relationships. Consumers buy products but become emotionally invested in brands. Put yet another way, once consumers are emotionally vested, you have a brand.

Let’s remind ourselves once again: A brand is a marketplace response, not a marketer’s stimulus. You can’t brand something. You can only position it:

-If you manage to create a position that is compelling, different and competitively advantageous, you’re off to a good start

-If your organization has the ability to consistently execute that position, you have a shot at becoming a successful brand

-If that position can stand the test of time, you have a shot at becoming a strong brand

-If that execution stays on strategy, is simple yet powerful, and is somehow kept fresh and surprising over time, you have a shot at becoming a great brand

-If you can do all of this better than your competition, your brand will win

Those are a lot of “ifs,” but no one said this marketing thing is easy- and at the very start of that chain of “ifs”  is the notion of the right positioning. So how do you know if you’ve found the right position?

You know you’ve found the right position when your position is built around a single idea that:

-Is highly differentiated

-Creates competitive advantage

-Guides and inspires your organization and your audience

-Is sustainable over time

-Is provocative, even disruptive to the marketplace status quo

-Can be consistently executed over time, but in ways that evolve and stay fresh

That’s a daunting list and few companies pull it off, which is why we all tend to use the same limited set of case studies (e.g. Apple, Nike, ESPN, Google, Starbucks). Marketing is positioning. Great marketing is positioning that fits all these criteria (and probably a few others I haven’t articulated). Great marketing is the exception rather than the rule.

And you will need to work your but off to become that exception.

Stay tuned next week when Austin explains how Great Brands are Built from the Inside, out.

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Definitions: Communication

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

We throw around a lot of jargon in the business world, but do we truly know what we mean when we talk about ‘Vision’, ‘Business Model’, ‘Position?’

We’re going to talk a lot about Positioning on The 3rd Button in the coming months, but we’ll spend the first few weeks with a clear definition of terms.

Today, let’s talk Communication…

communication

COMMUNICATION:

-Presenting your position to your audience in a way that assures its attention is more difficult than many marketers seem to realize. It’s easy to communicate an idea to someone who is paying attention. It’s remarkably tough to accurately communicate an idea in a way that captures the attention of someone who doesn’t care. And by and large, you have to assume that your customers do not care.

-As we’ll discuss, position drives communication. Communication is a stimulus designed to operate in a cultural medium in order to elicit a desired response. The desired response is the position. A simple closed loop- except for one critical factor. People process that stimulus in wildly different ways. What you say is seldom what they actually hear.

IMPACTFUL COMMUNICATION

-Corona’s ongoing campaign to find new and interesting ways to take us to the beach has done a remarkable job of selling the brand. The “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign  has done the same for Dos Equis.

-As the Old Spice Guy, ex-NFL player and actor Isaiah Mustafa has actually made Old Spice cool for the first time in its life.

-But for ongoing communication excellence, it’s hard to get past Nike and its ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy. Time after time, they have managed to hit the creative ball out of the park, all the while maintaining that consistent thread you need to hold a brand together.

-And let’s not forget Apple’s “1984.” One great ad, placed just once, and still being talked about to this day.

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Stay tuned for our next term as defined by Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy

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Now UP! on Design Matters…

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

colorNow streaming at Design Observer, listen to Debbie’s interview of industrial designer and co-owner of frog design, Hartmut Esslinger as he talks about working for Steve Jobs and learn how creating a design template is akin to playing music.

As a bonus, tune-in to an episode devoted to Interaction of Color on the 50th anniversary of the publication of this groundbreaking book!

>>Listen to all this and more, Here

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Why Your Brand Should Piss Someone Off

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
If you want some people to love you, you’ve got to accept that others may hate you. So let ‘em. Better than having a weak brand.

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“If you want some people to love you, you’ve got to accept that others may hate you. So let ‘em. Better than having a weak brand.

…Apple. Mercedes. Virgin. Red Bull. Fox News. W Hotels. Snooki and Kim Kardashian. Every strong and focused brand, just like every strong and focused person, creates this love/hate dynamic to some degree.”

Austin McGhie sounds off in FastCompany on why your brand shouldn’t be everything to everyone. Read On>>