Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Will all brands run through Adobe?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Over the last decade many companies have turned to digital technologies to create new brand relationships with customers, using everything from web sites to online communities to weblogs to Web-based media campaigns. This marks a major change for brands, because it means a significant part of their future will be played out on a digital stage.

What’s the optimal digital platform for brands?

For brand builders, a critical question now becomes: what’s the optimal digital platform for brands, in all their new dimensions? What technology (or technologies) can help us deliver the richest brand experience and the greatest brand value?

Adobe seems to have the inside track

At this point, it would appear that Adobe Systems might have the inside track to be the brand builder’s digital platform of choice. Either by cunning strategy or simple good fortune, Adobe seems to be putting together application platforms that can make a brand builder’s job easier. And we’re not just talking Photoshop and InDesign. We’re talking about digitally-enabled brand avenues with rich connections to customers, reaching almost every computer in the world.

The coming age of RIA’s

One of Adobe’s strengths is its innovation leadership in Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s). These applications use new programming technologies to provide online apps with much of the functionality and user experience of traditional desktop software. (It’s not quite Brand Nirvana, but it’s getting there.) RIA’s will open a whole new world of possibilities for brand builders by removing many traditional Web limitations, while enabling many more layers of customer interaction. The next few years will determine which RIA platform will emerge to define and convey the new stuff of brands.

See our previous post on RIA’s here. And this example.

What brand builders need

Before we check out what Adobe has to offer, let’s review what brand builders need for this new world of digital-based brands:

  1. Digital platforms that are open, extensible, standards-based, and include as much of the world as possible.
  2. Digital platforms that won’t constrain, corral or limit customers (or, ahem, brand builders).
  3. Platforms open to fast innovation from the bottom-up.
  4. An integrated suite of applications with voice, video, music, and dynamic action. Apps that free the brand to be the brand.
  5. Full functionality for customer interaction and collaboration. Absolutely critical.
  6. Apps that are cross platform (cross-OS) so they run on all the computers and digital devices out there. Let no customer be left behind.
  7. Apps that are “free” to the customer, making app deployment effortless, if not automatic.
  8. Apps that are easy to develop and deploy. (Helps to have an established developer base with great tools, so they doo good work without costing us an arm and a leg.)
  9. Apps as light as customers want, or as heavy as customers want. Apps that are infinitely malleable.
  10. Apps the customer can adopt as a second skin.
  11. Apps that preserve “persistence of context” — so that brand virtues retain their presence throughout the digital experience, online and offline.
  12. Apps that enable customers to add value back to the brand. (This may be the most “killer app” of them all).

Oh yes, and after all the above, we’d like the same platform to help us build out our brand programs, so we can use it to train our employees on our brand vision, and deliverables.

Adobe apps that set the brand stage

Given what Adobe now offers, let’s count the ways that Adobe might enable the kinds of digital-based brand connections and programs that brand builders might use to create customers.

  • Video over the Internet: Adobe Flash Player video (it powers YouTube)
  • Dynamic web applications: Adobe Flash + RIA
  • Video on mobile devices: Adobe Flash Lite
  • Mobile dynamic content Adobe Flash Lite (apps/games)
  • Voice over IP: Adobe Flash player
  • Cross-OS desktop applications: Adobe Apollo (mid-2007) + RIA
  • Interactive web conferencing: Adobe Connect
  • Interactive training: Adobe Connect
  • Video presentations/tutorials: Adobe Connect

Much of this is made possible by the ubiquity of the Adobe Flash Player, which is installed on 97% of all computers, and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. The Flash Player was Adobe’s grand prize when it acquired Macromedia in 2005.

Adobe Apollo

Many eyes are focused on Adobe Apollo, Adobe’s coming RIA platform due in mid-2007. It may emerge as the digital brand platform of choice if it lives up to its promise. Adobe is certainly making it a centerpiece of its platform strategy. Apollo may enable your brand to bring things together in unique ways that can create new customers, with vast powers for brand-driven widgets.

Late news here.

Alternatives to Adobe

Of course, you can create a top-tier digital-based brand without Adobe products and services. Google is developing slick online apps using Ajax frameworks, as are many other companies. OpenLaszlo is a powerful open source platform that competes with Adobe, and uses the ubiquitous Flash Player. Microsoft has its (still limited) WPF/E. Currently, though, Adobe’s Flash player ubiquity, application integration, RIA innovation and developer resources make it the digital brand platform to beat.

Brands from the bottom-up

If there’s any shortfall in all these software applications, it’s at the bottom rather than the top. As a brand builder, it’s nice to know that Adobe Flash Lite 3 will enable you to stream videos to customer mobile phones, plus deliver mobile video clips, applications and personalized content. These present outstanding brand-building opportunities. However, brands are more than broadcast. You also want your digital platform to flourish at the customer-to-customer level, so that your brand can also be built from the bottom-up.

This is especially important when customers re-create your brand in their own digital networks, pushing and pulling brand context to yield new value. You want your digital platform to handle these customer interactions that can lead to network effects.

It will be interesting to see how Adobe and other platform contenders extend their brand tools to address this issue.


A excellent link for news on Rich Internet Applications is Ryan Stewart’s The Universal Desktop.

Check out Adobe’s new apps at Adobe Labs.

Photo: TJ-Blog — Flickr

Web 3.0 replaces Web 2.0

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

When you work in brands, you have to know what’s going on. Thanks to the Internet we can now watch entire technology eras rise and fall in the same browser session.

Web 2.0 came in like a lion and leaves like a lamb (in G minor).

Web 3.0 takes the town by storm. And still searches for a story.

Thanks to the fine folks at MetaFilter (9/4/06)

The iPod changes the game in brand identity

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

The dramatic success of the Apple iPod is a major business story, but the iPod’s innovations in brand identity are a major brand story as well. The iPod represents a game-changing shift in how brand identity is developed and managed. It shows how brand identity can become more effective when it’s less about the company and more about the customer. For brand builders this may seem counter-intuitive, but the iPod demonstrates it can work with great effect.

The iPod’s brand identity innovation

The iPod has moved beyond traditional brand identity approaches in two critical areas. First, it shifts brand identity from a company context to the context of the customer. This is a big change that greatly expands the scope of “brand identity” itself. It allows for many new layers of brand innovation. Second, placing brand identity in a customer context opens many new avenues for creating customers, and for advancing customers beyond the reach of competitors. The iPod itself is testament to how this can be done.

I’ll discuss the iPod’s brand identity innovation below, but first I’ll review some of the problems with traditional approaches to brand identity.

Problems with the traditional brand identity approach

In a traditional brand identity approach, the brand team develops a brand identity that’s company-centric. The identity stems from a unique company “essence” that differentiates the brand from competitors and supports marketing goals. Unfortunately, this approach comes with a major problem out of the box: it treats brand identity as a proprietary “package” that’s separate from the customer. Because it’s company property, it’s not meant to be shared. The customer is simply invited (or persuaded) to embrace it, and to become, in effect, a (passive) brand follower.

The traditional approach makes no attempt to add value to the customer’s own identity through the brand. By its nature, it tends to reduce brand identity to a perception play. Because companies desperately want customers to embrace their brands, the marketplace becomes flooded with competing brand campaigns broadcasting “me, me, me” brand identity calls, much like preening birds in the jungle, vying for mates. For customers, this typically results in too little signal, too much noise.

The generic weakness of the conventional approach is that it produces a brand identity in the context of the company, whereas the market exists in the context of the customer. That’s a disconnect. Brands use advertising to bridge this gap, but advertising is imperfect and expensive, and increasingly locks the brand into a perception-play spend.

An alternative to the standard approach

There is a brand identity alternative. Why not: 1) add value with your brand identity; 2) share it with the customer; and 3) frame it in the context of the customer, rather than the company? This can provide you with a more direct path to creating customers in the first place, and then keeping them for the long haul.

And that’s where the iPod points a new way.

Identity is all about the customer—not the company

Customers care about brand identity when it helps them grow their own identity. In truth, they want their identity, not yours. In other words, effective brand identity is about them, and not exclusively about you. The genius of the iPod brand is that it elevates customers to a new identity, without trying to impose its own. This is an act of liberation, not an act of conversion. It changes the game of brand identity from being company-centric, where dozens of brands compete head-to-head, to being customer-centric, where a brand teams with the customer to create a shared identity platform.

Buy an iPod, be a DJ

The iPod nurtures a customer identity from below, rather than projecting a brand identity from above. Through this organic process, the iPod becomes a customer identity enabler. It raises the customer from being a lowly “buyer of music” and a lowly “buyer of an mp3 player” to a superior identity: that of being a DJ — with the creative power of 10,000 songs.

Why buy an mp3 player from Creative or Dell when one can be a DJ via Apple? Being is superior to buying.

As an identity enabler, the iPod delivers demonstrable coolness. The iPod includes iTunes, and with iTunes every iPod customer can create customized playlists for every mood and occasion. Yes, playlists are a creative act. The iPod elevates the customer from a passive listener in his/her room to a mobile music creator and performer (the DJ), ready to share one’s taste, sets, mix and rhythms.

Brand identity is customer identity

The iPod does more than give customers power over their music. The iPod offers them their own musical identity. And thus, buying an iPod is an investment in one’s own identity. This is real, not symbolic. iPod customers are unlocking a part of themselves that’s been repressed and constrained. Apple understands this, which is why the integration between the iPod, iTunes and the iTunes Music Store is so strong. It is “seamless,” as is the identity it enables.

In fact, the iPod presages a coming convergence of brand identity and brand experience, where identity is forged as part of the brand experience process. This also means that brand identity/customer identity becomes deeply interactive.

Identity that makes a market

The goal of any brand identity effort is to create an identity that makes a market. For this to happen, that identity must be a customer identity. Instead of trying to “sell” a brand identity to the customer, or hook the customer on an illusion, the iPod simply frees a powerful identity driver within the customer. Note how Apple highlights the customer in iPod campaigns. The Apple logo and the iPod don’t dominate the stage. We see persons totally at one with their music. And they’re not mere “listeners.” They’re manifestations of a new brand identity that exists as a customer identity: dancers, DJ’s, performers, creators.

Hosting the new brand/customer identity

Creative and Dell used traditional, company-context identity strategies against the iPod and failed to gain market traction. In effect, their “company first” brand identities had to compete against customer identities fueled by the iPod. It was “no contest” because the iPod had already changed the game. The iPod strategically repositioned digital music identity from the product to the customer. Using its “umbilical cord” of iTunes and the iTunes Music Store, Apple now hosts this new identity—a very enviable position, indeed.

Photo: iLounge, Flickr

Kraft wants your product ideas

Monday, June 5th, 2006

Kraft Foods has initiated an “open innovation” program to solicit new product ideas from the public. Their innovation program site has the details, and a submittal form. You might earn up to $5000, or share in licensing royalties (have your patent lawyer handy). Here’s what they want:

Kraft is accepting ideas under this policy for new products, packaging, and business processes/systems only. We are most interested in ideas that are more that a concept, in
particular new products & packages that are ready to be brought to market (or can be brought to market quickly).

Well, there goes my idea for Anti-oxidant Mac and Cheese.

Kraft seems a wee bit desperate to grab something almost-ready-for-market so they can get it to the shelves ASAP. From their innovation submittal form:

  1. Provide a brief description of your idea or
    technical innovations. Please be sure to tell
    us its unique benefits and what may make
    it valuable to Kraft.
  2. What potential applications might the
    submitted idea or technical innovations
  3. Is it covered by a patent (provide patent
    number), or has a patent application been
  4. Has the idea or technical innovation been
    commercialized? Where and by whom?
    Do you have any consumer research data
    supporting the idea or innovations? If so,
    please tell us about it.

Why is Kraft doing this?
On the surface, this seems like a Hail Mary innovation strategy. It certainly doesn’t give much credit to Kraft’s own R&D efforts, which (a related WSJ article–sub req) tells us, haven’t had a “hit” since DiGiorno pizza 10 years ago.

Product “finishing” and innovation arbitrage
Kraft might also be subtly repositioning itself as a “marketing and branding” company, in which ideas come in from all around the world and Kraft simply does the “finishing” to bring them to market. If so, they might be using this initiative to price-bargain professional “innovation sourcers” who develop innovations and package them to “distributors” such as Kraft. If Kraft can end-run the professional sourcers with a public program, it can avoid having them eat its innovation lunch, so to speak.

(Outside innovation teams present a very real strategic threat to Kraft and other “mass market” producers. They can source patentable products and then auction them ($$$) to the highest bidder. Call it innovation arbitrage.)

Open innovation and brand context
Open innovation can benefit Kraft, but only in the right brand context. A lot will depend on Kraft’s ability to break from the pitfalls of traditional brand practice. Open innovation at Kraft is doomed if Kraft follows the antiquated “branding” approach in which brands are little more than stylized sales stimulants. That approach is what got Kraft into trouble in the first place.

Today’s “targets” are tomorrow’s holes in the ground
Part of Kraft’s problem is that its top-down brand strategy has “targeted” customers instead of creating them. Now that customers have moved on, Kraft’s traditional “targets” are simply holes in the ground.

If your brand programs are focused on creating customers, collaborative innovation can be embedded in your business process. This is a more holistic–and more manageable–approach than blanket innovation appeals.

Thanks to Steve Portigal, who also provides a very worthwhile “open innovation” link to Frank Piller’s site. Frank provides a broader context for Kraft’s innovation initiative.