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 boots.samsung-ces-2018-7971

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.

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January 10, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Standing out from the Crowd (funding)

Turning your brilliant idea into a world-beating product requires a lot of things – drive, commitment, flexibility and often a large slice of luck. But one element it can’t really do without is money – whether to develop prototypes, employ staff or simply pay your own bills.

Finding funding has never been easy, but the range of potential sources does seem to be growing. As well as traditional sources such as VCs, banks, angels and friends and family, there are a range of government grants and multiple competitions that can potentially help startups take a step forward. I’m not saying this necessarily makes gaining investment easy, but it does give more options.The Pebble iOS Smartwatch

And another option that is expanding rapidly is crowdfundingsharing your idea with the world and getting them to back it before you start the expensive business of actually producing anything. If you don’t attract the pre-orders then it should probably act as a wake-up call – are you producing the right product that people actually want?

There’s been a run of successful, over-subscribed launches on sites like KickStarter. The company behind the Pebble smart watch raised over $10m and will start shipping real products this month. On a smaller scale, projects like photography book I Drink Lead Paint hit its target of £10,000, unleashing the thoughts and images of Mr Flibble onto the world. And B2B versions like Funding Circle have attracted government backing, making £20m available to British businesses over the next 12-24 months.

With growth like this, it is no wonder that Deloitte predicts that crowdfunding will double in 2013, raising £1.9 billion globally this year. Not huge in the scheme of overall investment, but potentially opening up funding options to smaller scale projects in a simple way.

But, with more and more projects out there looking for crowdfunding, how do entrepreneurs get people to view what they are doing – and potentially part with their cash? Kickstarter’s own stats show that just over 40% of projects hit their funding targets, showing it isn’t as simple as launching and waiting for the money to roll in.

This is where an enormous opportunity arises for the marketing and PR industries to get involved. Crowdfunding projects need marketing in the same way as any other product, identifying target audiences and demonstrating the benefits your new wonder widget brings to them. And then you’ve got to reach them, using both social and traditional media to identify the influencers that are likely to help you spread the word and convincing them and the world at large. Obviously the downside is that projects don’t tend to have any ready cash, but for anyone brave enough to go for payment by results the business is out there. At a time when the PR industry is suffering financially, creating smart, all-in-one services that help you get crowdfunding or launch your new iPhone app are just what it needs to be developing to recapture growth and build relationships with the next generation of smart businesses.

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January 23, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing, PR, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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