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Time has arrived.

In Apple, brand-building, innovation, iPhone, Technology, Uncategorized on April 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Apple Watch customers could wait months.

by Robert Liljenwall

Gold-Apple-WatchAnyone who has been through an Apple launch before, knows you have to get in line early or be phone-ready when the clock strikes midnight.  Pre-orders started Friday April 10 at 12:01 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time) and true to Apple’s prediction, it was a sell out, not for all models but for the lower-priced editions.  For many, they’ll have to wait until June and in some cases, August.  Those who got their orders placed early will get Watches in May.
Theories abound about Apple’s strategy — did they purposely reduce the number of Watches available to create a “sold-out buzz”, thus hyping the Watch’s popularity? Is it really that much in demand?  Do consumers (Apple fanatics) really crave this new wearable device?  Many of the skeptics and cynics opt for the former — one professor cited “this has always been Apple’s strategy — create a sense of high demand even if there isn’t one.  But it works.”
Apple doesn’t comment on these conjectures, but in March, Apple provided rough estimates — 5-6 million watches (in all editions) would be available at the launch.  Wall Street analysts in Fortune’s review had predictions up to 44 million would be sold in 2015.
Stories abound about how to get around the wait.  There are speculators who will sell you their pre-order on eBay for a $1000 over the cost so you can have your immediate gratification.  And people are snapping them up.  There are high-end, specialty retailers — like, who has created a 24k Gold, Rose Gold, or platinum Apple Watch with Swarovsk-style crystals that come with your choice of exotic animal skin straps for the $17,000 variety.  Apple is surely going to string this out as along as the buzz and demand are there.  But what about the Watch?  Is it worth it?  Does it do all of the ‘tricks’ that Apple says it will do.  (See the iimpressive Apple Watch video on
Reviews project another Apple “hit”
Although there are mixed reviews about the Apple Watch, from the more than 20 such reviews we have seen show a clear and sometimes enthusiastic approval for the Watch.  Early testers said — “It’s goes beyond my expectations…”  “It makes me want to wear a watch again.”  “It takes a bit to get used to it but once you get over the learning curve, it’s incredible.”  But what is really driving this Apple Watch demand?  See our Eight Reasons Why.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is “brand gone”….

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 at 12:07 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

After years of indecisiveness, bad reviews, bad performance, and a frustrated management cycle, Microsoft finally pulled the plug on their former stalwart brand — Internet Explorer.  Ask yourself:  Just how many times have you hit the ‘Explorer’ icon in your digital lifetime?  
ieFirst released in the mid-1990s, it dominated the browser market at its peak in the early 2000s, but it came to be associated with poor security and compatibility with other browsers and has since languished.  The new browser project is named Spartan, and whether that is the brand they finally end up with (they are non committal on this brand selection), it will have a lot to overcome.
Google’s Chrome has dominated the PC browser business — a market in which Microsoft use to control. According to StatCounter in February 2015, Chrome held 43.2 percent of the global browser market including desktop, mobile, and other platforms, while IE captured just 13.1 percent — FireFox had 11.6 percent.  
According to AdWeek’s Kristina Monllos, the IE brand is so tainted with poor performance, especially in the mid-2000s, that they will have a lot to overcome.  What some analysts quickly pointed out….to get users to switch back to IE, you are asking them to switch their daily habits, and that’s hard to do, especially if there is a bad taste in their mouths.  IE has left a bad taste for some time.  
IE still controls 25% of the desktop market, so it’s not going to disappear — but it will take some very creative and effective marketing to get users to switch back to Microsoft’s new brand, whatever it is.  
Not everyone is happy about IE going away….a gal in the Midwest who runs two small businesses is ‘sad to see it go.’ when interviewed by NPR.  She is beginning her mourning process, and “I’m thinking of a good martini — with anchovy olives — that will be appropriate.”  

Here comes the Apple Watch on April 24. It’s about time….

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

This is no ordinary Apple launch — it’s not introducing the sixth version or the fourth version of an iPhone or iPad.  It’s not a mystery as to what category this new Apple product is in:  It’s a watch.  Not a standard watch, by any means.  But it is still a watch — but beyond any other watch on the market today, so Apple hopes.

apple watchApple has done what Apple does best — launch new products.  And they have recruited an incredible team of branding, retail, and technology experts to support the Apple Watch launch.  For example, their retail division has been going through a major in-house restructuring since the Sr. Vice President Retail Ron Johnson left for JC Penny in 2012.  Apple enticed Burberry’s highly regarded and electric Angel Ahrendts to come in as Sr. Vice President to head all retail and online sales efforts, which is causing the reported departure of long-time Apple retail executive Bob Bridger.  To get the high-powered Ahrendts, Apple made her an offer she couldn’t refuse — more than $39 million in stock grants to leave Burberry plus, plus, plus..

To bolster their bet on the Watch, two of Apple’s key acquisitions last year was the hiring of Tag Heuer’s vice president of sales, Patrick Pruniaux in April and the head of French fashion brand Yves Sant Laurent Paul Deneveto who will work on special projects.

(On a side note:  Bridger was responsible for the real estate and development of Apple’s retail operation and was key in the design and placement of Apple’s iconic, original glass staircase at SoHo (NYC) and the ground-breaking vaulted glass ceiling architecture used at Palo Alto and others.  He was considered Steve Jobs’ ‘left hand‘.)

The forthcoming Apple Watch launch on Friday, April 24, (pre-orders will begin April 10) is expected to produce another record quarter for Apple, although sales estimates vary all over the field, Fortune Magazine conducted a survey last September and the analysts’ predicted from 8 million to 41 million for 2015.  The average was 2.5 million per month.  That blows past any watch sales record (of any type).  Initial estimates from Apple was an order of 5-6 million watches.

Apple has already announced that all of their stores will be modified for the integration of “wearable technology” with the Apple Watch stimulating a ‘re-think’ on how Apple stores will be configured to sell the Watch which goes from $349 to as much as $17,000+.

What doe this all mean?  It means simply that Apple put their $$ on proven stars in the luxury brand category — Burberry, Tag Heuer and Yves Saint Laurent….bringing seasoned leadership to the Apple brand.  This is, indeed, an impressive array of brand talent.  After all, Apple is also perceived as a luxury brand.

On the Watch technology front….Apple has opened its first new product to app developers since the company introduced the first iPad five years ago….and Apple is hoping there will ‘thousands of great apps’ by the April launch, and there are more sure to follow.  The Apple Watch is not unlike other smart watches from Samsung, Google and others. The Apple Watch, however, stays connected to your iPhone so it can retrieve information, receive notifications like texts and emails, and can be patched through to make and receive phone calls as it has speakers and microphones.  It’s also a fitness tracker with heart-rate measurements….it plays music….had bluetooth for earplugs and headphones…makes payments via Apple Pay and can even be a remote for connected smart-home appliances.

The software development kit released last year allowed app makers to work on creating “different” apps than would be found on other already-in-the-market smartwatches.  Their complaints is that they have been given guidance along the way — some express frustration in Apple’s handling of the app market.  And, oh, yes — you will need an iPhone — 5, 5C, 5S, 6 or 6 Plus.  Earlier iPhones are excluded.

apple watch 2What about the feel, touch, look?  Reviews clearly demonstrate that the new Watch is elegantly designed, handsome on your wrist, user friendly and a “let-me-show-you-my-new Apple Watch!”  You can quickly imagine that Apple Watch users most likely won’t be wearing long-sleeved shirts — they’ll want to show off their new toy.  This is, after all, a “luxury branded product” — and if you’re rich enough for the solid gold Apple Watch, it will be the topic of many conversations with “interested” friends, even if they’re not interested.  But they will be.

Overall, the design and technology appear to be moving to the top of the ‘approval ladder’ from technologists who have followed this wearable technology sector and actually had one on their wrist.  The Apple Watch uses haptic feedback via what it brands a “taptic engine” that feels like more advanced and subtle vibration. It also has a force-sensitive display: press harder, and it will do different things. This could mean more advanced types of notification buttons, or control input. Apple’s newest MacBooks use this same combination of “force touch” and haptics to simulate clicking, and it’s astonishingly effective according editors of CNET.

At this point, there are many unanswered questions — is the 18-hour battery life real or fiction?  Will apps transform the watch beyond what competitors are already offering?  Does it make the iPhone better?  Will it be easy and fun to use as Apple wants it to be?  Will it stand on its own merits?

Time will tell. — RJL

In Search of Americana

In brand-building, Uncategorized, Video, Movies & Television on August 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Our curious obsession with branding music
by Jeff Sandgren

Neko Case @ Henry Fonda Theater

Neko Case @ Henry Fonda Theater (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer I discovered Americana music. Or rather, this summer I discovered that what I have been listening to with increasing regularity is sometimes called ‘Americana’ … whatever that is. Like the oft-quoted definition of pornography, which one can’t clearly define but knows when one sees it, it’s difficult to describe the genre of Americana music – but I think I know it when I hear it. And the hearing of it, the discovery of it, the branding of this elusive-yet-distinctive style, has been seeded in my ears and nourished in my aural psyche by a heapin’ helpin’ of high technology.

For a descriptive starting point, there’s a music industry trade association dedicated to the genre, the aptly-named Americana Music Association which offers the following:

“Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B, and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.”

This begs a follow-up question: well then, what is American roots music? And it helps to explain the affinity of a growing number of listeners, since many of the varietal ‘roots’ are styles that resonate with our already-acquired musical tastes. It’s not roots music; it’s contemporary music that, to borrow terminology from the Web, works as a ‘mashup’ of elements of roots music. There’s a same-yet-different, yin-yang part of the listening experience: the analytical side of your brain tells you this music sounds sort of like something you’ve heard before, while the creative side of your brain says yes, but this is different. This repurposing of styles underlies the fun of discovery.

In fact, I didn’t even know there was such a genre as ‘Americana’ until the Three Vowels of Digital Musical Curation – Amazon, eMusic and iTunes – began to pick up on my change in musical preference and start gently nudging me into orbit around it. I began to see the word in reviews and recommendations; but searching would just take me to a recent album by that very name, in this case Neil Young’s 34th studio album (34th!), or to a more general reference of antiques and ephemera that evoked earlier American merchandise – and had little to do with music.

Then one day, while updating my iTunes Genius Mixes, there it was: Americana. It was somehow official. Now I should note that I have come to regard the Genius Mixes with healthy skepticism. To illustrate, right now, on my iTunes screen I see a mix labeled ‘Mainstream Rock’ with the following four corners: Steve Van Zandt, Carolyne Mas, Anita O’Day and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Say what? The only possible label I could think of applying to that amalgamation is “Record Store Day Rummage,” which actually is a fairly accurate depiction of how they came to share space in the Music folder of my computer. But Ms. O’Day and the Daredevils are arguably the spectral equivalents of ultraviolet and infrared; and chances are good that you, esteemed reader, might not have heard of either.

In comparison, the Americana Mix seemed like a somewhat tighter cluster, in this case including Leon Russell, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris (a duo album), Neko Case and T-Bone Burnett. Leon seemed like a stretch … until I thought about it. Mark, Emmylou and Neko all made sense. And Mr. Burnett, from what I perceive, may currently be the de facto Godfather of Americana. Think of the soundtracks for O Brother, Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain. That’s right; you’re starting to hear it.

So what’s in my collection that fits the moniker? Well, for starters, I must confess that I was drawn to some by the Siren Call – my male ears are easily seduced by the female voice. The haunting vocals of Annalisa Tornfelt drew me to the band Black Prairie, where I serendipitously discovered even more instrumental-only tracks, all showcasing superb musicianship, as one would expect from the alumni of The Decembrists who make up the majority of the band. Just in the past month I happened upon perhaps the most genuine and authentic of recent female vocalists: Alynda Lee Segarra, and her group Hurray for the Riff Raff. Alynda’s story sounds almost too rootsy: a Brooklyn runaway who rode boxcars across America until she settled in New Orleans, initially playing washboard with street musicians. Once you hear her voice, all thoughts of such a narrative as public relations posturing fade quickly away.

Then there’s Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station, and Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee recordings – more musical gems. Other new artists include delightfully surprising Valerie June, Jason Isbell, last year’s breakout stars the Alabama Shakes and this year’s Shovels & Rope. But it isn’t just about new artists on the scene – stalwarts like Bonnie Raitt and Patty Griffin are still raising the bar of their own musicianship with critically acclaimed releases this year, and surely fit this genre. Looking back at artists of yesteryear, The Band is sometimes cited as the “first Americana group,” Neil Young has certainly charted this territory before, as did Kate and Anna McGarrigle. The list goes on and on.

There are even sub-genres. Once can find reference to “Gothic Americana” (don’t ask: I have no idea.) A significant set of recordings bridges the genres of Americana and Classical, coming to musical fruition in the collaborations of Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor with the remarkable Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey albums. Ma and Meyer collaborated more recently again, this time with Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile in The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Here again is the dilemma: are these Americana? “Symphonic Americana”, perhaps, to coin a new sub-genre name? If I may borrow from The Bard: these songs by any other genre-name would sound as sweet.

The Howlin' Brothers, at the Americanarama day stage at Grimeys (photo credit: Erika Goldring)

The Howlin’ Brothers, at the Americanarama day stage at Grimeys (photo credit: Erika Goldring)

If you enjoy musical exploration, and haven’t tickled your ears with some of these artists, I hope you’ll give them a try. And if you really want to immerse yourself live and in person, then consider the Americana Music Festival coming up in September, in Nashville, which promises a stellar lineup.

So what’s the technology angle in this branding story? Saying I ‘happened upon’ these and other artists sounds like more bargain bin browsing at the record store – when in fact this is where the technology aspect worked it’s magic. From streamers like Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, Rdio, MOG and Rhapsody/Napster; to music lockers like Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Music and iTunes Match; to sniffers like Shazam and Soundhound, and sharing networks like Soundcloud, a vast array of technologies are lined up like … well, like the AM/FM radio stations that once dominated our musical explorations (and for surprisingly many, still do) and these provided the navigation that led me to this new musical playground.

Before closing, I’d like to cite a famous quote that seems rather relevant: that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” The problem is that I cannot discern to whom this slyly clever quote should be attributed. No kidding. Google it up and you find multiple ‘experts’ ready to  assert that the quote comes from Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and Martin Mull. Are these the scions of a new genre? Alas, the problem with names. – JTS

  • Americana Fest – More Performers Announced

Virtual Assistant – the latest “must have”

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2010 at 10:53 pm
Facebook headquarters in downtown Palo Alto, C...
Image via Wikipedia

by Robert Liljenwall

Don’t have one?  Be the first on your block to have your very own virtual assistant.

Yes, this is the rage now, and it’s only going to get worse or better, depending on your point of view.  VAs, as they’re called, are individuals — far or near — who manage your social media.  And in essence, are managing your brand communications.

I just hired my first VA and am placing VAs with clients who, at first said “you’re kidding, right?”  And for those of you out there who think social media is a fad and ‘you’re not going to play the game”, think again.  Social media is spreading like a blaze through a Southern California canyon with a Santa Ana wind behind it….pushing it through everything and everyone in its path.

Do I really need it?  And what the hell are you talking about?  Social media is a revolution going on right now.  For example, social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web. One in 8 couples married in US last year met via social media. Facebook has added 100 million users in the last 9 months. iPod/iPhone applications downloads hit 1 billion in 9 months and are projected to be a $70 billion business in 2012. 80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.  The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females. 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world with over 100 million videos.  Wikipedia has over 13 million articles. And there are over 200 million blogs.

On the brand side, 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brand are links to user-generated content.  34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands. 78% of consumers trust recommendations from other users, while only 14% trust advertisements

Had enough?  You get the point — social media is exploding and not everyone is happy about it.  In a recent poll of marketing executives, social media was detested by 78%.  Why?  Takes too much time to manage.  Enter:  Virtual Assistant.  The VA is now someone who is social media savvy….who knows your business (you train ’em)….who updates your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Web site media on a daily basis.  They manage your blog and your Twitter account.  They make sure you are alerted for any out-of-the-ordinary tweet or blog or Facebook post.  They work by the hour or on staff.  They work in your office or at home.  They are social media fanatics!

Most of us do not have the time to manage the demands of social media, hence the VA is born.  I fought getting on Facebook…fought Twitter…and am still tentative about how much to reveal anywhere.  And I know I’m not alone.  But social media is just too prevalent.  When my client tells me she HAS to get her social media world in order, quick, I jump.  And lastly I will add this:  Social media is where brands and technology intersect … and it is, indeed, a revolution!

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