Archive for December, 2009

The xPhone: more than a brand—it’s a miracle

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Every so often a product is so flat-out miraculous that all the brand can do is go along for the ride. The xPhone is one such product.

Hat tip: Mosspuppet

Brands are more culture than commerce

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

In their deepest expressive powers brands are more culture than commerce. They can transcend stylized sales stimulants and mundane markets to become tools for inventing—and living—richer lives. As agents of culture brands enable people to be more, and to do more. Brands can create new ways for people to grow: through their passion or art, or by discovering new aspects of themselves.

Brands are a culture proposition

Brands are a culture proposition, extending far beyond a narrow value proposition. Brands at their best are contributions  to culture. They pack more context into life. Brands aim to make life more fulfilling, and more interesting, as part of who and what they are.

An exceptional brand may be a platform for culture

An exceptional brand may be a platform for culture. Begin with the iPhone brand. Imagine a new cultural context. Start small. Iterate. Advance to the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra.

For more details, read the fascinating story in the New York Times.


The brand imperative: creating customers

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I was going through my notes on creating customers when I came across the two entries shown below. They’re from a post I wrote two years ago, but to my mind they still do a good job of defining what “creating a customer” means, and outlining the brand framework that supports customer creation as an ongoing process.

What “create a customer” means

I define “create a customer” this way: To create a customer means to connect a customer to a larger part of himself or herself through the brand. This is a connection to that person’s potential and/or passion, within the context of the customer’s expected brand outcome. Your brand helps customers to discover themselves, unfold themselves, iterate themselves, and prototype new selves that are now latent, awaiting only the wondrous “developer” that flows through your brand platforms and programs.

And since your brand is a creative engagement, you have many, many options at hand to work your wonders. What counts is the nature, content, direction and value of your brand connections.

Brands and “creating customers”

“Creating customers” is what brands are all about. It’s where brands come into their own as a process of value creation, combining strategy, imagination, innovation and customer interaction. Yep, brands are all that, which makes brands the single most expressive—and engaging—process in business. Moreover, the process of building brands is most effective when it’s openly shared with customers. That’s one reason why brand building stands head and shoulders above most other business practices. It aims to team the best and brightest of a company with the best and brightest of customers. That combination is hard to beat.

The full post goes into much more detail, starting with my hero and yours, Peter Drucker, who said: “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.”

See:  How brands create customers.


Read Jon Kolko on brands and user experience

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

If you haven’t already read Jon Kolko’s “Our misguided focus on brand and user experience” in Johnny Holland, go and read it now. It will challenge at least some of your beliefs about brands. Others it will politely throw out the window.

I’ll have more to say about Jon’s essay in a future post. At first glance Jon may seem a bit harsh toward brands, but his critique is directed toward brands of contol and manipulation. I see his essay as aiming for the same positive/creative/liberating brand outcomes that I set forth in in this blog.


Brand challenges for European watchmakers

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The New York Times has an excellent special report on the brand challenges facing Europe’s leading watchmakers.

You may be surprised (as I was) that providing service on some of the world’s most expensive watches might be considered by some as a potential brand problem over the horizon.

There’s also some very interesting changes going on at Rolex.


How the digital tablet could change media brands

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Sometimes the very form of a brand can become its limiting factor. The world leaps ahead on other innovations, and the old form factor/brand begins to languish. It can’t sync with the new.

The digital tablet may revive traditional media brands

If being out of sync was part of old media’s problem vs. Internet upstarts, new digital tablet technologies may breathe new life into old publications. Conceivably, new digital tablets could lead to new and better forms of storytelling, and new ways for traditional media brands to connect with customers.

A Time Inc. digital magazine concept

Take a look at this Time Inc. magazine concept on a digital tablet:

Of course, not many of us look forward to swiping pages of Sports Illustrated on the flipped around screen of a laptop tablet, as shown here. We want the convenience, immediacy and intimacy of a smaller digital tablet we can easily read on the couch or the train, freely flowing text, pictures and context with our fingertips.

That same tablet might contain all of our media subscriptions, our personal library, and maybe even our textbooks for a new form factor of college.

For more on what Time Inc. is contemplating with this new format see TechCrunch. And Wonderfactory.


Google Android: brand disruptor—and creator

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Google’s Android mobile OS stands to have a powerful impact on smartphone brands. As a new mobile platform it has the potential to be both brand disruptor and brand creator, upsetting incumbent brands and serving as a potent platform for a whole class of new ones. We saw this happen when the Microsoft Windows platform dominated the PC market in the 1990’s and beyond, helping new software brands take root at the expense of traditional players. Now—in mobile— it may be Google’s turn.

Android lowers the cost of market entry

Google Android is a free, highly-capable and customizable smartphone operating system that intends to change the game in mobile brands. It’s designed to compete with the iPhone as a smartphone platform, and it’s ready for apps, Google Androidtweaks, skins and other enhancements by any company desiring a smartphone market presence. By being “free,” Android dramatically lowers the cost of entry into the smartphone market, the fastest growing and most profitable wireless sector. Thanks to Google, a new set of players can enter the smartphone arena, each one building a brand based on its own implementation of Android.

The smartphone is a computer

Who might these new players be? Well, if the smartphone is now considered more “computer” than phone, with computer-like capabilities, then the smartphone market is really a computer market. (Thank you, iPhone!) Thus, we can expect traditional PC brands to pile in, as fast as they can contract out handsets and put their brand imprints on Android.

Here come the PC makers

Stacey Higgenbotham at GigaOm has written an excellent analysis of these developments. As she notes, Lenovo, Dell and Acer are ready to make the smartphone plunge with Android. Given Android’s potential, traditional PC brands may emerge as the new smartphone winners, leveraging their computer and marketing expertise. Traditional mobile brands may be the losers, unless (like HTC) they embrace the new computer context.

Smartphone brand—or smartphone commodity?

Just how strong can these new Android-based smartphone brands become? That’s a good question. In her GigaOm article Higgenbotham foresees the possibility of a largely commoditized smartphone landscape, where a standardized mobile OS (like Android) is combined with standardized smartphone handsets and core apps. PC makers could try to differentiate their Android smartphones by custom tweaks to the OS, UI skins and widgets, but these may not be enough. The result could be a sea of look-alike smartphones competing largely on price, much like current PC’s and netbooks.

The Android brand agenda

What is the Android brand agenda in all this? A company’s brand agenda is how the brand intends to advance (or contain) its customers. Google’s customers are advertisers. Google’s brand agenda for Android appears to be the creation of a large mobile search market for advertisers. Lowering barriers to entry for new smartphone brands and ultimately lowering smartphone prices would serve this goal. Android comes with default Google search. It’s reasonable to believe that it’s optimized for Google search.

A mobile market with many competitors, low prices, and many users would suit Google best. That could well be a commodity market.

Google Android: a brand trap?

Smartphone brands that use Google Android need to keep a sharp eye where they’re headed. Android may turn out to be an “easy in” brand trap in which new smartphone brands gain a quick foothold, then find it hard to maintain strategic identity and pricing power. Without a clear brand strategy of their own, PC makers fighting for smartphone share may ultimately discover that their only option is progressively deeper price cuts. They may wind up working for Google instead of their own shareholders.

A smartphone brand strategy for Android

What’s the best brand strategy for a smartphone that uses Android? Conventional notions of “differentiation” will not be enough. If Android is the mobile platform, new smartphones must become customer platforms as strategic enablers for smartphone users. The smartphone must create a new and stronger customer context beyond the commoditizing pull of Android.

In practical terms, smartphone brands must make the smartphone a context phone packed with cultural discovery and innovation. They must enable uses to be more, and to do more, through the software and services they provide. A smartphone brand must become a brand of cultural and creative initiative anchored by personal brand applications that link the brand and the customer in a shared brand journey.

To my mind, anything less than this is bound to wind up on the commodity floor.

Image: Google Android