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Top Ten Brand/Technology Stories for 2013

In Apple, brand-building, Healthcare, Microsoft, Steve Jobs on December 29, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Big Brand Hits and Misses From 2013

by Robert Liljenwall

Top TenIt’s been quite a year for big brand stories, and even bigger surprises. Here’s our take on the Top Ten stories for 2013, from the intersection of branding and technology.

 1)  Edward Snowden managed to build a powerful, influential global brand in less time than it takes to say, “Gotcha!”  And all on the back of technology and the US National Security Agency secrets he divulged starting in June 2013.  While he may not be a household word, he certainly is now infamously (or famously) known in every government spy agency, every major capital, and by every editor or newscaster carrying the day’s news.  Only 30 years old and a relatively low-level NSA contract employee, he managed to steal rarified, classified material that is called the most significant leak in US history.  He used The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to leak his material.  At his news conference from his ‘temporary home’ in Russia this past week, he says the leaks and subsequent chaos caused at the highest level of governments around the world has assured him of ‘victory.’  “Mission accomplished,” he says.  He thinks of himself as a hero while others have other apt descriptions.  Time will tell how this plays out.

2)  The National Security Agency’s brand image has fallen fast since the Snowden disclosures.  The NSA-Snowden story remains evolutionary as one judge tells the government to stop and another one just the other day says it’s OK.  But surely this NSA scandal has affected the US brand all over the world. The reality is that probably everyone else is doing it, too … so it’s probably more bark than bite from the average American point of view.  But in government circles, the confusion surrounding NSA and all government ‘oversight’ programs bothers many of us.

3)  Obamacare site bombed on launch.  Millions have been impacted by the false start, and the cancellations of 5 million-plus insured guarantees a major hit on Obama and his signature program.  The continuing debacle exposes tremendous technical shortcomings of government-run program.  How has this affected Obama’s brand?  Obama’s negative ratings continue their downward spiral. Recent polls show that most Americans don’t want or like the Affordable Care Act – and it’s just beginning.  Will more Americans lose or gain insurance coverage in early 2014? How will the voters’ sentiment play out in the midterm elections?  If there was a BrandTech News ‘perfect storm’, this was it!

4)  Cyber Monday surpassed expectations, and mobile commerce on smartphones and tablets are making inroads toward becoming the biggest e-commerce sales day in history, up 16.5 percent to $2.29 billion.  Mobile traffic (as a part of online sales) showed similar record sales – IBM’s data demonstrates that mobile shopping did grow significantly from last year – with traffic increasing by 45 percent to 31.7 percent share of all online traffic, and total sales growing by 55.4 percent year-over-year to surpass 17 percent share. But, mobile’s share of traffic was down 20 percent from Black Friday while its share of sales was down 21 percent.

5)  Target‘s 40 million ‘error.’  This story moves onto the list and no, it’s not the first time hackers have gotten into credit card files.  But 40 million?  Is this a brand-buster for Target? We at BrandTech News think that Target has really mismanaged this fiasco – offering a lame 10 percent discount  … they beefed it up a bit, but it was, as one writer put it: “… a puny effort.”  News reports that a group in a Target parking lot were regaling in their recently purchased Christmas gifts – only to have police discovered they did so with purloined credit card #s.  It sends a chilling message on how fragile the relationship there is between a brand’s success and the failure of technology.  What will it take before you trust Target again?  We’re still skeptical.

6)  Changes at the top – Microsoft’s Ballmer moving on. Michael Dell takes control back. Personal brands linked to their technology heart/soul have been the hallmark of America’s technology history, starting with such iconic brands as Thomas Edison, Tom Watson, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.  Their brands were synonymous with their technology.  Ballmer leaves on a mixed note and no one has been named to replace him.  Dell tries to reclaim his past glory days by taking his namesake company private.  We believe that Apple, Google, and even Samsung have all whizzed past the former Whiz Kid. The future of the PC – as we used to know it before smartphones and tablets – is in doubt.  And let’s not forget ‘golden boy’ Ron Johnson – former head of retail for Apple – who was unceremoniously disposed as CEO of J. C. Penney.  Personal brands will be forever linked to their founders and managers over time … and to be sure, it’s a challenge to survive in these chaotic times.  Perhaps Steve Jobs ‘got out’ at the right time – the pinnacle of his career and company?  Time will tell.  We’ll be watching.

7)  Apple wins China Mobile.  This is probably the biggest, best news Apple has had in a while.  Their fall launch was successful to a point – rave reviews on the technology and upgraded products, but capturing China Mobile with 760 million users is the big (nix that, it was HUGE) win on the global stage.  Surely this will propel Apple’s future onto solid ground in Asia, but on the homefront, Apple has some homework to do, in our view.  The Apple story is two-edged – #1 – Apple has made up lost ground on its stock closing in on $600 after plunging below $400 in the past 52 weeks … .and Apple is now worth $503 billion, making it the most valuable company on the Planet.  So the brand continues to perform well with investors, but the #2 worry is whether Apple has lost its creative and innovator brand status. Not everyone is saying this, but we suspect that Apple’s brand will suffer greatly in the winter rollout of new products if they don’t come up with something new, spectacular even.  Is Tim Cook really something more than a good operator?  He is that – but Apple customers and investors want more to insure the future.

8)  Facebook and Twitter go public – check your calendar – both are healthy at year’s end!  Brand turnaround for Facebook is our Comeback Player of the Year. Twitter’s early success is not assured for the longer term – too early to tell, but Facebook has legs and is riding high for now.  Thank you, Mister Zuckerberg, for your vision.  After exploding out of the box and hitting a high of $65, Twitter fell back to Earth just a tiny bit – losing 13 percent as of last week before New Year’s.  Finding the economic models that is going to propel these two behemoths toward financial security seems to be the challenge – initially for Facebook they are fast figuring out the ad revenue model, and soaring at present. Twitter remains optimistic it will solve their revenue challenge in the near term.  From a brand point of view, both Facebook and Twitter have ranked high with users … and investors, too.  Our question for you:  Do you visit Facebook every day?  Do you tweet?  Let us know your answers.

9)  Microsoft buys Nokia.  You’d think this was a ‘marriage made in tech heaven’ several years ago, especially when Nokia controlled the world’s mobile market share.  But BrandTech News – and others – aren’t so sure this recently done marriage is going to last long.  Nokia had already accepted a ‘live-in’ relationship with Microsoft when they committed to Windows Phone several years ago, and many thought this merger was on fast forward, not on pause.  But it finally happened.  And the Finnish folks couldn’t be happier since they were on a death march much like BlackBerry – too little, too late.  But now with Microsoft’s Bank solidly behind the new couple (and publicly committed in splashy television ads), Nokia has another chance to again be a dominant player the mobile market.  The brand still has plenty of strength in Europe and elsewhere, but we think it’s been critically diminished in the US market – perhaps irretrievably.

10) BlackBerry’s ‘death watch.’  Here’s the latest: executives jump ship; huge losses; burnt through $800 million this past year.  We heard there were reports for hospice care until the new Foxconn deal in Indonesia put all talk of being ‘done’ on hold – temporarily, at least.  Indonesia is a stronghold for BlackBerry, but the brand is so tarnished that it would take a miracle to turn it around.  BrandTech News expects that BlackBerry will not be able to catch up with Android or iOS, and even Windows Phone in many markets.   They will remain – forever – a second or third tier player.  Not enough to survive. – RJL

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Looking back and forward on 5s Journey

In Apple, brand-building, iPhone, retail, Steve Jobs on September 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

The journey is over. And it is now beginning. I have my 32GB Gray iPhone 5s in hand … and I am warming up to it. If you really want to experience it before you buy it, download iOS7 and you’ll get the (almost) complete look/feel, which takes time getting used to. I hated the color and font scheme of iOS7 but my passion to get the 5s overcame my dissatisfaction with the look I had on my 5 after downloading 7.  Thought the pastel/light gray scale was very inappropriate and still do, but I am getting used to it. If you need glasses to read your screens on your iPhone, you’ll need them for sure on the 5s.

But back the journey. As you may have read, I canceled my phone order for a gold 32GB when I realized that I could actually get one on 5/20 at the Pasadena Apple store (instead of waiting until Oct. 8). They still had plenty of gray 32GB in stock … and the wait was a very tolerable 45 minutes in line. The Apple sales people were extremely helpful, courteous and gave me all the time necessary to feel comfortable with some minimal training. The entire transaction took less than 20 minutes, and it was seamless. I was, indeed, thrilled I made the right choice to stop by for a second time at the now infamous Pasadena store (where fights broke out early 5/20 with homeless stand-ins who were cheated by a rather unscrupulous creep who refused to pay them to stand in line for 10 hours). The line at Apple was 3 times longer than when I got inside … apparently word spread that they had some inventory – AT&T had only 64GB.

iphone-5s-loveWhy am I so passionate about this?  Brand marketers love people like me – we put up with lines, some dissatisfaction with the product, and still plow forward through what most people think is insane. This is what Steve Jobs has done to me and millions more. Is the torch passed?  I think so. Business Week had a great cover “What Us Worry?” – showing CEO Tim Cook and his two henchmen – Craig Federighi and Jony Ive. But like I said earlier, “it’s too early to tell.” I can tell you this:  It’s fast. Video and photo quality are the best ever. Downloads are quicker. New pull-up that gives you immediate access to key programs is brilliant. And thank God for iCloud – all apps and programs perfectly preserved.

So far, the Journey with Apple has been a real treat, actually. Well that’s not totally true. My girlfriend, Julie, wasn’t particularly happy with me waking her up on 5/20 at 4:45 a.m. to run me down to the Apple store (some 5 miles away) to see how the line was (too long) … and she continued to comment on this ‘sacrifice’ during the day. “Yeah, but haven’t you had fun telling all of your friends about your ‘experience’?” “Of course …” So, I just provided her with some great story-telling fodder … so she benefited, too, wouldn’t you say?  She agreed. – RJL

Apple debuts new stuff … is it enough?

In Apple, mobile & tablets, Samsung, Steve Jobs on September 10, 2013 at 11:11 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

A sage marketing professional said that when someone asks you how it’s going, a safe answer always is:  “It’s too early to tell.” For no matter what the question is…this response always seems like a very intelligent answer, especially when commenting on Apple’s release of its new phones and iOS7 today.  The cat was already out of the bag weeks ago, as reported in BTN, so today’s event was really anti-climactic.  Anti-climactic for several reasons:  1) really, no new product was introduced and it’s been two years since Steve Jobs departed and we haven’t seen a new product, only updates and enhancements; 2) there was no home run – a bunch of singles and perhaps a double … and Apple left players on base; and 3) the ‘brand vote’ was negative – the stock didn’t go up, it went down – 2.28 percent loss in overall value today (9/10). Touch ID

#3 is really not surprising.  Carl Icahn touted Apple as a stock near $600 and there have been buy recommendations for $525 and $540 before the event … .so the fact that Apple went down is a bit depressing if you’re an Apple lover … “how could you leave me?”  But the reality is that until Apple makes a major move with something new besides cosmetic and interior system improvements, people will question Apple’s vision.  Yes, the new enhancements are quite nice – such as finger-print ID … faster processor … longer battery life … and better camera.  And a cheaper phone will help Apple in China.  But Apple does not appear to be a forward-thinker these days, and it pains me to write this.  The Samsung people must have smiles on their face … although the iPhone 5C could give them trouble in China … but we’ll see.

It’s really too early to tell … until Sept. 20 when Apple starts putting the iPhone 5S and 5C in people’s hands.  I will most likely trade up – always do because I love my iPhone and trust Apple…and that’s the core of the Apple brand – customers who love their products and trust them.  Do Apple people want bigger screens?  Perhaps, but frankly, I love the way my iPhone fits in my hand – and I have short fingers, so a wider phone would not help my experience.  And besides, Apple’s legacy and quality of design simply cannot be matched by the Galaxy.  Just can’t.

Apple was rumored to have the iTV in the wings – but it was a no-show.  And when that does happen – I suspect next spring – it will restore some of the lost luster on the Apple brand.  Yes, the Apple brand lost some buzz today … sorry to say.  I remain loyal but am still waiting.  A good friend, Robert Page, sent me this rather poignant quote from Steve Jobs this morning which bears passing along to you:

 “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.  You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it … A vision for Apple [is] ‘What incredible benefits can we give the customer?’ … I think that’s the right path to take.” – RJL

Apple’s Latest iPhones: The Parallel Paths Taken

In Apple, mobile & tablets, Samsung, Steve Jobs on September 10, 2013 at 11:06 pm

by Jeff Sandgren

Not one, but two new iPhones. Not one, but two chips. Not one flash element, but two. Not more pixels, but more light. Not a new screen size, but a new home button. Apple’s latest product release wasn’t as much about “… the right path to take …” as it was about the path not taken.new iPhones

That being said, some of the technological innovations are noteworthy, if not necessarily as mind-blowing as Jobs-era Apple devotees have come to expect. From a technologist’s point of view, here were the sound moves:

  1. Splitting the line. Dividing iPhone 5 into the C and S lines is good technology – and good business. There’s a big market out there for those who aspire to flash the Apple logo, but not pay the premium price. The choice of a polycarbonate shell is also smart, keeping down the cost while preserving the premium brand value of the upscale model. The big question here is: is it cheap enough?
  2. 64-bit microprocessor. The A7 is a smart move, and a smart response from Apple to quad processors like Samsung Galaxy S4’s Snapdragon 800 quad processor. With iOS 6 and the upcoming 7, Apple has more control over their micro architecture than Android has, so it makes more sense to unleash the power of 64-bit processing while others add more cores. The big question here is: is it fast enough?
  3. The Motion Coprocessor. A very interesting response to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch, on a lot of levels. It makes sense in the way that a graphics coprocessor does, and the combination of the now-ubiquitous sensors of acceleration, gyroscope and compass into a continuously monitored and integrated sensor array, complemented by the CoreMotion API, should thrill developers almost as much as the A7. And Nike’s immediate jump onto this bandwagon with the Nike+ Move app is probably a great first example. The big question here is: is it a precursor for an iWatch?
  4. Bigger aperture and pixels, dual flash. As with more processing cores, so with pixels in digital photography; the strategy of competitors has been to add more in order to improve performance. But optics is optics, and the simple science is that if you can smack more photons into a photoreceptor, you theoretically ought to be able to goose the performance. A lot of the camera features touted in the new iPhone 5 were “catch-up” (e.g., slow motion capture and burst mode), but improving the optics and the equally bright move of having dual-toned flash elements that deliver the optimal ‘heat’ for the lighting are smart steps toward better photography. The big question here is: will users see the difference?
  5. Touch ID home button. Apple’s acquisition last year of AuthenTec made this almost a foregone conclusion, but it’s still a great example of the Jony Ive’s mantra of “more useful and more elegant” and of the blurring of hardware and software in subservience to the user experience. The iTunes purchase authorization is also a no-brainer smart move in this regard. The big question here is: is there an alternate sign-on for icy cold outdoor winter fingers? We assume so.

display comparisonSo much for the Path Taken. Equally notable are the Paths Not Taken. Top of that list has to be the decision not to change screen size, or pixel count (and density). The number one comment I hear when people see an S4 for the first time is “look at that screen.” At an eye-pleasing 441 pixels per inch, the 1920X1080 S4 screen is like crystal meth for the eyes – once you’ve tried it, you’re pretty well hooked (see comparison of two a’s, Galaxy S4 is on the right). Time will tell if Apple succumbs to the chant of ‘You scream, I scream, we all scream for more screen.”

And there are many other me-too’s not pursued, like the lack of Near Field Communications. Instead, Apple has apparently chosen to go with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solution in iOS 7, called iBeacon. Other cool features like the Galaxy’s Air View, Smart Scroll and Smart Pause also didn’t make the cut. One can’t dismiss the possibility that some of the choices are driven by recent patent wars. If so, it’s not exactly the customer-centric vision that Jobs espoused. – JTS

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