Apple and Adidas

If you spend any time (as I do) on the number 51 bus, you may note the popularity of Adidas among a particular segment of consumers. They aren’t coming back from the gym – it’s just default clothing. They bought Adidas rather than the unbranded variety not because it’s cheaper or better quality. When consumers buy, the value they are getting comes from the way they feel, not from the clothing itself. Adidas is not a clothing manufacturer: it is a marketing company.

Consider now the foaming at the mouth that occurs when Apple releases a new product. You might argue that people buy iPhones to fulfil a need, like make a call, or play a game if they’re bored at a bus stop. In 2007, I would have agreed with you – the first iPhone did something that no competitor did. Today, the difference in functionality versus the common / garden variety is minimal. Yet, users are compelled to buy.

People buy because of the way Apple makes them feel. Stylish. Different, despite the fact that lots of other people bought it too – and this is the interesting challenge for Apple marketing. Dorfman probably has an iPhone. He does not embody the brand. Seeing him with an iPhone should diminish Apple in your eyes.

Same goes for Adidas. The brand is about athleticism and achievement. Many who wear it are not. How can this be fixed?

First, a famous failure.


In 2005, Daniella Westbrook was photographed with her daughter wearing Burberry. She was a soap opera actress who the press claimed had addiction issues, and Burberry was supposed to be high fashion. The result was failure for the brand, as exactly the wrong segment of mass market consumers started wearing the easily recognisable Burberry check pattern. It took a long time for Burberry to regain a place in the fashion world.

This failure occurred because the target consumers saw the wrong people wearing Burberry. In the absence of any other messages, they defined the brand.

Prevention is better than cure

Both Apple and Adidas prevent this problem occurring in the same way – they shout louder than Dorfman. Apple stores everywhere, with just the right kind of friendly hipsters ready to tell you it’s easy and magical. TV ads. Outdoor. The right kind of celebrities showing off their iPads. Adidas does too – a whole host of stores, filled with impressively fit people. Ad campaigns. Footballers. Olympic sponsorships.

These ad campaigns don’t exist to remind you that the company exists, or even (really) how good the products are. They exist to tell you exactly how you should feel when you see the logo or step into the store. Most importantly, they shout loud enough to drown out Dorfman – a constant challenge for any mass market brand.

Mobile apps vs native apps

IMDB mobile app adThere’s a lot of guff around on the battle between mobile apps versus web apps. There is guff because companies have made investments one way or the other, and want to believe that they made the right choice.

So let’s be succinct. There are only two things to be concerned with:

  • Can a user find the application?
  • Does it work great?

Can a user find the application?

Unless you have a massive established brand (hello, Financial Times) you have to go to where users are looking for you.

  • They Google and find a website. If it’s very usable (so either the desktop version reflows well or there’s a mobile site) they’re done. If it sucks or the website advertises a mobile app (e.g. Meetup, IMDB, Yelp) they’ll go to the app store.
  • They search the app store directly and find an app. If it sucks they know it’s not going to get any better, so they’re done.

This behaviour is determined by the end user’s habits and the OS. The end user’s habits will vary by user, but is guided by their history. So many people use apps (especially in the US) that it’s going to be hard to train them out of searching app stores. The OS is also going to promote App store searches as long as apps appeal to users.

Does it work great?

Short answer – native apps work better than web apps. Web apps are getting better.

If a user downloads an app and uses it, they don’t care that you created an Android version as well. They don’t care that there’s feature parity. They just care that it works great on their device. That means fast UI response. Familiar widgets. If needed, access to device hardware (camera, GPS) and offline functionality. That’s all available with native apps – and somewhere between difficult and impossible on mobile web apps.

Here’s the only contentious point. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could produce web apps and not have to pay the Apple / Android tax? Only have to create once and have it run anywhere? Yes, it would be lovely – this is absolutely a better situation for app developers. This will only ever happen if:

  • Users quit searching app stores (because OSes stop promoting them, and because they know that websites work great on their mobiles anyway)
  • Mobile sites are just as smooth and functional as mobile apps.

But can you get away with it yet?

  • Can you drive enough users to come to you, if you’re not in the app store?
  • Does it bother you if users who DO search the app store end up looking at apps that are competitors or repackaged versions of your web content?
  • Will a mobile web application work well enough that shifting to native wouldn’t make a different experience?
  • Are all your developers humping HTML5 and thumbing their noses at Xcode and Eclipse?

Halfway houses

There are wrappers available that let you code once in web languages and run everywhere. The two big ones are Titanium and Phonegap. They kinda work, but you’ll be dealing with bugs and weirdnesses from not just one programming environment, but two.


Using mobile web apps will happen, but we’re still way off. Native apps will cost more to build and work better. Mobile web apps will cost less and work less well (although this will get better over time). Most people will want native apps right now, but evaluate your specific situation carefully. Only you can make the right choice for your business.

Microsoft Word replacements

Microsoft Word is on the way out. I’ll explain.

Every new tool for circulating information used a mental model similar to the previous one. Check it out:

  • The typewriter was a replacement for writing. Both output to paper, but typing was neater. Memos were created and paper was pushed from desk to desk.
  • The original computer + printer combination was a replacement for the typewriter. Both created typeset neat text onto paper, but computers allowed you to save and recall files at will. People still used the “memo” template in Word.
  • Email took over from the internal memo. You had an inbox and outbox, same as the physical boxes that used to sit on a desk. Most people emailed a short note and attached a Word file, in the same way they would with real paper – a cover sheet plus a document.1

For the non-dinosaurs amongst us, the paper model is obsolete, and we have a new mental model – the data was produced on a screen and will be consumed on a screen. Most people consume massive amounts of data from the web – that’s what we’re used to. By comparison, Microsoft Word is a poor tool for the job.

  • It pointlessly splits up a document into pages.2
  • It loads a document very slowly compared to a browser (which is probably already open.)
  • One can only consume information on computers with Word installed. Browsers are installed on almost every computer.
  • Smartphones are fairly bad at reflowing or even viewing text from a word document. However, they’re phenomenally good at doing this for a web page.
  • Extending a document with active elements (e.g. a stock quote) is unusual and hard, so Word documents are almost never used as an up-to-date reporting tool. On a web page it’s bread and butter.

A solution

What will replace Word? I’d argue that the wiki is a natural successor – a collection of web pages (instead of documents) that can interlink easily and be read anywhere using the same technology we use to read everything else.

Why hasn’t it happened yet?

  • Making a Word-like interface that creates documents is a hard problem – hard enough that noone has really solved it yet.3
  • It’s impossible to get off Word, because work gave you a copy, because you’re used to it, or because you’re expected to read / create .doc files.

These problems won’t exist forever. We will get closer to solving the rich text web editor problem – it just needs to be good enough. We will have fewer people to send .doc files to, as products like Huddle and Basecamp become more popular. Most of all, the size of the opportunity provides massive incentive to anyone who can solve this problem.

  1. In the mind of the user, the document attachment is where the information is. Ever seen emails where someone attached a screenshot that’s contained in a Word document? That’s this mental model in action. []
  2. It can however be useful as a reference, i.e. “it’s on page 4”. []
  3. Solutions like CKeditor exist, but they don’t work well enough. It looks lovely, but try living with it and you’ll see where the paint comes off. The only consistently good editors are very basic, like the text editor built into Basecamp. []

Guide to Twitter for Marketers

Last week, I gave a talk at Kellogg on Twitter. I wanted to try and help our people understand what it means for them as we graduate and head into business. This post is the content of that talk.

If you’re well into social media already, you might be familiar with a lot of this information already.

If you’re not working in social media but you want to understand how you might be able to use it to help your business and your customers, this post should be useful for you. Unlike Twitter, there is no short version, but I’m always happy to help if you have any questions. Just ping me!

Start here

First – Twitter is probably something you should know a little about now. Here’s Comscore data to April of Twitter versus LinkedIn, NY Times and Digg.


Two more signals of it being mainstream – it’s been on Oprah, and it’s been on the Daily Show. This isn’t a fad, and although it might change, Twitter isn’t going away.

What is it, and how do I use it?

First, go and sign up for an account. To quote:

You can’t understand Twitter, Facebook, or blogging by reading an article in a magazine or a report from your CMO.

George F. Colony
CEO, Forrester

The basic idea is this. You put in a short message of 140 characters or less, which is by default available for anyone to read.

That’s it.

It’s similar to Facebook status messages – except in Facebook, only your friends can see your messages. It’s similar to blogging, except your messages can only be 140 characters long.

At first glance, it’s not a mindblowing concept. But let’s examine more closely why it’s worked out so well.

Why is it so goddamn popular?

One – the messages are 140 characters.

Let’s do a little experiment. Take out a polite email you’ve written recently to someone you don’t know – maybe a request for an informational interview, or an invitation for someone to speak. Now, try and boil it down to 140 characters or less.

Imagine yourself in the position of the person you’re emailing. Of course, it’s nice to get a polite email. But if you’re pushed for time and just trying to absorb information as fast as possible, the 140 character version will probably get the message across faster.

Now consider Generation Y. There are studies knocking around that demonstrate that the attention span of Gen Yers is decreasing. So not only are they getting more information per unit time, but they don’t have the patience to read through an entire article. (Maybe I should just twitter this article out instead? hope u r not gen y)

Two – you get messages in real time.

In tech, we like to keep out eyes open for trends – and there’s one happening right now – real time. To quote:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. With Twitter, now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about realtime.

Larry Page, Google Founder

Twitter is one of the reasons Page is talking this way. You can get a solid idea from Twitter and its surrounding services what users are talking about right now.

Three – you can access it from anywhere.

Twitter is pretty goddamn open with their API. Check it out – if you’re running Mac or Linux, hop on to the command line and type this:


… or this …

curl -u user:password

That’s it – you’ve just queried the Twitter API. If you wanted to, you could recreate the entire twitter user page with calls to the API like the ones you just made. That’s something that makes Twitter different from Facebook. Combine this with some talented developers and great ideas, and some amazing applications like twistori start to appear.

Four – location information.

Most importantly, people have written twitter clients – applications you can use to read and update Twitter – for everything. Multiple iPhone clients, any smartphone, and you can even update via SMS. For some of these clients, the location of the update is included – and location based services are also ramping up right now. How’s that useful for twitter? Check out this demo, which pinpoints where people are twittering about swine flu in the US right now.

What do people actually WRITE on Twitter?

Like Facebook or blogging, people have a whole bunch of stuff to talk about. I’ve put it into four categories.

  • RSS replacement. TechCrunch twitters out 140 character versions of its stories that are quicker to parse than their RSS feed. So, it can replace RSS for a user. An article précis can come from random users as well as the article writer.
  • MLIA. People just tweet about the unimportant details of their lives. I don’t have any data on this, but I believe most tweets fall into this category.
  • Self-promotion. Julia Allison is a great example of this – not particularly being famous for anything except being a minor web celebrity. She’s making the service work to promote herself, and being pretty successful so far.
  • Real celebrities like Oprah, Queen Rania and Shaq, who are using it to build on their existing profiles or promote a cause. Here’s another place where real time works – a Shaq fan get get updates from their idol on exactly what they’re doing right now. That’s bringing fans and celebrities even closer together, and it’s reasonable to expect celebrities that use social media to start to outstrip those who don’t.


Of course, there are users like Sockington the cat that defy categorisation – but I hope these four cover most bases.

One more thing to consider – Patrick Swayze is not dead. Because Twitter users use each other as reference points, information spreads rapidly throughout the network, whether it’s true or not.

How should / shouldn’t my company use Twitter?

What I can do is show you some examples of how people are using it to help you figure it out.

First of all, to quote from a Kellogg study:

There is a measurable connection between what is being said about a product in online posts and real-time customer behavior.

Not shocking news. The interesting part is how Twitter is helping us to peer into those conversations – twitscoop and twends are two tools you might want to use to do so. How’s that useful? Let’s say you’re putting out a superbowl ad. You can use these tools and others to understand immediately how well your campaign is going, and adjust it accordingly.

Now, let’s see two good examples of how companies are using Twitter.

  • Kogi is a Korean barbeque truck that drives around LA, tweets out where it’s going to be, and then shows up to the crowd that’s been following them on Twitter.
  • Threadless, a Chicago based t-shirt design community, twittered an official press release to request tweets that are voted on and made into t-shirts.

These examples work because they lean on Twitter’s strengths – community and real-time. That said, it’s not all roses – you can be a hero or a victim.

Twitter’s mean streak

Skittles decided to take the obvious route, and just replaced their home page with a live Twitter stream next to Facebook, Flickr and Youtube content. Of course, the internet sensed an opportunity for vandalism, and started tweeting rude stuff so it would appear on the home page. They’ve since scaled back to just use their YouTube homepage, where the vast majority of comments are positive, but there’s also these:

  • How is this useful. I’m not buying skittles because of this. Heck, I wouldn’t have heard of this without ZD NET social media fails
  • wtf is this
  • i love sex !

Using social media marketing means asking your customers to speak for you, and that’s risky. First time around, Skittles gambled and lost.

Here’s another. Consider the example of Motrin, which is a painkiller. They put out this ad:

Some influential folk in the twitter community took pretty serious offence to the ad. The result?


So – there you have influential people in social media killing off hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment. Gone!

Can’t I just pay to get buzz?

It might be tempting to employ people to try and control that conversation and mitigate the risk, and that’s just what companies like Izea do (although the FTC may have something to say about it). Here’s their side of the story.

In my opinion, one should resist this temptation. An employee at Belkin famously tried this, paying people a small amount to write positive reviews of their products on That didn’t turn out to be good PR for anyone, and the employee was hung out to dry by Belkin.

Granted, Izea argues that “sponsored conversations” should be marked as such, but it doesn’t sit well with me. People participating in this are advertising to their friends, and one of the reasons why social media and word of mouth advertising is so effective is that people trust their friends to give them an unbiased opinion. Directly influencing the conversation with money or something similar breaks that trust.

So, what the hell do we do?

This is the most interesting part of this whole deal. There is no solution for everyone. The effectiveness of old school media is drying up. It’s problematic to influence the conversation directly. We just have to come up with clever solutions, like others have, and accept that the days of throwing money at a media plan are dying out.

How To Be A Successful Blogger

279-days-logo-201x300Some of you may have come across Chris Guillebeau’s 279 day guide to success as a blogger. For those of you who don’t have time to read it, here’s the short short version.

First the obvious parts:

  • Being a successful blogger takes a long time and is a lot of hard work.
  • Even doing that won’t make you boat loads of cash.
  • You need to stay disciplined in your posting.
  • Get other sites interested in you through reviews, guest posts & media connections.
  • Use primary market research.

Now the interesting parts. Chris’s position is that Adsense ads suck, because you’re trusting Google to figure out what’s contextual. If your site links out to stuff, you’re telling your visitors that if they trust you, they should trust this ad, and that link is being driven by an algorithm that could well be wrong.

I would argue that most people understand the weak trust link when they see Adsense embeds, but it follows that a weak trust link means that the advert is going to suck at being effective anyway. I’d not thought about this before, and it’s definitely worth considering.

Chris’s solution for monetisation is the freemium model – a blogger’s product is information, so why now charge for some of it. It’s not going to work for everyone, but Chris has made it work for a non-targeted blog, so that’s encouraging.

In reading it, a few quotations stuck out:

  • “I work harder than most people I know, and the other unconventional success stories mentioned in this report do the same.”
  • “I derive too much emotional validation from the daily state of my network. When lots of people are subscribing, the comments are up, and the links are rolling in, I feel great. When the numbers are down, I feel bad.”

Right there is the real reason Chris’s blog has been so successful – he clearly works his ass off.

The worrying parts

googleadInteresting fact: a lot of the most popular blog content is about how to become a popular blogger. The whole hook of Chris’s report is on how to be just a successful as Chris. I’m not disputing his incentives at all, but when you strip away the excellent graphic design and verbiage, that’s what it boils down to.

Here’s the problem. Folks read his report because they want what he has, but for whatever reason (family, the day job and so on) they can’t invest the time needed to actually DO it. If they did, thousands of super successful blogs would start to spring up. It never happens. Even if it did, since global web attention is a stretchy-but-limited commodity, as supply increases, price goes down and folk spend less time with one individual blog.

I’m not saying it’s a pyramid scheme – Chris isn’t charging, isn’t benefitting, and in fact, licensed this report with CC-BY. But some elements are there – one successful guy at the top and a lot of people who want but can’t attain the same success.

Technology Platforms in a Nutshell

One of tech’s dirty words is platform. The idea is simple – build something that others can build on top of, and suddenly you have control of not just a product, but a little ecosystem.

That’s a really common thing to do, but there are a few choices you have to make. If you make a tool and widget that goes into it, does that widget conform to standards set by agreement, or do you have the power to change standard widget design whenever you want to? Is it free for other people to make widgets? Does any of this matter to the consumers?

I set the rules around here

Let’s say that you create a product + widgets, and you’re the only one that sells both. It’s likely that you’ll sell the product cheap and the widgets are relatively expensive, because that cost is sneakily hidden from the customer. This is the “razor blade model“, which you all know about.

Now let’s say that you create a product + widgets, you make the tool and control the standard widget, but you allow anyone else to make widgets. (This could be the App Store or Minidisc.) Now, you really have two sets of people to worry about – your customers and your widget developers.

  • Your customers would like to see lots of different widgets out there, because that probably makes your platform more appealing.
  • Your widget developers would like to make money. So they want a huge user base, and for you not to screw them by changing the rules – like suddenly integrating features of their widget into the main tool, wiping their business out.

I abide by the standards

One way for you to help your widget developers feel like they’re not going to get screwed is give control of widget standards to a standards body like W3C or ISO. The disadvantage is that you lose control – if the market changes and you want to make a change to the standard widget, there’s a lot of buggering around. Even worse, those standards bodies probably work with your competitors too, so it’s going to be hard to make a change to the standard that will benefit you.

The answer is changing

This sort of stuff is becoming more important in software. That’s because:

  • It’s getting easier to develop software (even the kids are doing it!)
  • Customers are getting used to applications with a shedload of functionality, and one company might not have the resources to do all that, no matter .

My opinion – keeping those widget developers happy is more important than ever. So – if you’re going all platform, remember those two things you need to provide for them – lots of end customers and a degree of stability.

Non-Web Monetisation

This week, I gave a short talk on tech business model basics to the Kellogg High Tech Club. I was following an excellent talk by a colleague on web monetisation, so I focused on non-web monetisation. We weren’t able to snag a video camera, but I did punch up some audio and sync it to the slides.

This presentation was featured on the Slideshare front page on Monday 2nd Feb. Thank you Slideshare editors! 🙂

Best Buy Vending Machines

You may have caught a previous post here on iPod vending machines.

During a trip through LAX, I noticed that these machines are being used by Best Buy to sell a variety of electronics to bored travellers – headphones, flip style camcorders, and of course, iPods.


Personally, I was just curious when I was snapping photos, but as I backed away, one fellow actually went and used it.


As he made his selection, the local security guard looked on, either nervous, or just curious that someone was using the thing.

Is selling consumer electronics in this way actually viable?

Before I answer this question, I’ll relate an event that happened a few hours ago.

On our pilgrimage to the local Ikea today, we aimed our trolley straight for the self-service lanes. There was one employee – an older lady – looking after the six self-service checkouts, so she came and did our checking out for us.

This annoyed us.

Here’s why this happened. The Ikea assistant believed that getting service at a checkout is better than not getting service, and she wanted to help. We, the two customers, did not.

Please get back the the point

I would argue that there’s a generational shift happening. Consider these two scenarios.

  • Generally older folk: go into a Best Buy, a Staples, a Currys or Dixons and chat up the salesperson. They don’t know too much about technology, so they’re more likely to take their advice on what to buy – and that advice will be to buy something in the shop that’s in stock.
  • Generally younger folk: research everything they can about a category online before even thinking about buying it. They might buy online or in a store – they don’t value as much whatever added services might be available in store. In short – they can serve themselves.

So – if a product is strongly price controlled and generally very reliable – like the iPod – these weird looking contraptions will offer an element of convenience. 24 hour service. No one getting in your way. All while offering the same price as everywhere else, instant access to the product, and no delivery fee.

Balance that against the natural caution of getting a 300 dollar product out of a vending machine. As the machines get more popular, this caution might dissipate, and the machines become more viable.

Most new businesses have a chicken and egg problem – this one, it seems, is no exception.

Please Sign Here

Snapped in Ikea

You may not be able to quite see it, but some poor person actually signed on top of the display on this PIN machine.

A reminder that even user interfaces we take for granted can be hard to use.