Revolutionary Measures

Making it work – the marketing challenge behind smart technology

We’re now in the midst of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which sees more than 170,000 people descend on Las Vegas to view and play with the latest technology. And with consumer electronics now covering everything from connected cars to smart appliances and household robots, it provides a real glimpse into the future of how we will live, work and play.

And if people think that this is hyperbole, just look at the speed at which innovations such as Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant and electric cars have entered the mainstream. Morgan Stanley predicts that 22 million Echo devices, which feature Alexa, were sold in 2017, while countries such as the UK and France have banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. You can even buy those sci-fi staples jetpacks and hover

That’s why the issues tat LG’s new Cloi robot suffered at its CES debut should be a wake-up call to marketers. The device, which is designed to help consumers manage their smart homes, initially co-operated at an onstage demo, but then simply gave up and refused to do anything apart from blink when asked when the presenter’s washing would be ready and what was for dinner. As the owner of an Amazon Echo Dot, I know exactly how the poor chap feels, and have to commend him for not shouting abuse at Cloi in public.

But what this shows is that complicated technology is exactly that – complicated. It can be difficult to get it set up correctly in the first place, to then get the best out of it or link it to other devices in the home. Compare this to the analogue products that most people are used to interacting with, and you can see the problem. They work straight from the box and are designed to be simple to use and get value from.

In many ways this follows the classic framework set out in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, setting out how new technology is adopted. This is the order it provides:

  • A small group who don’t care about things going wrong and have the skills and knowledge to fix them
  • Early Adopters – a bigger group that simply wants the latest thing and puts up with idiosyncrasies
  • Early Majority – pragmatists who adopt the technology when it is mature
  • Late Majority – conservatives who adopt the technology late on, perhaps within existing products that they are familiar with
  • Laggards – sceptics who will only adopt new technology when absolutely essential

This model worked in the past, but I think the acceleration of tech means it is no longer accurate. We all have constant exposure to technology, such as smartphones, and the falling cost of devices, and their omnipresence, means that the majority/laggards often don’t have a choice about adopting them. This potentially divides society into the technologically-skilled and the Luddites who cannot manage to stay on top of innovation, and consequently miss out on the advantages it brings. In turn this leads to resentment and, I believe, drives frustrations which can be manifested in concerns over the future and consequent support for populism and insularity.

What does this mean for marketing? Essentially, we need to stop just pitching technology at the Early Adopter, but make sure that it appeals to everyone. We have to be clear on the advantages, clear on how it used and provide the support to assist people in getting the most from it. And by support I don’t mean an impenetrable, jargon-filled manual or a premium rate phone number – I mean tailored assistance that shows how users can benefit.

No doubt CES 2018 will see a whole raft of wonderful technology innovations unveiled – but in order for them to be really successful companies have to address the fundamental marketing question of “What does it do for me?” in a much better, more understandable way.


January 10, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CES goes mobile – the lessons for marketers

Amid all the excitement and hype of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – products demonstrated included a games console for dogs and a smart belt (unfortunately called the Welt) that monitors your waistline – there are some big trends that will potentially affect us all.

English: Jari-Matti Latvala, winner of the Nes...

While last year was all about wearables, CES 2016 was focused on travel and transport. In fact, there was more noise about cars than at the once dominant Detroit Motor show held a week later. GM announced a $500m investment in Lyft, as well as launching its latest Bolt electric car. BMW showed off a concept car controlled by gestures (taking giving the finger to another motorist to a whole new level), while Ford talked about its progress in self-driving cars. There was even a hoverboard or two – though not something that Marty McFly would recognise from Back to the Future.

What’s interesting is that it shows that the traditional car makers are waking up and fighting back hard against tech companies in the battle for future motoring. As cars essentially transform into computers on wheels, manufacturers risk becoming relegated to providers of hardware (the car chassis), with all the value and ongoing profit going to the tech firms providing the software that makes them intelligent, self-driving, more efficient or more comfortable spaces. Allied to this, there is a lot of talk about the Uber effect, with younger consumers turning away from car ownership and instead just hailing one when they need it or renting on an ad-hoc basis.

So car manufacturers are worried – fewer people buying their products and margins squeezed as the profits go elsewhere. Personally, I don’t think it will be as bad as some naysayers predict – younger people have been hard hit by the recession, so don’t necessarily have the money to buy and run a car. And owning your own vehicle isn’t absolutely necessarily if you are one of the 54% of the world’s population that lives in a city. For those living in the countryside without Uber or buses, the picture is very different.

But what is interesting is how the car giants are changing their behaviour. They have realised that they are up against a smaller, more agile foe – but one that has access to new ideas, brands well known for innovation, and no preconceptions about the business. They have to market themselves better, embrace technology and work together to convince consumers that traditional car makers have what it takes to meet their future needs. Hence investments in start-ups such as Lyft, car clubs and the joint purchase of mapping firm Here by a consortium of VW/Audi, BMW and Daimler.

But both sides face significant marketing obstacles. Aside from a few supercar manufacturers, the majority of car companies are not sexy – and VW’s issues with faked emissions tests back up the view that they can’t be trusted. Cars are expensive to buy, depreciate quickly and require ongoing maintenance and fuel. I’m not saying that tech companies are angels, but the majority of people pay nothing to use Google’s services, even if that means that they themselves become the product. So tech companies need to convince consumers that they combine style and innovation with security and safety, and that they won’t have to reboot their self-driving car before driving away in the morning. Essentially the incumbent needs to show a bit of excitement, while the new player needs to demonstrate a bit of gravitas – a classic marketing dilemma.

As the battle moves from the phony war to full on combat, and new companies (such as Apple) join the market, then expect a much greater focus on marketing from both sides – as each one aims to convince us of their benefits in the brave new motoring world. My money is on whoever develops a proper hoverboard first…………….

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do we want smart TVs?

This month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is a good pointer to the latest trends in technology. Last year the event was all about tablets, and this year smart, internet-connected TVs were all the rage.

English: Taken at the 2009 Consumer electronic...

Image via Wikipedia

The aim of these machines is essentially to make the TV the hub of the digital home, replacing the laptop or even tablet when it comes to entertainment. The viewers of the near future will be able to use social networks, run apps and play games all from the comfort of their sofa.

Now I’m the first to see the advantages of TVs that can stream programmes through services such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and even YouTube straight to your screen, without needing to fiddle around connecting your laptop to your TV.

However some of the big claims being made for smart TVs simply don’t yet translate to the real world – often because the misinterpret how and why people watch TV. Here’s my top 5 reasons the smart revolution won’t be immediately televised:

TV is passive
The industry jargon is that TV is a sit back medium (as opposed to a lean forward PC), essentially for the majority of viewers interacting with their TV involves shouting at the screen rather than fiddling with a keyboard. Often people have had enough of interacting with a computer by the evening, so want the alternative of slumping on a sofa.

The user experience
It may appear basic to the titans of Silicon Valley, but TVs are simple and intuitive to use – even if you have hundreds of channels to surf through. And that’s what people expect – while lots of the smart TVs were voice and motion controlled this needs to be better than the remote if viewers are going to switch.

The TV replacement cycle
TVs are normally the most expensive consumer electronics device in a house – costing more than a phone, tablet or most PCs. So people don’t tend to replace them that often, which has two main issues for smart TV adoption. Firstly, it will take time to build up an installed base of smart TVs and secondly people are going to be wary about investing in a set that will potentially become obsolete in a year or two. Maybe this is the time for a revival of the concept of TV rental?

The internet by other means
There are already lots of ways of accessing the internet in your living room. Aside from laptops, you can get connect using games consoles, blu-ray players and a host of other devices. These all tend to be cheaper than a whole new TV so provide a simple method of getting online without breaking the bank. 

Competing standards
We’re used to different standards and technologies when it comes to technology, but the plethora of competing approaches – whether Google TV, Linux or the much-mooted Apple iTV could lead to fragmentation. The last big standards war was in first generation video recorders – and no-one wants to invest in an expensive TV that turns out to be the new Betamax……..

Don’t get me wrong – I think that the breadth of content on the internet and the ease of delivery mean that the future of TV is connected. However it will take time and a bit more industry-wide thought and collaboration if it is move to the mass-market and beyond the early adopters.

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January 17, 2012 Posted by | Creative | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

If Quora is the answer, what is the question?

The New Year has seen a ton of hype about Quora, the community-based question and answer site. In part this is due to its pedigree, with a management team that left Facebook to set the company up, secondly a lack of news prior to CES and finally a reflection of the basic human interest in asking questions (and giving answers). Just look at the number of failed attempts to provide intelligent question answering – Ask Jeeves being a prime example.

But while the ability for anyone to provide answers is interesting, I think it could be the site/network’s Achilles heel. Essentially, rather than using smart technology to catalogue existing content on the net, like Cambridge-based True Knowledge, Quora relies on it all being resubmitted. Great if you are a journalist looking for a range of responses for an article, but difficult to scale and not helpful if you are in a real hurry. How many Quora replies could have been handled through a Google or Wikipedia search and a bit of lateral thinking?

Essentially Quora is point technology – a cynical take on the current hype is that it has a smallish window to build subscribers and sell itself to another social network before they build the technology themselves. Like the rather sparse Future of Quora topic, what happens next to the company is difficult to predict.

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January 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment