Surprisingly there are still skeptics to the power of a brand to add significant value to a business. This usually comes from the operations and finance folks. Accounting practices don’t have a tidy place for things that exist more between the ears of consumers than within a company’s warehouses and bank accounts.
When I’m teaching the concept of brand building (versus business building), I define the former efforts as bolstering its “intellectual property value.” This is done partially by the folks in marketing and communications, but far more commonly it’s done by such things as innovations in product design, improved distribution and creative pricing.
Apple has certainly done two out of three. Their pricing is hardly “creative.” As a market leader, Apple’s prices are mostly set to convert this elevated brand value into lovely lucre. Lots of it.
Strong Brands Can Deliver Amazing Profits
Below is a case in point, taken from an Economist Magazine published earlier this month (a pay wall may block you from full content):
The story is about diminishing returns for most cell phone handset makers. Diminishing, that is, except for Apple. Comparing Apple’s handset share of market with the brand’s share of profits is a clear demonstration of how powerful a strong brand can be to maximize profits — even with relatively modest market share.
Yesterday’s unveiling of the Apple tablet, which we now know is called the iPad, showed a device with a larger surface than the iPhone / iPod Touch. It allows for a better reading and video experience and provides improved ways to do things like manage emails and photographs. Largely unaddressed with this release is a far more important question: How will this multi-touch make me better at thinking and creating?
Rocking the PDA old skool with Palm’s Graffiti
Return with me for a moment to a simpler time, before smartphones got “smart.”
It was a time when the handheld device du jour was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In the 1990’s, Palm released their Pilot PDA. These Treos, sans cell phone required a stylus for text entry. There was no QWERTY keyboard, and not even a cell phone number pad.
The user needed to learn a type of stylus script called Graffiti to get text into the thing. Some people got good enough to write with something close to the speed of traditional longhand. Personally, as a lefty, I found it more comfortable to use Graffiti than to write in longhand. I didn’t have to think about the angle of the paper in relation to my contorted left hand. Smearing ink wasn’t an issue.
This was many people’s introduction to a computer user interface beyond the keyboard. There was a lot wrong with it, though. Styluses are a pain to use. And many Palm users found Graffiti so difficult to use that they simply called up a hunt-and-peck keyboard. Here’s a YouTube demo of it in use.
For me the golden promise of multi-touch monitors is not the ability to flick through photo galleries or zoom into a map — as cool as those functions are. Ever since the first mass market multi-touch keyboard was made available with the invention of the iPhone, I was waiting for a faster way to record thoughts.
I was hoping yesterday to learn of a gestural script — a Graffiti without the stylus.
What’s so wrong with QWERTY keyboards?
Whether displayed on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or now the iPad — old-fashioned keyboards simply don’t free the user to quickly jot something down and get back to work.
Instead, these devices force users to leave the fluid, intuitive work of (let’s face it!) grown-up finger painting. The appearance of the QWERTY keyboard sends them marching back indoors like a recess bell. Ugh! The taps of fingers on keys — even ultra-modern keys, projected on slick glass iPad surface — still evoke the drudgery of an oppressive cubicle farm.
I know this sounds a little glib, but think about it. Our speed of productive output are in many ways limited by our office supplies. Give someone a soul-crushing keyboard to think with and you’ll be producing something constrained by that medium. If their work soars, it’s in spite of the keyboard, not aided by it. In 2003, Jeff Han demonstrated to cheers the full effect of a multi-touch experience. I predicted then that this technology will quickly change the very nature of our work experience.
It’s simple. The reason for Apple’s spectacular success is that, although the human mind is capable of impressive calculation, what makes it uniquely human is its ability to dream.
When they aren’t trying to parrot what Windows-based machines do, most Apple products promise a more fertile ground for right-brained thinking. Mostly these products succeed. And they do because they touch us in the heart at least as much as in the mind.
Now think about your web site. Is it still behaving as if its users are more robot than human? Watch out, because your competitor’s sites might not. They may realize that the most buttoned-down web users haven’t forgotten to smile.
Author and public speaker Daniel Pink made this point, but on a more global scale. His book from two years ago, A Whole New Mind contended that as workers in a new, Conceptual Age, we need to sharpen these six skills: design, storytelling, creative collaboration, empathy, play and rendering meaning — although he labeled them far more colorfully than I just did, which is why he is the famous business author and not me.
Lately he’s been talking about using empathy in public messages. Once again, he was speaking more globally than messaging on web sites. But just review some of these examples and see if you aren’t inspired to breathe some warmth into your site’s content:
Don’t worry, this line moves really quickly.
Movie Theater Electric Hand Dryers:
We don’t like them either, but they are the most energy efficient and environmentally-friendly choice.
Hong Kong Airport:
Relax. Train comes every two minutes.
These three have one thing in common. They respectfully ask us to take a breath and side with the human being who is delivering the bad news.
How can this relate to your site? One of the most lighthearted set of web error messages come from the disruption-prone Twitter site. Although the originals were LOLcats, the latest batch — such as this one — take a more conventionally cutesy tack:
Is this frivolous — therefore below consideration for your site?
That depends. If your current error messages are pushing people over the brink, you’re losing business. There is nothing warm or cute about that business reality.
Apple fan Nick Haley, an 18-year-old “fresher” at University of Leeds, got his first Macintosh computer when he was three. Earlier this year his enthusiasm bubbled over. The new iPod Touch inspired him to create a 30-second TV spot, complete with an infectious musical bed. But this act of creation didn’t earn Mr. Haley his Generation C strips. The “C,” after all, stands for Content, or Co-creation — as I described earlier in this post. No, he truly arrived when he posted the ad on YouTube.
If that were the end of the story, it would be inspiring enough. Here is a young man who acts on the urge to express his love for a brand — and home-grown video production — with like-minded fans and friends.That’s pretty cool.
But as this New York Times piece puts it, “Leave it to Apple to … think differently.” They rung him up, flew him to Los Angeles, and turned his concept into their newest TV spot. Kudos to the production expertise of Apple’s long-time ad agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, for not distorting Haley’s vision in the final product (it’s a pity they had to ditch the catchy song from the original, by the Brazilian band CSS).
It’s no surprise that Apple gets it when it comes to helping their wired fan base spread the word about their products. I look forward to seeing how many other brands follow suit. For me, at least, user-generated ads will be a major force in slowing down my inclination to zoom past commercials on my DVR.
Marketing Technology Musings and Tips by Jeff Larche