Archive for the 'Brand Relationships' Category

Android brand fragmentation

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Michael DeGusta has produced an informative chart showing how the mass of Android phones is not being updated with the latest Android software releases. He contrasts this with a much stronger level of upgrade support from Apple iOS, which is innovating just as rapidly. To me, the chart shows the extent of Android brand fragmentation at the end user level, where the rubber meets the road. Instead of the Android brand being a seamless user experience through upgrades and support, Android users are often stuck in older and more limited Android versions with no hope of upgrade during their contracts. Instead of briskly marching its users forward with upgrade innovations and fixes, the Android brand is stumbling and limping, and sometimes just stops.

The result: Android brand loyalty may be tenuous.

Android users deprived of an optimal Android experience

Android’s brand fragmentation deprives Android users of an optimal Android experience. At the device level it’s a piecemeal brand can’t deliver the full value behind it. At a time when both Android and Apple iOS are innovating feverishly toward a deep and wide-ranging mobile experience, a scatter-shot Android brand experience can hardly build the brand loyalty that Google needs going forward. For example, it’s not a good sign when surveys indicate current Android users prefer the iPhone over Android, or prefer the iPad over Android-powered tablets.

The Chart

Here is Michael’s chart. A larger version is on his site linked to above.

The nature of Android brand fragmentation

Please note that when I discuss Android brand fragmentation I’m not referring to the Android brand display (symbols, visuals) or to Android brand messaging. I’m referring to the Android brand experience as it’s delivered to end users. It’s hard for the brand to create customers when so many dead ends and third-party factors intervene between the brand and those whose loyalty it seeks.

A fractured user experience

To quote from Michael’s analysis of the Android data in the chart:

Other than the original G1 and MyTouch, virtually all of the millions of phones represented by this chart are still under contract today. If you thought that entitled you to some support, think again:

  • 7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
  • 12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
  • 10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
  • 11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
  • 13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
  • 15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
  • In a few weeks, when Ice Cream Sandwich comes out, every device on here will be another major version behind.

Android users lag behind in apps, too

The fragmented nature of Android also makes Android users pay a price in app availability and app quality. Android’s myriad versions on myriad devices make it a pain for developers to create and test apps for so many different versions and handsets, especially when the device makers and the carriers insert their own software and tweaks. Apple’s iOS presents a much more consistent platform, even with Apple’s sometimes obscure curatorial logic.  (For a recent survey of Android developers see Fortune: “Android is a mess, say developers.”

The good news

In my recent post, Android: the dangers of a recessive brand, I outlined a number of measures Google could take to deliver deeper brand value in its offerings. Among these is establishing a canonical Android release that unifies Android innovation into a core platform that’s a more stable platform for app development and support. Android 4.0 may be that release, and that is good news, although it doesn’t directly help those with older Android-powered devices.

Chart image: © Michael DeGusta
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Google: an algorithm trying to be a brand

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

As I’ve noted previously (latest here) Google in many respects is an algorithm trying (and often failing) to be a brand. It “gets” information, but it doesn’t “get” humans. Google Buzz is the latest example of the latter.

In Why Google Buzz isn’t buzz-worthy Mike Egan of Datamation details key shortcomings that stand between the algorithmic Google and Google as a “psychological space” (i.e., brand) that customers can trust.

If Google can’t rise to the level of a trusted brand, where it teams with customers instead of relentlessly mining them for data, its ability to compete with brands such as Apple will be diminished.

UPDATE

Feb. 11 In response to widespread privacy concerns over the Buzz implementation process, Google as tweaked and clarified the process. See here.

For additional context, see The negative buzz around Google’s new social network in the New York Times.

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Google’s automated brand can’t connect

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

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In deep space it might have been a good idea: since your business exists on computers and is accessed by computers, put your brand on computers, too. Automate it. Keep messy customers on the other side of the screen. Create an online Help Page. Fill it with FAQ’s. Cue up some Forums. Add video. List some email links but tell customers not to expect personal replies. Better yet, delegate customer service to your partners. And best of all, don’t include a phone number. Why invite time-wasting customer calls? Listening is not your business.

Then sit back and let the automated brand work its magic. No fuss. No muss. No puny humans fouling the flow.

In reality it was a bad idea

In reality—on Earth— it was a bad idea. On January 5, 2010 Google boldly announced the Nexus One “superphone,” a highly advanced iPhone competitor. The launch event was a smash, but things then went downhill. Google’s automated brand couldn’t connect with customers. Its few online circuits were promptly overloaded. So many customer questions disappeared into the ether that the New York Times asked, Hey Google, Anybody Home?

Customers called, and the brand wasn’t there.

Customers had questions—lots of them

Customers had questions—lots of them—especially about buying the Nexus One for $529 unlocked. Google made that offer a big part of the launch, raising a lot of “big first” questions, especially since the Nexus One is sold only from the Nexus One website. And—reading the fine print—it did seem that if customers bought the phone at a discounted price with a carrier (T-Mobile) contract, they might face early termination fees greater than the full price of the unlocked phone itself. Whoa! How does that work?

Searching for a brand relationship

Before shelling out hundreds of dollars for a path-breaking new smartphone many customers searched for a brand relationship from Google itself. Spending big bucks for an untested smartphone is a big risk that can only be mitigated by a highly positive brand relationship. Customers wanted a direct connection to the real Google behind the screen—to that human Google that had forever seemed so elusive. They especially wanted to feel confident that Google would support the Nexus One  in years to come, since its record of supporting its brand of phones was—at this time—precisely zero.

They searched for a brand relationship and wound up with a web page.

Customers notice if you don’t connect the brand dots

Customers connect the brand dots. They notice when you don’t. A path-breaking product from a new vendor has a lot of dots to connect if it wants to build the trust that builds markets. Apple has 284 Apple stores. In Google’s case, customers may have wondered how they could trust Google when it didn’t see fit to include a phone number for customer service on its site—when Google was proclaiming itself a major player in the phone business. Perhaps customers thought: You’re selling expensive super cool phones, but you don’t have a phone number to call. Hello?

Nexus One customer service complaints

Launching a forward-focused, highly innovative product on the shoulders of an automated brand is guaranteed to let customers down. Many customers apparently bailed on the Google brand when they couldn’t get answers from Google’s Nexus One Help Page. Immediately following the Nexus One launch, reports of customer dissatisfaction were all over the Web. A sampling:

  1. Google Nexus One leaves customers sour Wired
  2. Nexus One a test of Google’s customer service CNET
  3. Google faces deluge of Nexus One complaints PC World
  4. Google, Nexus One and the customer service risk ZD Net
  5. Google’s Nexus One issues threaten its push to shake up mobile Wall St. Journal

The brand is not an algorithm

It’s tempting to think that we can reduce a brand to a simple, repeatable formula, and then activate it in finitum. Unfortunately, a brand is not an algorithm. It can’t be automated. It’s a living customer connection, vital, emotional, and changeable, drawing a large part of its life from customers.

Brands, in fact, are the opposite of algorithms. They’re interactive structures of discovery, far more culture than commerce. They’re made to innovate, to explore and to create new forms of value with customers as partners. At their edges they reinvent themselves daily. That’s how they can create new classes of customers that drive the business forward, into new market spaces. A fixed brand agenda to contain customers or to lock them in place is a prescription for failure.

There is no “beta” in brands

While Google is famed for it’s innumerable “beta” releases of free software, where it could formally shift risk to customers, those days are over. While there may be lots of “beta” in product development, there is no “beta” in brands. The grown-up Google is judged by its brand.

A slow start for Nexus One sales?

Wired and the Wall Street Journal have reported hat sales of Nexus One are off to a slow start. If true, part of the reason may be Google’s failure to advance its brand with personally engaging customer service. Without such personal engagement, customer questions, doubts and fears can easily become a decision that says, “Too risky. No thanks.” A weak or reluctant Google brand will mean that the Nexus One may never achieve its potential sales volume and market share.

Google as a brand of trust

In an abbreviated sense, we can identify three phases in the evolution of Google’s brand:

1. A work in progress —  The “beta” years, now history.

2. It just works — The current phase of high-performance automation

3. Google works for you — The next phase of brand trust

This next phase will be Google’s greatest challenge to date. It entails a Google brand built on relationships, not algorithms. It means Google must excel as a brand of trust, connecting with customers beyond the machine interface.

Nexus One as a brand wake-up call

Google’s customer service shortfalls with Nexus One are in fact a wake-up call for the Google brand. While Google has done a masterful job advancing customers with highly-integrated information services, it has reached a point where trust in Google is now every bit as vital as Google’s software brilliance. Google can’t automate the next step.

Photo credit: Iitmuse — Flickr
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When bugs bedevil brands

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Brands yearn to operate at the highest realms of context, but even the mightiest brand can be tripped up by a lowly bug. Verizon’s new (and highly-publicized) Droid phone is a case in point. Featuring Google’s slick Android 2.0 operating system with a handset by Motorola, Droid is getting rave reviews as an emerging competitor to the iPhone.

Except for that bug.

Fuzzy autofocus—that comes and goes

The first Droid phones had problems with the 5.0 megapixel camera, which itself is intended to be a prime feature. The camera’s autofocus didn’t work properly. Many pictures came out fuzzy. Really fuzzy. Reviewers labeled it “average at its best, and terrible at worst.”

Apparently, the problem was/is a fuzzy-photo bug in the camera software that appears/disappears in 24.5 day cycles. As one reviewer summed it up:

The camera works poorly for 24.5 days, then works properly for the next 24.5 days. This is based on the improper use of a timestamp by the focusing code, a strange cause to be sure.

Recently the fuzzy photos suddenly disappeared, leading some to believe that Verizon issued an unannounced software update over its mobile network. Or, it may be that the next 24.5 day “good” cycle kicked in.

Lowly bugs can be big brand opportunities

If Verizon wants to be a brand that takes care of its customers, then the time is ripe to announce a formal fix. Show customers that the Verizon brand has their back.

Lowly bugs can be big brand opportunities.

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While marketers shout, brands listen

Monday, June 9th, 2008

In business, the company that listens best often lasts longest. The brand approach to business teaches that you don’t have to be the loudest, flashiest or most intrusive voice to build the strongest customer base. You simply have to listen to what your primary partners—your customers—have to say.

After all, they’re your brand partners. And they’re saying it for your benefit.

The New York Times has an example: Believe it or not, someone’s listening.

Listening is the province of brands

Listening is the province of brands. While marketers may lapse into sales pitch mode at the drop of a hat (full disclosure: mea culpa, mea maxima culpa), brands listen as marketers never can. That’s because brands are structured as joint ventures with customers, where listening is as fundamental as breathing. A brand is an active collaboration in context, and it is the brand’s ability to listen that keeps that collaboration alive.

Listening is the province of brands because brands are a team effort, a pursuit of shared objectives and mutual goals. Do we listen closely to our teammates? Yes we do—without giving it a second thought. Listening comes naturally to brands because it’s a basic function of teaming and working together.

Listening is part of the brand experience

Listening is a also vital part of the brand experience. Let me clarify that: how you listen to your customers is a big part of their brand experience. A “rich” brand experience is one rich in listening and conversation, where communication flows freely. The deeper the brand, the deeper the listening. (In many respects, the engine of sustainable brand growth is not the big campaign, but the many individual instances of listening and conversation along the way.)

Brands that thrive on listening

The brands that listen best are often bottom-up brands structured as platforms to advance and grow customers. These brands tend to be hands-on, direct and participative. The more they listen to customers the more they can learn, and translate that learning into innovation. While they may utilize surveys and focus groups, the ultimate goal is real-time listening through front-line employees, where company and customer forge the leading edge of the brand.

Such brands treat customers as friends and allies on a shared brand journey. They listen intently, step by step.

Image: Self portrait, Vincent van Gogh — Wikimedia Commons
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Some brands go medieval on their customers

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Here we are in the year 2011, yet when we analyze current brand practice it appears that some brands behave as if we’re still in the Middle Ages, way back in the year 1011. In effect, they go medieval on their customers, treating them as a passive flock whose fate is to be told what to believe—and then to believe it heart and soul.

Medieval messaging

The medieval model of brands assumes a static, stratified society with brands on top and customers below. It puts the company on a throne, or in a pulpit, high above customers, dispensing brand doctrine to (hoped for) awestruck believers. It’s very much a one-way show of medieval messaging. And these days, it’s also a risky one.

Times have changed

It’s risky because times have indeed changed. The year 2011 is not the year 1011. When it comes to brands, the medieval approach now stands out as a potential brand weakness, for three reasons: 1) the medieval style places artificial barriers between companies and their customers; 2 it positions customers as a passive audience, who can’t add value back to the brand; and 3) it relies on closed brand doctrine, minimizing brand innovation and shared discovery.

A containment agenda

The medieval style of brands follows a containment agenda. It wants to freeze time, and to freeze customers in place—in 2011!—when customers have more to offer brands than ever before. In the medieval model, a brand that might become a joint (customer) venture with a live edge is reduced to a steady stream of preachments from on high, into a confined, compressed 2-D space without perspective or horizons—with no place for customers to grow.

Elements of the medieval model

The medieval model for brands typically sustains itself by using indoctrination techniques to instill desired beliefs and emotions in customers. It does this instead of innovating to create new brand value. Its brands are designed as messages, rather than as avenues of innovation.

The medieval model includes:

1. A belief system (doctrine) based on glorifying the company and the brand
2. A top-down process of inculcation (”messaging”)
3. A static universe untouched by innovation and change
4. Use of music, images, symbols, signs and icons to foster and fortify belief
5. Rituals and rites of passage
6. Myths and stories to make the brand appear real–and magical
7. A passive and dependent role for the customer, as a credulous believer

Medieval style brands invite disruption

As the world transitions to a digital age, leaving much of traditional mass media behind, brands that embrace the medieval style become increasingly vulnerable to brand innovation from competitors, and to brand disruption from below, where customers chart a new course for themselves. By confining customers and holding them back, the medieval model works against itself. It helps make its customers ripe for the taking.

What shape will that customer liberation take? It will be participative, decentralized, proactive and bottom-up, just like the advent of printing, the growth of cities and private enterprise and popular movements helped sweep Europe out of the Middle Ages into a much more vigorous and productive era.

(more…)

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