Archive for the 'Brand Disruption' Category

FAQ: Creating your brand as a customer-focused application

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

In a previous post, Brand strategy: create your entire brand as a customer-focused application, I set forth the advantages of developing your brand as an application to move customers forward. In this FAQ I’ll answer some basic questions about this approach.

How does the application approach for brands differ from traditional brand approaches?

In the application approach the brand is a customer enabler. It incorporates dimensions of innovation that can move customers forward by making them better off. It does so as part of a joint venture with customers, an act of teaming rather than an act of selling. This is quite different from conventional brand approaches which treat brands as a structure of meaning to be communicated, or as a persuasion package to influence how customers feel and think.

Why is the application approach better?

The application approach incorporates a complete brand/customer strategy. The brand goal is to make customers better off through innovations that advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. Example: iPod and iTunes advanced customers beyond the CD, and beyond less integrated music players. They moved their customers to a new market space (category) where competitors couldn’t (easily) follow—and, where life was much, much better for customers.

The application approach also anchors the brand in company operations. We have one brand approach for company vision, values and operations that we leverage into the customer sphere. The brand is the backbone from the lowest employee to the highest customer.

What role do ad agencies play in the application approach?

They become app agencies.

Why must the brand be geared to innovation?

Gearing your brand to innovation can confer strategic advantage. Your brand helps deliver value that advances customers into new realms (markets) where competitors can’t follow. You make customers exclusively better off. If your brand can’t innovate, you are condemned to ad campaigns to make your brand “work” —while your customers are going nowhere. Eventually, the only way they can move forward is to leave.

Aren’t all brands applications of some sort?

Yes they are. Most brand programs are applications. Customer service is a common brand application. Community programs can be applications, too. These will be piecemeal and inefficient applications, however, unless the entire brand is developed as a focused application to move customers forward. The good news is that your existing brand infrastructure may facilitate the transition.

What about brand relationships?

In the application approach, a brand creates customer relationships through its structured customer interactions. These relationships become sustainable when the brand delivers value that moves customers forward. They are more strategic compared to relationships formed using the brand identity model, where what the brand “is” (or what it represents) forms the basis of relationships. Thus, a brand trying to become an “icon” is at a disadvantage to a brand developed as an application (other things being equal.) The icon is fixed. The application moves forward on customer feet. It can explore new types of brand relationships because it’s made to be iterative, collaborative and open to prototyping.

What about brand experience?

The application approach offers the best platform for creating strategic brand experiences. You will have a single, unified brand application that runs the business and makes customers better off.

Can the application approach scale the brand to new levels and new markets?

Yes. That is one of its primary benefits. It is designed to scale. And it can pivot.

Does the application approach entail a different definition of brand?

Yes. It defines the brand as a method of creating value. The brand goal is to create new forms of customer value that advance customers into new market spaces that competitors can’t reach. As a method for creating value, the brand equation is Company Potential X Customer Potential. The brand works as a single, integrated and systematic method to optimize company performance and customer performance. (A philosophical tenet of the application approach is that a company is only as good as its customers.)

Does the application approach change the context of the brand team?

Yes. The brand team acts more like developers than communicators. Instead of “building” a brand as a structure of meaning to be communicated, we develop it dynamically as an enabling platform, through strategic acts of innovation, in concert with customers. The brand team works shoulder to shoulder with product teams through product development and delivery. Ideally, the brand team leads product development. Through the brand team product development becomes customer development.



Use a “customer SWOT” approach to deliver greater brand value

Monday, February 21st, 2011

We’re all familiar with SWOT techniques for strategy planning, but we can also use a customer-focused SWOT approach to help us deliver greater value in our brand deliverables. I call this approach the “customer SWOT” approach. It’s SWOT with a switch, so to speak, but nonetheless quite valuable. We simply put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and apply SWOT criteria to what the brand delivers. By using SWOT criteria in this manner we can develop our brand to make our customers more strategic, so they have no need for the dead-end products of our competitors. (Think about that for a moment, please.)

The “customer SWOT” approach

What we need to do is position SWOT from the customer’s perspective. The brand, after all, is a customer benefit, and a customer tool. We judge the intended brand contribution using basic SWOT criteria from the customer’s point of view. In essence, the customer does a SWOT analysis of the brand deliverable based on how it meets his or her needs.  He or she evaluates the brand deliverable in terms of how it helps them with:

  1. Strengths
  2. Weaknesses
  3. Opportunities
  4. Threats

Since the brand is a 360° enabler, the brand deliverable must score well across these four criteria.

SWOT criteria that serve the customer

Using SWOT criteria, we can therefore design and build our brand to address the following issues critical to customer success:

  1. What customer strengths does the brand provide or enable to make the customer more empowered going forward?
  2. What customer weaknesses will the brand eliminate or diminish in terms of the customer’s concept of self, capabilities, or world view?
  3. What new opportunities will the brand create for the customer, to help the customer do more and be more, compared to: 1) living a life of rank commodities, and 2) accepting current market conventions (and brands) designed to hold the customer in place?
  4. What customer threats does the brand mitigate or remove from the customer’s life, now and forever, so the customer can advance freely in the new, enabling context of the brand?

The “customer SWOT” approach and brand disruption

The “customer SWOT” approach can be quite helpful if you’re developing a brand strategy to disrupt a major market player. Often, the incumbent’s brand strategy toward customers is one of “capture, contain and control,”  where the brand is used to extract value from customers rather than to create value with them. With the “customer SWOT” approach a disruptive brand can create deliverables that cut through existing brand myths and make-believe designed to hold customers back. In effect, you change the game by changing the customer.  The newly-empowered customer casts off the old brand like a discarded shell.


The iPad’s (coming) killer app: education

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

trinity oxford

We’ll have to wait a bit for Apple’s iPad killer app in education.

In recent months I made the (speculative) case that a new Apple tablet that integrated textbooks, lectures, course materials and coursework could have a transformative impact on higher education. You can see my reasoning in the following posts:

  1. Is Apple positioned to disrupt universities?
  2. More thoughts on how Apple’s (rumored) iTablet could reinvent higher education

Like many others I tuned into Apple’s January 27 launch event to see what Steve Jobs and company envisioned for their new tablet computer.

Apple’s education initiative is not ready for prime time

The iPad name certainly works as a learning tool, but about 20 minutes into the launch event it became clear that Apple’s education initiative was not yet ready for prime time. It was not going to happen during this keynote. There was nothing said (or demoed) about the iPad and textbooks, when we know that Apple has been meeting with textbook publishers on how the iPad could raise textbooks to a whole new level. There was also no mention of any learning or education apps, or of an enhanced iTunes University infrastructure, or of key university partners, or other elements that would naturally flow from an integrated education initiative with Apple in a central role.

Ready for the fall semester?

Apple does have some time on its side. The iPad itself won’t be commercially available until late March (for the Wi-Fi version), and in April for the 3G version. This window allows Apple more time to finalize new features and apps, and to establish working relationships with its many partners in an educational iPad ecosystem. A spring iPad education launch could position the iPad as the ideal off-to-school computer for the Fall 2010 semester.

Why buy your kid a crummy netbook when the iPad can be fully integrated with the education process?

A muted launch event

Education is a game-changing market for the iPad, but I didn’t hear the word “education” once in the official video of the launch event. Steve Jobs and others rhapsodized about the iPad as a supremely portable device for browsing, watching videos and movies, reading ebooks, newspapers and magazines, and playing games. The few demos were lackluster or rushed. No wonder the general reaction to the launch event was muted. Where was the game-changer? How did the iPad point beyond itself to some greater good? Where was its unique contribution to culture, to make a difference that matters?

We witnessed the introduction of a beautiful and highly capable tablet computer with no compelling reason to embrace it beyond its (limited) coolness. What crucial problem did it solve?

Why Apple didn’t refer to the iPad and education

If the iPad has so much potential in education, why didn’t Apple at least mention what it planned to do with the iPad in the education arena? It all comes down to impact, and how Apple builds its brand. The Apple brand aims to command every context in which it appears. It’s a diva; it owns the stage. To command a context Apple “reinvents” a key aspect of culture by enabling new ways of being and doing via Apple technology. The brand is transformative. An Apple launch event is therefore a conceptual and paradigmatic breakthrough as much as a technology breakthrough. In this approach, either you launch the complete product and brand ecosystem, and the new paradigm, with all guns blazing and all trumpets blaring, or you keep everything completely under wraps until the time is right. You don’t dribble. A piecemeal launch is worse than no launch at all.

Thus the January iPad launch became a device launch only. The education initiative will follow, in command of its own context, with select partners, evangelists, champions and endorsers, when the time is right.

Two signs of things to come

I did observe two signs of things to come in Apple’s education initiative, however. One was almost hidden in the keynote itself, the other lies in an interview with a highly-regarded VC after the launch.

The intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts

The iPad keynote did reveal a significant sign about what’s coming in education, although it’s tucked away at the very end of Steve Jobs’s presentation. Go to the 1:31 mark on the official Apple video and look at the image on the screen. Steve is discussing how the iPad represents  the “intersection of technology and liberal arts.” Liberal arts? As in, um, a college curriculum? Yes indeed, but that’s as far as he goes. Behind Steve on the screen is a street sign that shows two intersecting streets: Technology and Liberal Arts. How are they related? What’s Apple’s game-changing role? Since when is “Liberal Arts” an Apple focus? All this is brought up at the end of the keynote. We’re left hanging.

BTW, don’t be surprised if this is the first image you see when Apple announces its iPad education initiative. My sense is that it came from a separate presentation.

John Doerr on the iPad’s education potential

John Doerr, one of Silicon Valley’s the world’s leading venture capitalists, sees great education potential in the iPad. Is he in a position to know something? He does manage the $100 million iFund. Check out his initial comments as he’s interviewed by Om Malik just after the iPad launch event. (John’s segment begins a few seconds into the video; that’s David Carr pictured below.)

John says he’s particularly excited about what the iPad can do in education, with the iPad’s potentially “transformative” effect on American education and education worldwide. As I noted in a previous post, an iPad education initiative may enable a student in Oxford, Mississippi to take a class offered in Oxford, England.

Potential scope of Apple’s “killer app” for education

To summarize from my previous posts, the iPad’s ability to combine textbooks, lectures, class materials, course notes, class work and reference materials in an interactive, networked device could make the iPad a handheld university, a portable and immensely powerful learning platform. Combined with an expansion of Apple’s iTunes University, iTunes distribution network, and working arrangements with textbook publishers and universities, the iPad could enable Apple to become a leading brand of education. The “killer app”  is the integrated system (and ecosystem) that Apple brings to the table: the affordable, portable iPad, operating software, apps, partners, iTunes ecommerce for purchasing textbooks and other learning materials, iTunes U for courseware distribution, networking and infrastructure. All this could conceivably power campus learning, distance learning, and elements of non-university schooling as well. The whole soup to nuts.

Why the iPad needs to make an impact in education

After the iPad launch many commentators called the iPad the definitive media consumption device, perfect for web browsing and for buying music, videos, movies, books, and newspapers from Apple’s online stores. This is the iPad as a (mostly) passive device. It creates consumers who sit there and buy things, much like traditional TV.

While there’s obviously great profit potential in such a consumption-focused device, is that the legacy Apple (or Steve Jobs) desires—to create the second incarnation of the boob tube?

I don’t think so. Apple often describes its products as making contributions to culture. To quote Apple COO Tim Cook:

We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We’re constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple, not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

If you want to make a “significant contribution” you don’t settle for a digital consumption device. You aim higher, to a proactive learning platform that improves education and pays cultural dividends many times over, across every country in the world. That’s how you build the brand.


More thoughts on how Apple’s (rumored) “iTablet” could reinvent higher education

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010


A few months ago I freely speculated on how Apple’s rumored “iTablet” might position Apple to disrupt conventional higher education. It’s now time to update that post with some new thoughts and  information. In this post I’ll still call Apple’s rumored device the iTablet just to keep things consistent.

Apple emerges as the world leader of learning

In the hypothetical scenario I laid out in November Apple would emerge as the world’s leading enabler of learning, using the iTablet to replace conventional textbooks, lectures and learning materials. An interactive iTablet could offer a complete learning experience in itself. Apple, I speculated, could use the iTablet plus iTunes and cloud services to build a new digital model of higher education, in concert with the world’s top universities. This new model could enable a global level of learning far deeper than possible with current learning technology.

A 10-inch screen is the right size to reinvent textbooks

Recent rumors indicate that Apple’s iTablet—assuming there is one—will have a 10-inch screen. This makes perfect sense if one goal of the device is to reinvent textbooks as a means of reinventing higher education. Learning is large format. For education, the larger the iTablet screen, the better. In my speculative scenario, the iTablet would be much more than an e-reader that merely replicates textbook pages. Indeed, the iTablet would toss the whole category of  “textbooks” into the dustbin of history. In their place would be a new means of learning, a handheld computer that can access the full intelligence of the University. The iTablet would be  multimedia and web enabled, with embedded/downloaded lectures, videos, presentations, animations, dictionaries, databases, audio, photos, maps, charts, etc. And—like a computer— it would be interactive: a collaborative communications platform. It could replace the conventional classroom, too.

A strategic hire for Apple

One bit of data that I didn’t include in my previous post was a (potentially) strategic hire that Apple made way back in October, 2008. At that time Apple hired Joel Podolny, Dean of the Yale School of Management, as “vice president and Dean of Apple University.” That’s a pretty high-level hire. It would be a strategic hire if Apple’s intent were to create a digital education model for universities, with the current iTunes U serving as a rudimentary proving ground. At the time of the hiring Apple gave no additional information about the nature of, or future plans for, “Apple University.”

My recent Google search for “Podolny + Apple” turned up nothing after the original hiring announcement. I’m a big user of iTunes U as I noted in my previous post. But “Apple University” seems like a much more ambitious project. The name may be a placeholder . . . for what?

Disruption or liberation?

In my previous post I framed Apple’s potential move as “disruptive” of traditional higher education. It would certainly stand to disrupt traditional university classroom education, where students “go to class” to learn. Apple’s iTablet could turn that model on its head. It could bring the classroom (and much more) to the students. You could be in Oxford, Mississippi and take a class at Oxford University in England, with live lectures, notes, texts, comments and collaborations right at your fingertips. That’s liberating. And maybe that’s the best way to frame it.

NOTE: See our latest post on the iPad and education.

Photo:  Richard Peat — Wikimedia Commons

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

Is Apple positioned to disrupt universities?

Monday, November 2nd, 2009


Apple’s relentless pace of innovation has already disrupted the music and mobile phone industries. Given the scope of Apple’s technology development, are universities next in line to be disrupted by Apple’s far-reaching digital platforms?

NOTE: See our updates here and here. The latter discusses the iPad.

A speculative disruption scenario

In this post I’ll sketch a purely speculative disruption scenario suggested by Apple’s current and projected technology innovations. It appears that Apple may soon have a seamless system of hardware, software, services and online infrastructure to become a pivotal player in higher education. As such, Apple itself may become a brand of education.

That said, I have no evidence that Apple might even desire such a role. My hypothesis is simply that such a role might be available to it.

Apple’s potentially disruptive resources

In the field of higher education, Apple’s potentially disruptive resources would include the following:

  1. A method of organizing and managing huge amounts of online content and curricula
  2. A convenient means of delivering educational content and curricula to students
  3. Portable digital devices that students can use for digital textbooks, lectures and course materials (if some speculations are true)
  4. A transaction system for collecting tuition and fees
  5. An administrative system for maintaining student records.

Specific Apple resources would include Apple’s online iTunes University, Apple’s (rumored) forthcoming “iTablet” (for multimedia lectures and textbooks), its online iTunes store for transactions, and its platform of digital services for record keeping.

Apple as disruptor in music, mobile and perhaps publishing

We all know how Apple’s platform innovations disrupted the music industry with iTunes, the iTunes Store and the iPod. Apple subsequently changed the game in mobile communications with the disruptive platform of iPhone and App Store. Publishing may be next on the list if Apple’s rumored “iTablet” turns out to be a superlative e-reader, perhaps optimized for textbooks, and structured within a disruptive platform. Imagine Apple as the world’s default digital publisher, connecting readers with content producers. You may be buying your books, magazines, newspapers, music, movies and videos through iTunes, all downloaded in a few seconds to a spiffy Apple portable device with Apple’s famed ease of use.

For this to happen Apple would need a gigantic new data center—which it just happens to be building. It might suggest a mobile future for iTunes U.

Universities: tradition bound

Let’s now consider universities, those valued institutions whose basic structure and functions have been relatively unchanged for centuries. Are there equal or better ways of imparting high-level learning that don’t require the traditional four-year, classroom-based system of lecture-driven instruction? Is there an alternate means where instruction can be raised to the highest levels of interactive, multimedia learning, perhaps customized to student learning styles, and where costs can be contained, instead of spiraling upwards? And might there be a common digital platform where a university’s teaching and knowledge could be scaled worldwide, opening up massive new markets?

Apple’s foot in the collegiate door

Apple already has a foot in the collegiate door with its iTunes U on the  iTunes Store. (Yes, they’ve put a university in their store.) The iTunes U features steadily growing numbers of  (free) podcasts of complete courses from leading universities, plus many specialty lectures . Currently these are targeted to the iPod and the iPhone.

I’m a real fan of iTunes U. It has gems like this.  In its present form, though, iTunes U wouldn’t seem to have much disruptive potential. It’s mostly audio podcasts, and a lesser number of video podcasts. It’s wonderful that Apple makes it available. It’s a credit to participating universities as a means of expanding their educational outreach, as CNN notes.

Looking downstream, however, the emergence of new (and integrated) Apple technologies might position iTunes U as a potential disruptive force in higher learning.

A disruptive iTunes U scenario

Could Apple transform iTunes U into a global digital university, setting the world’s highest standards for interactive digital learning? Given Apple’s current and forthcoming technologies it may be possible to reposition higher learning from institutions of place (ye olde universities)  to an integrated system (and network) of instruction. This could be a system of online education orchestrated and operated by a central source, so that the learning modules could be of consistently high quality and be available anywhere, anytime, on convenient portable devices.

Apple’s potential partners in a distributed model of learning

How would this new digital model of learning be organized? It would need a core technology partner, and the closest company to fits that bill is probably Apple. It would need university partners, perhaps a gold list of the top 25 universities from around the world. Together they would offer premium (paid) curricula and courses downloadable via iTunes U.

Course materials (lectures, textbooks, exams, study guides, reference materials, etc.) would be optimized for the (rumored) Apple iTablet/e-reader.  Assuming that the Apple e-reader is an interactive device capable of web graphics, text, animations, movies, links, etc., these new courses would stand to be far more compelling than their classroom ancestors. They would also be much more engaging than the current podcast model.

An iTunes U disruption package

Here, then, is a hypothetical iTunes U disruption package, conceivably purchased from the iTunes U store for use on Apple’s “iTablet” (as speculated).

  1. Digital textbooks (designed as multimedia/interactive books)
  2. Digital lectures(designed as multimedia/interactive presentations)
  3. Digital course materials (movies, music, art, etc.) outboard of online textbooks or lectures
  4. Online student discussions, group exercises, team collaboration and uploads
  5. Sign-ups, downloaded materials, fees and tuition paid via the iTunes U store.

As a student, you’d visit iTunes U, chose your course or courses, pay the fees, and download everything to your portable device. No lines. No waiting. No “semesters.” Order a logo sweatshirt, and you’re good to go. This may cost less, deliver more learning, and be far more convenient than attending a traditional university.



How great brands change the game

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

How do great brands change the game? One thing is certain: they don’t start with the game. They understand, perhaps intuitively, that the current game has reached its limits. The rules constrain the players—both the customer, and the brand. Stick to those rules and you’ll be bound to the same few moves, on the same hard bench, in the same small park, for a long time to come.

To change the game, change the customer

Great brands change the game by changing the customer. They redefine the customer and the customer’s world, elevating the customer to a completely new context. In this new context the old game suddenly becomes irrelevant, along with all the companies, products and brands wedded to it. It isn’t the new brand that spells the difference as much as it’s the new customer that the brand creates. He or she is delighted to leave the old game behind.

If you want to really change the game, you can liberate the customer.