Friday, 20 April 2012

LinkedIn has a competitor. BranchOut.

I use Linkedin. I like Linkedin. But I'm getting tired of it.

Tired of long lists of updates and little interaction.
Tired of being constantly told about other people joining new groups.
Tired of a lack of interesting posting and usage.

Although there's no doubt, it is THE Business network where you can actually do business and reach out to business customers. Because largely, it's the one most established and not, if I might suggest, because of its excellence in design.

But it has become very closed as a network - introductions are not made easy - and very commercial through constant advertising. It feels very impersonal and quite limited in content. No video "hangouts", no streaming, limited news feeds and just kind of basic functionality. 

So now it has a competitor - BranchOut.

It's something that Businesspeople should be aware of.

BranchOut allows users to see which of their Facebook friends (or their friends) work at specific companies and it doesn't require users to build a network one person at a time. Unlike Linkedin. And I think that's a key because the slow, time-consuming nature of building a Linkedin network, is unhelpful. 

In lots of ways the profile data is similar and with a recruitment section - RecruiterConnect, (which caused Linkedin to block Branchout from using its API), it fulfills all the things that Linkedin does. And more.

With 13 million monthly unique users, BranchOut is getting more popular as a Facebook App, than Pinterest and Skype whilst still being considered a new "start up". And largely due to early adopters in the mobile space, outside of the US.

I think this is important in that there does seem to be an opportunity in the Business network/Social media space to target Linkedin. Which, it seems to me, has lost its way to a degree.

The Business market online, has real growth potential as more and more business people consider online as a place to be. Perhaps too, Linkedin users may feel it's time to move on.

BranchOut is the first of the competitors.

Just in at 230pm as an update from Business Insider. BranchOut raises 25million usd today:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Sony. The 6.4billion loss and the death of brands.

Most of us will remember Sony as the great, quality premium brand of growing up. Clever advertising instilling a real sense of long-lasting, up-to-the-minute products that were a little more expensive but hey, worth every penny. Innovation through The Walkman, Playstation, Bravia, Vaio, Cameras.....

I remember walking into The Sony Store in New York and being mesmerised by the high technology future on display. It wasn't a shop, it was a glimpse into an enthralling future and it became almost a tourist attraction.

And then most of us recently will have seen Sony spend the last 5 years tearing that image down and re-positioned as the general, competitively priced brand. Just the same as everyone else.

Except having developed the persona of "premium", make the mistake of trying to create it more around "value". People knew the brand and it's hard to move from a long-term embedded positioning to something else without losing customers.

Last week Sony flagged a 6.4billion usd annual loss and an axing of 10,000 jobs. It has of course been hammered by Apple and Samsung. It's stock has almost halved in a year.

It also emerged that The Playstation 3 was being sold at a hardware loss in the hope of recouping revenue on the games themselves.

What has happened here is typical of old-world brands. 

They firstly ignore the web, then they actively rubbish it and then the web, takes them apart. 

Look at what itunes has done to HMV which at one time, had that music business in its hands. Look at what Netflix is doing to retailers such as Xtravision and Blockbusters. Look at the way online gaming has hurt the 'Game' chain of stores. Look at what Amazon/E-Books have done to high street book retailing with 'Chapters' and 'Waterstones' a perfect example of that. Look at the former dominance of 'Golden Pages' compared to Google. Look at Smartphone development and what that has done to Nokia (with a company valuation falling from 100 billion to 11 billion, and quickly). What online publishing (Huffington Post a classic example) has done to Press. It goes on and on.

All of these older businesses had the brand values, the trust, had the customer loyalty, had the business knowledge and yet they got stuffed. In a lot of cases too, because they were run by middle-aged men who had/have no comprehension of what is going on. And still don't. Because they believed they were too big to fail.

The internet is the greatest brand-leveller. Its beauty is that it allows young turks with heads full of great ideas to go and eat established brands lunch. Because they've nothing to fear.

And it's not over. Not even nearly.

Recent news last week from Tesco (a brand I worked on) where they're re-shaping by reducing larger stores to focus more online, is yet another sign. Less and less people will be prepared to park in a car park on their free Saturday to do grocery shopping - they'll do it online. Which in turn means the "anchor" tenant of old in a Mall, such as the likes of Tesco, will lose impact and other retailers, whom depend on the high traffic they bring in, will suffer.

What too,is voip going to do to telephony? And are O2 (another brand I worked on) and Vodafone in a place where they're ready with a serious online strategy? Well? Didn't notice it just yet.

They should note that bigger brands have fallen and Sony's losses, typifies it. This is a big lesson.

Brands don't need banner ads. They don't need a Social Media strategy. They need an online plan. 

It starts with that and re-designing your website to make it "e commerce enabled" isn't one. It needs a total radical overhaul of thinking provided by people who know and not by existing management in the main. 

The excellent Sarah Gordon in the Financial Times says it as "Investors in today's technology titans such as Apple, would do well to remember just how easy it is to lose such a reputation".

Otherwise when the hit comes, it will be hard.
Ask Sony.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Google Goggles. Apple Fiddles.

'Heads up' glasses have been around for awhile. Ask any kid who ever read a Commando comic or has seen Terminator. Fighter pilots use them with strong visual displays reducing the need to look down into a cockpit.

Now Google have ventured into the make-believe with Google glasses or Google Goggles as they're known. Not only that, it marks a venture for Google out of search, into manufacture, the preserve of companies like Apple.

Apple is the largest company in the world - 600 billion usd market cap - and this is possibly its biggest threat. Laugh you may, but when a network with the power of Google, enters device manufacture, be afraid. Very afraid.

'Mashable' reports a Google source indicating their availability in 2012 as being "unlikely" but the fact is, that similar glasses already exist at retail and therefore they may not be as far fetched as they seem. The Epson range, not so different, already retails at 699 dollars and look more like surgical glasses than fashion wear, but it's a start.

The thinking is that these will have the same functionality of your smartphone and with augmented reality, bring a lot more. So it's a smartphone replacement strategy too in glasses form. As in IPhone.

Voice commands send messages; photos taken literally on the move, are shared instantly; locations via maps with directions on hand; location of friends through geo-location services; music player with video....and so on. 

Indeed, think about gaming live with the glasses on or to augment skills at work (a mechanic looking into an engine for example, can identify things better). So the applications are limitless in one sense.

Of course, Apple are the kingmakers with devices like this. They have the manufacturer edge and the trust in the brands they create but, and it's a big but, they don't have the social network - or even the network. That gives Google a massive advantage.

So why reveal all so early? Remember Steve Jobs sworn to secrecy obsession before every launch?

Google say they wanted to go early to gather feedback. I don't buy that.

Wired (what has happened to that magazine?) indicated that "it was a project rather than a reality" and Mashable "it's still more of a concept than actual project!". So I think this is publicity and perhaps a sign of intent to Apple that Google intend to enter the device space.

Yep, I agree, right now they look awful and it's highly unlikely that in their present format, you'll ever see them. Or the streets will be full of people smiling and talking to themselves.

However, there's a big play here in the form of augmented reality in a new device and glasses, is one new way to deliver content. 

Imagine if this level of technology and content was embedded into your car windscreen on demand, for example? Better than any smartphone.

It's really a 'heads up' on new content delivery systems. Better than any Iphone and Apples foray into content (Apps, itunes) is device driven. Think about it. You have itunes because you had to because you have an Iphone. It started with the delivery system.

Something which other brands like Nokia, LG and others should be concerned about, if they're not already. 

That's what Amazon's Kindle Fire is all about. Starts with Ebooks (their killer app) and now Movies. Shortly telephony.

And that's what the original browser wars (Netscape V Internet Explorer) were about.

If you own the delivery system, you control the content.
If Google own the delivery system using content they already control, this could be world domination. 

And that's no exaggeration.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Avis. We try Harder. Agencies have a future thanks to Google.

If ever there was a copyline, a slogan, that was self-fulfilling, it's 'Avis. We try harder', because having said it, they have to. In other words, by being honest in saying that they're not the biggest, but they wanted to be, they knew they had to do things better from within the company. You can see that in their press treatments here which clearly tell staff and customers that the company expects more.

I was involved in a well-known campaign for Irish Rail, "we're not there yet, but we're getting there" and it fitted into a similar vein. It's a honesty that half the consumers will like, half will laugh at.

And what happens when it works? Do you go with, "Avis. We're number one. We try less hard now"? I dunno.... but it's brave and around since 1962. 

The company was started in 1946 by Warren Avis but the slogan in 1962 brought the company into the superleague and was created by Bill Bernbachs Agency, DDB. Although it was a defining line for DDB also, Bernbach himself is often credited as the writer. He wasn't. It was Paula Green who is featured in these videos. The truly amazing thing of course, is that it's still the slogan, 50 years later exactly.

This campaign with Google, as part of a series which I've blogged on before (for Coke, Alka Seltzer and Volvo) is defining too in that it takes classic campaigns and brings them into the digital space. Makes them "today".

For me the Coke story is the greatest of them all but this is pretty cool too. They all are. Simply they get the creatives back into Google and see what they can do. Here's that brainstorming.

So what comes of all that is the next video although you probably already get the jist. Basically, they've developed an idea around sharing stories, which you create yourself, about Avis. It's nice. Absolutely nice.... but not stunning. Although remarkable interactivity on the software side, which should not go unnoticed, through the self-publishing of stories, however, we've all become so impressed with online that we feel nothing can surprise us!

Actually it's stunning what you can do and this idea can be used for other brands. Have a look....

So that looks like the end of the line for Project re:Brief just for now. It's been a hugely interesting and entertaining concept that in my view, has helped traditional agencies to embrace the space.

Although, it's as they say, only one part of that.
A good swift kick might help too.

(All the campaigns are within this blog by clicking on the posts on the right. Coke, Alka Seltzer and Volvo. In case you're interested. But don't miss Coke, it's great and it's here )