Amazon just had another record Prime Day, with sales up 60%. And the #1 product sold was Amazon’s Echo Dot speaker. At $34.99 it surpassed last year’s unit sales by seven-fold. And the traditional Echo speaker, marked down 50% to $90, broke all previous sales records.
Amazon just took a commanding lead in the voice assistant platform market
These Echo sales most likely sealed Amazon’s long-term leadership in the war to be the #1 voice assistant. Amazon already has 70% market share in voice activated speakers, nearly 3 times #2 provider Google. And all other vendors in total barely have 5% share.
While it may seem like digital speakers are no big deal, speaker sales are analogous to iPhone sales when evaluating the emergence of smartphones and apps. The iPhone seemed like a small segment until it became clear smartphones were the new personal technology platform. Apple’s early lead allowed iOS to dominate the growth cycle, making the company intensely profitable.
Echo and Echo Dot aren’t just speakers, but interfaces to voice activated virtual assistants. For Echo the platform is Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa is to voice activated devices and applications what iOS was to Smartphones. By talking to Alexa customers are able to do many things, such as shopping, altering their thermostats, opening and closing doors, raising and lowering blinds, recording people in their homes — the list is endless. And as that list grows customers are buying more Alexa devices to gain greater productivity and enhanced lifestyle. Echos are entering more homes, and multiplying across rooms in these homes.
Do you remember when early iPhone ads touted “there’s an app for that?” That tagline told customers if they changed from a standard mobile phone to a smartphone there were a lot of advantages, measured by the number of available apps. Just like iOS apps gave an advantage to owning an iPhone, Alexa skills give an advantage to owning Echo products. In the last year the number of skills available for Alexa has exploded, growing from 135 to 15,000. Quite obviously developers are building on Alexa much faster than any other voice assistant.
By radically cutting the price of both Echo Dot and Echo, and promoting sales, Amazon is creating an installed base of units which encourages developers to write even more skills/apps.
The more Alexa devices are installed, the more likely developers will write additional skills for Alexa. As more devices lead to more skills, skills leads to more Alexa/Echo capability, which encourages more people to buy Alexa activated devices, which further encourages even more skills development. It’s a virtuous circle of goodness, all leading to more Amazon growth.
For marketers it is important to realize that success really doesn’t correlate with how “good” Alexa works. Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana perform better at voice recognition and providing appropriate responses than Alexa and Siri. But there are relatively few (almost no) devices in the marketplace built with Assistant or Cortana as the interface. Developers need their skills/apps to be on platforms customers use. If customers are buying speakers, thermostats and televisions that are embedded with Alexa, then developers will write for Alexa. Even if it has shortcomings. It’s not the product quality that determines the winner, but rather the ability to create a base of users.
It is genius for Amazon to promote Echo and Echo Dot, selling both cheaper than any other voice activated speaker. Even if Amazon is making almost no profit on device sales. By using their retail clout to build an Alexa base they make the decision to create skills for Alexa easy for developers.
It is genius for Amazon to promote Echo and Echo Dot, selling both cheaper than any other voice activated speaker. Even if Amazon is making almost no profit on device sales. By using their retail clout to build an Alexa base they make the decision to create skills for Alexa easy for developers.
This is a horrible problem for Google, #2 in this market, because Google does not have the retail clout to place millions of their speakers (and other devices) in the market. Google is not a device company, nor a powerful retailer of Android devices. The Android device makers need to profit from their devices, so they cannot afford to sell devices unprofitably in order to build an installed base for Google. And because Android’s platform is not applied consistently across device manufacturers, Google Assistant skills cannot be assured of operating on every Android phone. All of which makes the decision to build Google Assistant skills problematic for developers.
Can Apple Stop the Alexa juggernaut?
The game is not over. Apple would like customers to use Siri on their iPhones to accomplish what Amazon and Alexa do with Echo. Apple has an enormous iPhone base, and all have Siri embedded. Perhaps Apple can encourage developers to create Siri-integrated apps which will beat back the Amazon onslaught?
Today, Apple customers still cannot use Siri to control their Apple TV (Though as of August, 2017, it’s been improved.), or make payments with ApplePay, for example. Nor can iPhone users tell Siri to execute commands for remote systems which are controlled by apps, like unlocking doors, turning on appliances, shooting remote security video or placing an on-line order. Apple has a lot of devices, and apps, but so far Siri is not integrated in a way that allows voice activation like can be done with Alexa.
Additionally, as big as the iPhone installed base has become, when comparing markets the actual raw number of speakers could catch up with iPhones. Echo Dot is $35. The cheapest iPhone is the SE, at $399 (on the Apple site although available from Best Buy at $160.) And an iPhone 7 starts at $650. The huge untapped Apple markets, such as China and India, will find it a lot easier to purchase low cost speakers than iPhones, especially if their focus is to use some of those 15,000 skills. And because of the low pricing ($35 to $90) it is easy to buy multiple devices for multiple locations in one’s home or office.
Will we look back and call Echo a Disruptive Innovation?
Recall the wisdom of Clayton Christensen‘s “Innovator’s Dilemma.” The incumbent keeps improving their product, hoping to maintain a capability lead over the competition. But eventually the incumbent far overshoots customer needs, developing a product that is overly enhanced. The disruptive innovator enters the market with a considerably “less good” product, but it meets customer needs at a much lower price. People buy the cheaper product to meet their limited goal, and bypass the more capable but more expensive early market leader.
Doesn’t this sound remarkably similar to the development of iPhones (now on version 8 and expected to sell at over $1,000) compared with a $35 speaker that is far less capable, but still does 15,000 interesting things?
The biggest loser in this new market is Microsoft
This week Microsoft announced another 1,500 layoffs in what has become an annual bloodletting ritual for the PC software giant. But even worse was the announcement that Microsoft would no longer support any version of Windows Phone OS version 8.1 or older – which is 80% of the Windows Phone market. Given that Microsoft has less than 2% market share, and that less than .4% of the installed smartphone base operates on Windows Phone, killing support for these phones will lead to sales declines. This action, along with gutting the internal developer team last year, clearly indicates Microsoft has given up on the phone business for good. This means that now Microsoft has no device platform for Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant, to use.
Microsoft ignored smartphones, allowing Apple’s iOS to become the early standard. Apple rapidly grew its installed base. Microsoft could not convince developers to write for Windows Phone because there weren’t enough devices in the market. Without a phone base, with tablet and hybrid sales flat to declining, and with PC sales in the gutter Cortana enters the market DOA (Dead On Arrival.) Even if it were the best voice assistant on the planet developers will not create skills for Cortana because there are no devices out there using Cortana as the interface.
So Microsoft completely missed yet another market. This time the market for voice activated devices in the smart phone, smart car or any other smart device in the IoT marketplace. It missed mobile, and now it has missed voice assist. As PC sales decline, Microsoft’s only hope is to somehow emerge a big winner in cloud storage and services (IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service) with Azure. But, Azure was a late-comer to the cloud market and is far behind Amazon’s AWS (Amazon Web Services.) Amazon has +40% market share, which is 40% more than the share of Microsoft, Google and IBM combined.
Build the base and developers will come…
There has been a lot of press about Millennial entrepreneurs the last 2 years. Young folks – mostly boys – dropping out of high school to start their own businesses at ages as young as 15. One of these, Noah Miller, who started a sports web site at 15 and later a creative agency asked to join my network on Linked-in. Then he asked me to look into the topic of young entrepreneurs and see what lessons we could learn.
1 – If you are really good at something at a young age, continue to work at it
Ben Pasternak liked gaming, and he liked apps. So at 15 he wrote a game-like app and put it on iTunes. 1.3million downloads later he was a young superstar. Since then he’s created two more apps (Flogg and Monkey.) His young hobby led to building strong programming skills, which when linked to identifying what appeals to Millenials turned into apps people really use.
George Matus started flying drones at age 12. He loved it so much he started modifying drones, and building his own. He published videos of his exploits on YouTube, and convinced drone makers to let him be a tester. After 6 years of working on Drones he now has his own Peter Thiel funded company making drones. So far no products on the market, but he is working at it.
Whether iOS apps or drones will be a long-term career is hard to say. But by building strong skills in new technologies with large markets and high growth rates these fellows created business opportunities. You don’t have to be a Millenial to do that.
2 – Take advantage of trends while they are hot
Collecting sneakers is a remarkably big market. Most older folks would call it a fad, thinking nobody will collect sneakers for long. But, it doesn’t really matter if a trend is going to be long-lived, or not, if you are willing to jump in and help push the trend along.
Fifteen year old Ben Kapelushnik liked sneakers. He wanted money to buy more. So he started buying multiple pairs of collectible sneakers and selling the “extra” pairs at a profit. To grow he networked with sneaker sellers to figure out how he could get in line early and buy many pair. Then he networked hard as he could to find associations with big time sneaker collectors, like rappers and other creative artists. Now he has a business buying and selling sneakers. How long will the fad last? Who knows – but Ben is making money by taking advantage of a hot trend.
Connor O’Neil saw the same phenomenon. He thought “why don’t I go source things people want?” So he created a web site where buyers can request he source sneakers, T-shirts and other items. He then searches the web, sourcing the items manually and with bots that will make instantaneous purchases of hard to find items. He charges customers a fee to find what they want. By meeting customer needs for trendy items, he finds an opportunity for profit.
At 16 Casey Adams started networking on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. After he built up a following of several thousand followers he began offering them t-shirts and wristbands. Pretty soon he was generating $5k/month in revenue. While many older folks still think social media, and Snapchat in particular, is a time-waster, Casey is making money on the obvious trend toward all things social. He’s leveraging his social network to sell things – and teaching other people how to do the same.
Are Bitcoins long-term currency? Will crypto-currency replace things like Dollars and Euros? Most older generation folks don’t think so, and view this as another fad. But Erik Finman saw the trend at age 12, and started buying Bitcoins. A few trades later and he turned $1,000 into $100,000. A few more trades and Finman had a stash worth over $1,000,000. Are Bitcoins the next Tulip bulbs? You can research the economists for opinions on that. But as long as the trend is growing, Erik Finman is making money.
Peter Szabo was only 12 when he used a Google search to identify ways to make money on the internet. He discovered making Facebook ads for affiliates could pay off – in pennies at first, but as volume rose these became dollars. Since so few older people knew how to manage a Facebook ad budget, by age 18 he created an on-line agency focused on maximizing value (and return) for Facebook advertising. You don’t have to be a Millennial to recognize the growth of new platforms and help people use them to make money.
3 – There has never been a better time to be a self-promoter
Today anyone can claim to be “great” at anything using the web. There are so few genuine ways to measure quality and results when it comes to anything on the web that if you say it enough, and find enough testimonials, you can be very convincing.
Noah Miller started a sports web site at age 15 using a group of writers he amassed via Twitter connections. Sports Crave had some success with USAToday and Google before Noah closed it at age 17. Based on his claims of great success he’s now promoting his new creative agency, Colour Medium, which has nothing more than a flash page. But the web allows Noah to position himself at the forefront of creative.
Benji Taylor at age 18 has opened a new on-line creative agency named Next Exit focused on art for the music industry. By forging relationships with known young musicians he has positioned his agency at the top of the creative spectrum for his target customers. Given how fast musicians come and go in the limelight, who knows how long his testimonials will stand up. But as long as people know the name of those who know his name he is leveraging those associations to crown himself the king of that industry.
Eighteen year old Josh King Madrid, known as Jet, has built a business on seemingly nothing more than a lifestyle. It is wholly unclear if Jet has ever actually created a profitable business selling anything physical or digital. But what he has done is convince lots of Millenials that he knows the lifestyle they want to lead, and he can tell them how to lead it. So now, largely without any clear source of how he obtained any knowledge about succeeding at business, he is proselytizing how young people can be independent, self-actualized and living the “Jet Set” lifestyle at his events. Jet is one of the best descriptions of how self-promotion can succeed in today’s social-media world, leading people to believe they should listen to you primarily because of the image you portray.
Overall Lessons from these 10 under 20 entrepreneurs
There is precious little to support the grandiose success claims of most Millennial entrepreneurs. They claim huge revenues and wealth, but in most cases it is impossible to prove their claims, and most support comes down to number of followers, or testimonials of some celebrity. But, that does not mean we can’t learn from what they did to achieve their current fame:
- Use social media exhaustively. Over-communicate. Use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. over and over and over to communicate your value and your message. These platforms are dirt cheap, so hard work there can make up for few dollars.
- Take big risks, especially if you have little to lose. Most folks are hamstrung by the commitments of family, mortgage, car payments, etc. If you remove these bindings you can take big risks, like rolling over thousands of dollars worth of crypto-currency. And if something fails, never call it a failure. Just a learning experience you’ve moved beyond.
- Don’t try to improve something that already exists. Do something new. Develop a new app, a new drone, a site focused on selling collectible sneakers. It is cheaper, and more likely to succeed, if you are an early entrant in something new and growing.
- Hype is good. Pre-announce everything. And announce that your next thing (whether a drone, a web site, an exchange site or something else) is going to be HUGE. It will be the VERY BEST EVER. Do not be deterred by feeling the need to prove any of your claims, just make big claims with tremendous bravado.
- Take credit for anything that goes right. None of these people ever say they were lucky. Whatever went right was always do to their inherent insight, skill or genius.
- Stay out of specifics. Talk in platitudes. Especially statements that appeal to other Millenials.
- “Live your own life if you want to succeed.”
- “Believe in yourself 1,000%. That’s what truly matters.”
- “Don’t trust employers or education. Trust only yourself.”
- “Self-education is better than schools. You can learn more on YouTube than any classroom. Teachers are nay-sayers.”
- “Do what you are passionate about.”
- “Millennials are special. Millennials are smarter and better than older people.”
- Select good parents. I was struck by the fact that almost all these young people had parents and/or grandparents that were physicians, PhDs, successful real estate developers, successful business people. There is no doubt they benefited at their young age from families that had resources and skills that are not available to the vast majority of folks.
Is ongoing success pre-ordained?
I remember the student counsel President of my school, Mr. Popularity, who dropped out of college to open a string of pizza shops. He received ample praise and publicity for his young entrepreneurial success. But after a few setbacks the pizza shops failed, he took work as a salesman for a liquor distributor, became an alcoholic and lost his family. I was glad he found success early, and saddened that he wasn’t the wunderkind many people foisted upon him.
Life is not a one round fight. It will be interesting to see who among these, if any, go on to do great things in business, politics or another arena. While they are full of chutzpah today, life has a way of throwing many derailing curves into everyone’s path. But…
…that does not mean their early success can’t teach us some important lessons that can be applied, regardless of our age.
The words “search” and “Google” are practically synonymous. We’ve even turned the name of the ubiquitous web application into a verb by telling people to “Google it.” And that’s good, because Alphabet’s revenue (that’s Google’s parent company) soared more than 25% in the last quarter, and over 90% of Alphabet’s revenue comes from Google AdWords. The more people search using Google, the more money Alphabet makes.
Chart courtesy of Martin Armstrong at Statista.com
But ever since Facebook came along, a new trend has started emerging. People often want answers to their questions within the context of their community. So “searches” are changing. People are going back to what they did before Google existed – they are asking for information from their friends. But online. And primarily using Facebook.
There is no doubt Google dominates keyword searching. But that type of searching has its shortcomings. How often have you found yourself doing multiple searches — adding words, adding phrases, dropping words, etc. trying to find what you were seeking? It’s a common problem, and we all know people who are better “Googlers” than others because of their skill at putting together key words to actually find what we want. And how often do we find ourselves lost in the initial batch of ads, but not finding the link we want? Or going through several pages of links in search of what we seek?
Context often matters. Take the classic problem of finding a place to eat. Googling an answer requires we enter the location, type of food, price point, and other info — which often doesn’t lead us to the desired information, but instead puts us into some kind of web site, or article, with restaurant review. What seems an easy question can be hard to answer when relying on key words.
But, we know how incredibly easy it is for a friend to answer this question. So when seeking a place to eat we use Facebook to ask our friends “hey, any ideas on where I should eat dinner?” Because they know us, and where we are, they fire back specific answers like “the Mexican place two blocks north is just for you,” or “spend the money to eat at that place across the street – pricey but worth it.” Your friends are loaded with context about you, your habits, your favorites and they can give great answers much faster than Google.
Think of these kind of referrals – for food, entertainment, directions, quick facts, local info — as “context based searches” rather than referrals. Instead of making a query with a string of key words, we use context to derive the answer — and our friends. Most people undertake far more of these kind of “searches” than keywords every day.
Even though Google is still growing incredibly fast, context searching — or referrals — pose a threat. People will use their network to answer questions. The web birthed on-line data, and we all quickly wanted engines to help us find that data. We were excited to use Excite, Lycos, InfoSeek, AltaVista and Ask Jeeves to name just a few of the early search engines. We gravitated toward Google because it was simply better. But with the growth of Facebook today we can ask our friends a question faster, and easier, than Google — and often we obtain better results.
Both Google and Facebook rely on ads for most of their revenue. But if consumer goods companies, event promoters, apparel manufacturers and other “core advertisers” realize that people are using Facebook to ask for information, rather than searching Google, where do you think they will spend their on-line ad dollars? Isn’t it better to have an ad for diapers on the screen when someone asks “what diapers do you like best?” than relying on someone to search for diaper reviews?
This is why Google+ with its Groups and Google Hangouts was such a big deal. Google+ allows users to come together in discussions much like Facebook. But Plus, Groups and Hangouts never really caught on, and Plus isn’t nearly as popular as Facebook discussions, or Instagram picture sharing or WhatsApp messaging. Today, when it comes to referral traffic Facebook has eclipsed Google. Five years ago most people would have guessed this would never happen.
I’m not saying that Google searches will decline, nor am I saying Google will stop growing, nor am I saying that Google’s other revenue generators, like YouTube, won’t grow. I am saying that Facebook as a platform is growing incredibly fast, and becoming an ever more powerful tool for users and advertisers. Possibly a lot more powerful than Google as people use it for more and more information gathering — and referrals. The more people make referrals on Facebook, the more it will attract advertisers, and potentially take searches away from Google.
By comparison, this moment may be like the late 1980s when PC sales finally edged ahead of Apple Mac sales. At the time it didn’t look deadly for Apple. But it didn’t take long for the Wintel platform to dominate the market, and the Mac began its slide toward being a submarket favorite.
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Apple’s stock is on a tear. After languishing for well over a year, it is back to record high levels. Once again Apple is the most valuable publicly traded company in America, with a market capitalization exceeding $700 billion. And pretty overwhelmingly, analysts are calling for Apple’s value to continue rising.
But today’s Apple, and the Apple emerging for the future, is absolutely not the Apple which brought investors to this dance. That Apple was all about innovation. That Apple identified big trends – specifically mobile – then created products that turned the trend into enormous markets. The old Apple knew that to create those new markets required an intense devotion to product development, bringing new capabilities to products that opened entirely new markets where needs were previously unmet, and making customers into devotees with really good quality and customer service.
That Apple was built by Steve Jobs. Today’s Apple has been remade by Tim Cook, and it is an entirely different company.
Today’s Apple – the one today’s analysts love – is all about making and selling more iPhones. And treating those iPhone users as a “loyal base” to which they can sell all kinds of apps/services. Today’s Apple is about using the company’s storied position, and brand leadership, to milk more money out of customers that own their devices, and expanding into adjacent markets where the installed base can continue growing.
UBS likes Apple because they think the services business is undervalued. After noting that it today would stand alone as a Fortune 100 company, they expect those services to double in four years. Bernstein notes services today represents 11% of revenue, and should grow at 22% per year. Meanwhile they expect the installed base of iPhones to expand by 27% – largely due to offshore sales – adding further to services growth.
Analysts further like Apple’s likely expansion into India – a previously almost untapped market. CEO Cook has led negotiations to have Foxxcon and Wistron, the current Chinese-based manufacturers, open plants in India for domestic production of iPhones. This expansion into a new geographic market is anticipated to produce tremendous iPhone sales growth. Do you remember when, just before filing for bankruptcy, Krispy Kreme was going to keep up its valuation by expanding into China?
Of course, with so many millions of devices, it is expected that the apps and services to be deployed on those devices will continue growing. Likely exponentially. The iOS developer community has long been one of Apple’s great strengths. Developers like how quickly they can deploy new apps and services to the market via Apple’s sales infrastructure. And with companies the size of IBM dedicated to building enterprise apps for iOS the story heard over and again is about expanding the installed base, then selling the add-ons.
Gee, sounds a lot like the old “razors lead to razor blade sales” strategy – business innovation circa 1966.
Overall, doesn’t this sound a lot like Microsoft? Bill Gates founded a company that revolutionized computing with low-cost software on low-cast hardware that did just about anything you would want. Windows made life easy. Microsoft gave users office automation, databases and all the basic work tools. And when the internet came along Microsoft connected everyone with Internet Explorer – for free! Microsoft created a platform with Windows upon which hordes of developers could build special applications for dedicated markets.
Once this market was created, and pretty much monopolized by Microsoft CEO Gates turned the reigns over to CEO Steve Ballmer. And Mr. Ballmer maximized these advantages. He invested constantly in developing updates to Windows and Office which would continue to insure Microsoft’s market share against emerging competitors like Unix and Linux. The money was so good that over a decade money was poured into gaming, even though that business lost more money than it made in revenue – but who cared? There were occasional investments in products like tablets, hand-helds and phones, but these were merely attractions around the main show. These products came and went and, again, nobody really cared.
Ballmer optimized the gains from Microsoft’s installed base. And a lot – a lot – of money was made doing this. nvestors appreciated the years of ongoing profits, dividends – and even occasional special dividends – as the money poured in. Microsoft was unstoppable in personal computing. The only thing that slowed Microsoft down was the market shift to mobile, which caused the PC market to collapse as unit sales have declined for six straight years (PC sales in 2016 barely managed levels of 2006). But, for a goodly while, it was a great ride!
Today all one hears about at Apple is growing the installed base. Maximizing sales of iPhones. And then selling everyone services. Oh yeah, the Apple Watch came out. Sort of flopped. Nobody really seemed to care much. Not nearly as much as they cared about 2 quarters of sales declines in iPhones. And whatever happened to AppleTV? ApplePay? iBeacons? Beats? Weren’t those supposed to be breakthrough innovations to create new markets? Oh well, nobody seems to much care about those things any longer. Attractions around the main event – iPhones!
So now analysts today aren’t put in the mode of evaluating breakthrough innovations and trying to guess the size of brand new, never before measured markets. That was hard. Now they can be far more predictable forecasting smartphone sales and services revenue, with simulations up and down. And that means they can focus on cash flow. After all, Apple makes more cash than it makes profit! Apple has a $246 billion cash hoard. Most people think Berkshire Hathaway, led by famed investor Warren Buffett, spent $6.6 billion on Apple stock in 2016 because Berkshire sees Apple as a cash generation machine – sort of like a railroad! And if those meetings between CEO Cook and President Trump can yield a tax change allowing repatriation at a low rate then all that cash could lead to a big one time dividend!
And, most likely, the stock will go up. Most likely, a lot. Because for at least a while Apple’s iPhone business is going to be pretty good. And the services business is going to grow. It will be a lot like Microsoft – at least until mobile changed the business. Or, maybe like Xerox giving away copiers to obtain toner sales – until desktop publishing and email cratered the need for copiers and large printers. Or, going all the way back into the 1950s and 60s, when Multigraphics and AB Dick practically gave away small printers to get the ink and plate sales – until xerography crushed that business. Of course you couldn’t go wrong investing in Sears for years, because they had the store locations, they had the brands (Kenmore, Craftsman, et.al.,) they had the credit card services – until Wal-Mart and Amazon changed that game.
You see, that’s the problem with all of these sort of “milk the base” businesses. As the focus shifts to grow the base and add-on sales the company loses sight of customer needs. Innovation declines, then evaporates as everything is poured into maximizing returns from the “core” business. Optimization leads to a focus on costs, and price reductions. Arrogance, based on market leadership, emerges and customer service starts to wane. Quality falters, but is not considered as important because sales are so large.
These changes take time, and the business looks really good as profits and cash flow continue, so it is easy to overlook these cultural and organizational changes, and their potential negative impact. Many applaud cost reductions – remember the glee with which analysts bragged about the cost savings when Dell moved its customer service to India some 20 years ago?
Today we’re hearing more stories about long-term Apple customers who aren’t as happy as they once were.
Genius bar experiences aren’t always great. In a telling AdAge column one long-time Apple user discusses how he had two iPhones fail, and Apple could not replace them leaving the customer with no phone for two weeks – demonstrating a lack of planning for product failures and a lack of concern for customer service. And the same issues were apparent when his corporate Macbook Pro failed. This same corporate customer bemoans design changes that have led to incompatible dongles and jacks, making interoperability problematic even within the Apple line.
Meanwhile, over the last four years Apple has spent lavishly on a new corporate headquarters befitting the country’s most valuable publicly traded company. And Apple leaders have been obsessive about making sure this building is built right! Which sounds well and good, except this was a company that once put customers – and unearthing their hidden needs, wants and wishes – first. Now, a lot of attention is looking inward. Looking at how they are spending all that money from milking the installed base. Putting some of the best managers on building the building – rather than creating new markets.
Who was that retailer that was so successful that it built what was, at the time, the world’s tallest building? Oh yeah, that was Sears.
Markets always shift. Change happens. Today it happens faster than ever in history. And nowhere does change happen faster than in technology and consumer electronics. CEO Cook is leading like CEO Ballmer. He is maximizing the value, and profitability, of the Apple’s core product – the iPhone. And analysts love it. It would be wise to disavow yourself of any thoughts that Apple will be the innovative market creating Jobs/Ives organization it once was.
How long will this be a winning strategy? Your answer to that should determine how long you would like to be an Apple investor. Because some day something new will come along.
It’s been over a decade since the Internet transformed print media.
Very quickly the web’s ability to rapidly disseminate news, and articles, made newspapers and magazines obsolete. Along with their demise went the ability for advertisers to reach customers via print. What was once an “easy buy” for the auto or home section of a paper, or for magazines targeting your audience, simply disappeared. Due to very clear measuring tools, unlike print, Internet ads were far cheaper and more appealing to advertisers – so that’s where at least some of the money went.
In 2012 Google surpassed all print media in generating ad revenue. Source Statista courtesy of NewspaperDeathWatch.com
While this trend was easy enough to predict, few expected the unanticipated consequences.
1. First was the trend to automated ad buying. Instead of targeting the message to groups, programmatic buying tools started targeting individuals based upon how they navigated the web. The result was a trolling of web users, and ad placements in all kinds of crazy locations.
Heaven help the poor soul who looks for a credenza without turning off cookies. The next week every site that person visits, whether it be a news site, a sports site, a hobby site – anywhere that is ad supported – will be ringed with ads for credenzas. That these ads in no way connect to the content is completely lost. Like a hawker who won’t stop chasing you down the street to buy his bad watches, the web surfer can’t avoid the onslaught of ads for a product he may well not even want.
2. Which led to the next unanticipated consequence, the rising trend of bad – and even fake – journalism.
Now anybody, without any credentials, could create their own web site and begin publishing anything they want. The need for accuracy is no longer as important as the willingness to do whatever is necessary to obtain eyeballs. Learning how to “go viral” with click-bait keywords and phrases became more critical than fact checking. Because ads are bought by programs, the advertiser is no longer linked to the content or the publisher, leaving the world awash in an ocean of statements – some accurate and some not. Thus, what were once ads that supported noteworthy journals like the New York Times now support activistpost.com.
3. The next big trend is the continuing rise of paid entertainment sites that are displacing broadcast and cable TV.
Netflix is now spending $6 billion per year on original content. According to SymphonyAM’s measurement of viewership, which includes streaming as well as time-shifted viewing, Netflix had the no. 1 most viewed show (Orange is the New Black) and three of the top four most viewed shows in 2016.
Increasingly, purchased streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, et.al.) are displacing broadcast and cable, making it harder for advertisers to reach their audience on TV. As Barry Diller, founder of Fox Broadcasting, said at the Consumer Electronics Show, people who can afford it will buy content – and most people will be able to afford it as prices keep dropping. Soon traditional advertisers will “be advertising to people who can’t afford your goods.”
4. And, lastly, there is the trend away from radio.
Radio historically had an audience of people who listened to their favorite programming at home or in their car. But according to BuzzAngle that too is changing quickly. Today the trend is to streaming audio programming, which jumped 82.6% in 2016, while downloading songs and albums dropped 15-24%. With Apple, Amazon and Google all entering the market, streaming audio is rapidly displacing real-time radio.
Declining free content will affect all consumers and advertisers.
Thus, the assault on advertisers which began with the demise of print continues. This will impact all consumers, as free content increasingly declines. Because of these trends, users will have a lot more options, but simultaneously they will have to be much more aware of the source of their content, and actively involved in selecting what they read, listen to and view. They can’t rely on the platforms (Facebook, etc.) to manage their content. It will require each person select their sources.
Meanwhile, consumer goods companies and anyone who depends on advertising will have to change their success formulas due to these trends. Built-in audiences – ready made targets – are no longer a given. Costs of traditional advertising will go up, while its effectiveness will go down. As the old platforms (print, TV, radio) die off these companies will be forced to lean much, much heavier on social media (Facebook, Snapchat, etc.) and sites like YouTube as the new platforms to push their product message to potential customers.
There will be big losers, and winners, due to these trends.
These market shifts will favor those who aggressively commit early to new communications approaches, and learn how to succeed. Those who dally too long in the old approach will lose awareness, and eventually market share. Lack of ad buying scale benefits, which once greatly favored the very large consumer goods companies (Kraft, P&G, Nestle, Coke, McDonalds) means it will be harder for large players to hold onto dominance. Meanwhile, the easy access and low cost of new platforms means more opportunities will exist for small market disrupters to emerge and quickly grow.
And these trends will impact the fortunes of media and tech companies for investors The decline in print, radio and TV will continue, hurting companies in all three media. When Gannet tried to buy Tronc the banks balked at the price, killing the deal, fearing that forecasted revenues would not materialize.
Just as print distributors have died off, cable’s role as a programming distributor will decline as customers opt for bandwidth without buying programming. Thus trends put the growth prospects of companies such as Comcast and DirecTV/AT&T at peril, as well as their valuations.
Privatized content will benefit Netflix, Amazon and other original content creators. While traditionalists question the wisdom of spending so much on original content, it is clearly the trend and attracts customers. And these trends will benefit streaming services that deliver paid content, like Apple, Amazon and Google. It will benefit social media networks (Facebook and Alphabet) who provide the new platforms for reaching audiences.
Media has changed dramatically from the business it was in 2000. And that change is accelerating. It will impact everyone, because we all are consumers, altering what we consume and how we consume it. And it will change the role, placement and form of advertising as the platforms shift dramatically. So the question becomes, is your business (and your portfolio) ready?
‘Tis the season of holiday giving. We hunt for just the right gift, for just the right person, to make sure they know we care about them. This act of matching a gift to the person has tremendous importance, because it demonstrates care from the giver about the recipient.
Once advertising was like that. Marketers built brands with loving care. They worked very hard to know the target for their brand (and product) and they carefully crafted every nuance of the brand – imagery, typography, colors, images, sounds – even spokespeople (famous or created) to project that brand properly for the intended customers. We’ve seen great brand images over time, from Tony the Tiger promoting cereal to start your day to Ronald McDonald bringing a family together.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Ad placement delivered the brand’s gift to the customer.
And, once upon a time, how that brand was placed in front of targeted customers was every bit as crafted as the brand itself. Marketers worked with ad agencies to make sure newspaper, magazine, billboard location, radio show or TV program matched the brand. The brand was considered linked not just to the medium, but to the message that medium projected. Want to sell a muscle car, you promoted it via media focused on sports, DIY projects, men’s health – a positive connection between the media’s message/content and the advertiser’s goal for the brand.
And marketers knew that if they put their brand with the right media content, in front of their targets, it would lead to brand identification, brand enhancement, and sales growth. The objective wasn’t how many people saw the ads, but putting the ad in front of the right people, associated with the right content, to build on the brand’s value, and make the products more appealing to target buyers. Placement led to sales.
Just like finding the right gift is important for the holidays, matching the gift to the recipient, finding the right ad placement was very important to the customer. It was an act of diligence on the part of the advertiser to demonstrate to target customers “hey, I know you. I get where you’re coming from. I connect with you.”
Then the internet changed everything.
In the old days marketers really didn’t know how many people connected with their ads post-placement. There were raw numbers on readers/listeners/viewers, but nothing specific. There was a lot of trust by the marketer that “owned” brand placed in working with the ad agencies to link the brand to the right media – the right content – so that brand would flourish and product sales would grow.
Yes, ads were measured for their appeal, how well they were remembered and audience coverage. But these metrics, and especially raw volume numbers, were each just one piece of how to craft the brand and deliver the message. It was reaching the right people that mattered, and that required people to make media decisions – and that required really knowing the content tied to the ad being placed.
Marketers clearly understood that customers knew the product paid for those ads to promote that content. Customers linked the brand and the content, and thus it was important to make sure they matched. The content had to be right for the ad to have its intended affect.
But in the internet age, all that caring about customers, branding and links to the right content began disappearing. Instead, ad decisions were dominated by metrics – “how many placements did my ad receive?” “how many people saw my ad?” “how many people clicked on my ad?” “how many page views does this web site generate?” “how many page views does this writer/blogger generate?” The brand was being lost – the customer was being lost – in identifying how many people saw the ad, and whether or not they clicked on it, and where they went after the ad was presented on the web page.
And, the worst of all, “Do we have the information to know who this internet surfer is, follow them, and deliver ads to them as they cross pages and web sites?” At this point, content no longer mattered. If some page viewer was known to be looking for a desk, ads for desks would be placed on page after page the reader (potential customer) visited — regardless the content!
Marketers allowed their brands to be disconnected from the content entirely – ouch.
In the era of programmatic ad buying, content no longer matters. Follow the target, hammer on them with ads, even if the brand is positioned first next to information on weather, and next on a site about buying inexpensive baby clothes, and next on a site about high end power tools.
The care and crafting of ad buying, which was crucial to brand building and demonstrating customers really mattered to those who created and crafted the products, and brand, was lost.
In 2016, we saw the ultimate in forgetting brand value while programmatically placing ads. “Fake news” emerged. And marketers started to see their ads next to those fake (often invented and totally false) stories, just like they would be placed next to legitimate information. The breakdown between content and brand was complete. In the unbridled pursuit of “eyeballs” brands were paying for the worst any media could offer – not journalism or legitimate content, but outright crap.
The election served to demonstrate this in an entirely new way. People went to websites, formerly considered “fringe,” such as Breitbart, to find out information on candidates and their supporters. And there would be ads. The ad was following the eyeballs, no longer the content. Family product ads, such as for cereal, were suddenly appearing next to content that was in no way associated with the marketer’s goal for that brand image.
And by being content independent, these programmatic ads were not just harming the brands – they supported bad journalism, and bad content.
“Click bait” became ever more important. With no people involved in ad buying, ads were no longer were tied to content so there was no “editorial” management of how the ad was placed. What those smart ad buyers once did, helping to build the brand, was lost. Now, any writer who could figure out how to use the right key words – and often outrageous content (of any kind) – was able to pull eyeballs. If s/he could pull eyeballs – regardless of the content – they pulled ads. And that pulled dollars.
Media brand value was dramatically lost – and journalism suffered.
In other words, you no longer needed the credibility of a brand like NBC, Wall Street Journal, ESPN, Forbes, etc. to obtain ads. Those old media brands worked hard to make edited content, reliable content, available to readers – and something a brand marketer could understand and use to build her customer base. But now all a publisher/producer needed was something that brought in eyeballs – and often the more outrageous, more salacious, more demeaning, more hostile, more ridiculous the content the more eyeballs were attracted (like watching a train wreck).
And the more this pulled ad money to non-journalistic, bad content, and away from legitimate content providers that focused on building their brand, the more it hurt journalism and marketing. What a decade ago seemed like a possible fear came true in 2016. Unharnessed media access by everyone was proven to lead to the growth of bad journalism as funds for good research, writing, editing and masthead curating was lost to those who demonstrated merely the ability to pull eyeballs.
Those who have benefited from this shift think programmatic ad buying is great. To them if people want to read from their site, look at their photos, cartoons and other images, or watch videos then these site owners claim there is no reason that advertisers should complain. “If people want this content, then why shouldn’t we be paid to create it. This is a monetized democracy of the media putting the customer in control.”
But that is simply not true. Customers link the brand message to the content on the screen. And there should be care taken to make sure that content and the brand message link. And that’s where programmatic ad buying is failing everyone.
Net/net, we need people involved in ad placement. Just as we care about the gifts we give at holidays, it takes a personal touch to make that selection work. It takes people to craft the delivery of ads.
Hopefully in 2017, the lessons of 2016 will become very clear, causing marketers and advertisers to rely far less on programmatic, and get people involved in ad placement once again. For the good of brands and for decent content.
(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
McDonald’s has been trying for years to re-ignite growth. But, unfortunately for customers and investors alike, leadership keeps going about it the wrong way. Rather than building on new trends to create a new McDonald’s, they keep trying to defend extend the worn out old strategy with new tactics.
Recently McDonald’s leadership tested a new version of the Big Mac,first launched in 1967. They replaced the “special sauce” with Sriracha sauce in order to make the sandwich a bit spicier. They are now rolling it out to a full test market in central Ohio with 128 stores. If this goes well – a term not yet defined – the sandwich could roll out nationally.
This is a classic sustaining innovation. Take something that exists, make a minor change, and offer it as a new version. The hope is that current customers keep buying the original version, and the new version attracts new customers. Great idea, if it works. But most of the time it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, most people who buy a product like it the way it is. Slower Big Mac sales aren’t due to making bad sandwiches. They’re due to people changing their buying habits to new trends. Fifty years ago a Big Mac from McDonald’s was something people really wanted. Famously, in the 1970s a character on the TV series Good Times used to become very excited about going to eat his weekly Big Mac.
People who are still eating Big Macs know exactly what they want. And it’s the old Big Mac, not a new one. Thus the initial test results were “mixed” – with many customers registering disgust at the new product. Just like the failure of New Coke, a New Big Mac isn’t what customers are seeking.
After 50 years, times and trends have changed. Fewer people are going to McDonald’s, and fewer are eating Big Macs. Many new competitors have emerged, and people are eating at Panera, Panda Express, Zaxby’s, Five Guys and even beleaguered Chipotle. Customers are looking for a very different dining experience, and different food. While a version two of the Big Mac might have driven incremental sales in 1977, in 2017 the product has grown tired and out of step with too many people and there are too many alternative choices.
Similarly, McDonald’s CEO’s effort to revitalize the brand by adding ordering kiosks and table service in stores, in a new format labeled the “Experience of the Future,” will not make much difference. Due to the dramatic reconfiguration, only about 500 stores will be changed – roughly 3.5% of the 14,500 McDonald’s. It is an incremental effort to make a small change when competitors are offering substantially different products and experiences.
When a business, brand or product line is growing it is on a trend. Like McDonald’s was in the 1960s and 1970s, offering quality food, fast and at a consistent price nationwide at a time when customers could not count on those factors across independent cafes. At that time, offering new products – like a Big Mac – that are variations on the theme that is riding the trend is a good way to expand sales.
But over time trends change, and adding new features has less and less impact. These sustaining innovations, as Clayton Christensen of Harvard calls them, have “diminishing marginal returns.” That’s an academic’s fancy way of saying that you have to spend ever greater amounts to create the variations, but their benefits keep having less and less impact on growing, or even maintaining, sales. Yet, most leaders keep right on trying to defend & extend the old business by investing in these sustaining measures, even as returns keep falling.
Over time a re-invention gap is created between the customer and the company. Customers want something new and different, which would require the business re-invent itself. But the business keeps trying to tweak the old model. And thus the gap. The longer this goes on, the bigger the re-invention gap. Eventually customers give up, and the product, or company, disappears.
Think about portable hand held AM radios. If someone gave you the best one in the world you wouldn’t care. Same for a really good portable cassette tape player. Now you listen to your portable music on a phone. Companies like Zenith were destroyed, and Sony made far less profitable, as the market shifted from radios and cathode-ray televisions to more portable, smarter, better products.
Motorola, one of the radio pioneers, survived this decline by undertaking a “strategic pivot.” Motorola invested in cell phone technology and transformed itself into something entirely new and different – from a radio maker into a pioneer in mobile phones. (Of course leadership missed the transition to apps and smart phones, and now Motorola Solutions is a ghost of the former company.)
McDonald’s could have re-invented itself a decade ago when it owned Chipotle’s. Leadership could have stopped investing in McDonald’s and poured money into Chipotle’s, aiding the cannibalization of the old while simultaneously capturing a strong position on the new trend. But instead of pivoting, leadership sold Chipotle’s and used the money to defend & extend the already tiring McDonald’s brand.
Strategic pivots are hard. Just look at Netflix, which pivoted from sending videos in the mail to streaming, and is pivoting again into original content. But, they are a necessity if you want to keep growing. Because eventually all strategies become out of step with changing trends, and sustaining innovations fail to keep customers.
McDonald’s needs a very different strategy. It has hit a growth stall, and has a very low probability of ever growing consistently at even 2%. The company needs a lot more than sriracha sauce on a Big Mac if it is to spice up revenue and profit growth.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
November 9, 2016 – Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States. It is a stunning upset. What are the lessons for marketers?
First, notice that candidate Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote. With just under 120 million votes cast, Clinton gathered about 160,000 more votes than candidate Trump. A victory of just over .1%. So it is fair to say that on this metric, number of votes, there was a win for Clinton.
But, of course, the complexity of America’s electoral college means that Trump won more electoral votes, and thus the election. Non-Americans struggle to understand the electoral college – heck, a lot of American’s don’t understand it. Put simply, it was the founding father’s method of making sure different geographies achieved representation so that more dense population areas would not control an election.
Given that everyone knew that in the end it was these votes – electoral votes – that mattered, it is important to think through the marketing implications.
Monday, pre-election, I wrote that it appeared the marketing campaign of candidate Clinton was superior to that of candidate Trump. And, given that it achieved more popular votes, it may have been a superior campaign. But since it did not achieve the goal, its worth revisiting to see where that analysis erred, and what can be learned.
Product: Candidate Trump was very, very negative. He had nothing good to say about anything the incumbent president had done, nor anything good to say about candidate Clinton. He was the epitome of negative. Although the Clinton campaign claimed it would “go high” as the Trump campaign “went low” this really did not happen. Clinton’s campaign tried to duke it out toe-to-toe on who was worst.
In the end, this hurt both candidates. Neither had great appeal to voters, and both had extremely high negatives. But by succumbing to a bruising bad-on-bad punching match the Clinton campaign missed an opportunity to present the candidate as very favorable. The candidate that punched the hardest – and no doubt with his constant attacks, including threats to indict candidate Clinton this gave candidate Trump a bit of an edge – was going to win.
Lesson -Firstly, make your product favorable. Make it something people really want. Don’t say bad things about the competition until you’ve staked your favorable position. Clinton never really achieved a favorable position with enough voters.
Second, if you’re going to get into a dirty fight, don’t bring a knife – bring a gun. In a competition of negatives, you have to be every bit as negative as the competition. No holds barred. The meanest, ugliest, hardest hitting competitor will win.
Price: Candidate Clinton absolutely failed to make the case that the incumbent’s economic policies had favored most Americans. Despite tremendous job growth, declining unemployment, record low layoffs and record high equity values there persisted a notion that the American economy was in the tank. The campaign completely failed to make the case that the policies enacted previously, and anticipated to continue with Clinton, would be good for people’s pocketbooks.
Meanwhile, candidate Trump hammered away saying that the American economy was a wreck. His appeals to reducing international trade and limiting immigration in order to create more higher paying jobs in America convinced a large number of voters that these policies would be better for the economy and most workers.
Concerns about potential debt increases and an extension of income inequality were poorly made, and did not counter the overriding sense that more jobs would come from Trump’s policies. Thus, a lot of people were swayed to Trump’s xenophobic view of how to improve America’s economy. They remain convinced that Mexico will pay for an immigration limiting wall, and scaling back (or eliminating) trading pacts like NAFTA will somehow cause an inspired growth in American manufacturing jobs, and higher levels of good paying employment.
Lesson – you have to make the economic case for your product. You have to deliver a winning value proposition. Don’t expect customers to figure it out on their own, or assume they believe in your value proposition.
Place: This is where the breakdown was greatest for Clinton, and most beneficial for Trump. On Monday I noted several indicators that the Clinton campaign would do far better at getting out the vote than Trump. And, one could say they did given that Clinton won the popular vote.
But the Clinton error was relying too heavily on dense population states. New York, Illinois, California – states with very big cities that dramatically overwhelm the rural population produced landslide votes for Clinton. But in states with a more balanced population density, such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania there was an insufficient effort at making sure non-city counties turned out for Clinton.
Contrarily, the Trump campaign won the battle for place by realizing they could win the rural states with limited effort. Large geographic swaths with low population density allowed Trump to pile up electoral votes (the ones that matter) almost unchallenged. Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota – all states benefiting precisely from the electoral system the founding fathers created – were key states that the Clinton campaign ignored in its distribution strategy.
What appeared to be a Clinton campaign advantage, largely strong support by the Democratic party, overly-relied on winning population dense counties. This was effectively countered by a very good job by the Trump campaign of acquiring votes in more rural, less dense, counties. This ground game, of making sure the votes were captured county-by-county, was decisive for Trump.
Lesson – distribution matters. It may seem boring. It’s a lot less sexy than writing ad copy or focusing on PR. But it really, really matters.
Promotion: It turns out money, and extreme messaging, still matters.
The Obama campaign was masterful at using modern marketing techniques, including internet marketing, mobile and social media, to obtain support. The Bernie Sanders primary campaign also proved adept at using these tools for gaining a good following. While the Clinton campaign lifted this part of the playbook, their implementation was not as integrated, nor effective, as either Obama or Sanders. The pieces were there, but the appeal was not as targeted to specific groups and therefore not nearly as effective. Clinton’s team used these tools, but they did not invest in them with the skills exhibited by Obama or Sanders, and they failed at bringing enough minorities, youth and women to the polls.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign once again made the case that money matters. Large advertising programs still make a difference. Marketing is changing, but in a winner-take-all, and you only get one chance, campaign classic advertising and PR used since the 1960s really matters. Things are changing, but they have not fully changed. If you are willing to spend enough money on traditional promotional tools, they still reach most of the people. It may not be efficient, but they are still effective.
Simultaneously, the old adage “any press is good press” proved valuable once again. Tapes of Trump saying outrageous things, and outrageous tweets, served to provide ample free promotion for the candidate. While many people complained about the message content, in the end simply being constantly in the news helped people get used to a very unusual campaign style. An unorthodox approach, letting outrageous behavior become so common that customers were able to look past the negatives, allowed the constant access to become an advantage.
There are great lessons here to be learned by marketers today.
- Distribution really matters. In the internet, Amazon.com age it is easy to think that if you build it they will come. But success still requires a lot of effort to make sure your product is in the right place when people are ready to buy. And that means on the web, on social media and eventually physical location.
- The trend is toward micro-marketing with targeted messages to targeted segments. But during the evolution old, brute force tools still make a difference. To make a trend work for you, you have to work hard at building on that trend. You cannot expect success merely by adopting the trend, you have to master highlighting the trend, and making it useful for your campaign to reach customers.
- Even messages built on myth cannot be ignored, and in fact must be fought extremely hard. Chipotle’s has struggled to convince customers its food won’t make them sick, because the message was not effectively countered. Similarly, despite ample evidence of a strong economy Clinton failed to convince customers that claims of a weak economy were unfounded. The message may be mythical, but it remains important if not addressed and countered.
- Make sure customers know how they benefit from your product. Don’t be “good enough” or “comparable.” Make sure the real benefits to customers of your product are front-and-center. As Clayton Christensen says, make sure you know what job the customer wants from your product and clearly fulfill that job better than alternatives. Don’t rely on the customer to figure out why your product is superior, make the case quite clearly for them.
- Don’t expect customers to understand your pricing. Make clear your value proposition. Regardless how you price, the value proposition must be immediately understood. Link how you will get the job done for the customer to the value you provide.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump debates Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate. (Mark Ralston/Pool via AP)
Whoever wins tomorrow’s election, their success will have a lot to do with how they marketed their campaign. And in many ways, selling a candidate is not different from selling anything else.
Do you remember the “four Ps of marketing” from Marketing 101? They are product, price, place and promotion. Every newbie is taught not to overly rely on any one, and greatest success comes from a well planned use of all four.
Product: The candidates are about the same age and health. And while they represent very different parties, both have spent less time talking about what a great president they would be, and a lot more on what a terrible product the other candidate is. Message after message has denigrated the other, to the point where we hear most of the electorate is now less than happy with both.
Most marketers know that negative marketing is risky, because it tends to tar all products with similar negatives. Greatest sales happen when you convince people your product is superior in its own right – not just compared to alternatives. Barack Obama figured this out in both previous elections, and he was able to convince the majority of people he would be a good president. Unfortunately, in this election the competitive attacks have cancelled each other out, and neither candidate has a majority of people liking them. An opportunity lost by both candidates to make their product more appealing, and thus bringing out more people to vote for them based on policies and the core of how their presidency would make voters happy.
Price: One could say that the tax policies of Hillary Clinton make her a more expensive candidate than Donald Trump. However, the long-term cost of the debt increase from Trump means that the price of his presidency will be costlier than Clinton. Let’s just be practical and say that neither candidate has positioned themselves as the candidate better for everyone’s pocketbook.
Again, an opportunity lost. Ronald Reagan did a superb job of positioning himself as being good for people’s pocketbooks, and it helped him unseat Jimmy Carter. Barack Obama made hay out of the economic crisis as Republican George Bush left office, helping him convince voters that he would be far better for their pocketbooks – via job creation – than his opponent.
Place: This is all about “get out the vote.” Here the advantage clearly goes to Clinton. Candidate Clinton has done a superb job of building a “machine” that has turned out a record number of Democrats to early vote. And she has worked diligently with her party to make sure local support exists across the country to help take people to the polls, and encourage voting on election day. By making sure her constituents make it to vote, she will likely do far better at collecting votes than her opponent.
Additionally, candidate Clinton is not only campaigning, but she has a two former presidents campaigning for her, a sitting first lady, a sitting vice president and her key opponent from the primaries. This breadth of support, canvasing across multiple states, further puts her message into voters ears right before the election, and encourages people to go vote for her tomorrow. Her large fundraising, and ability to offer funds to down-ticket candidates, has helped make sure her message was clear at the local level.
On the other hand, candidate Trump is walking a nearly singular path, with precious little party support. While he swept the primaries, he has not built a strong machine to make sure that those beyond the party faithful – those who are undecided or independent – are going to make it to the voting booth to help him be elected. It is one thing to excite people about your product, it is another to make sure people actually invest the resources to obtain it.
In Trump’s case the advertising has been relentless, but the local machine support to turn out registered party voters, and everyone else who might enjoy his candidacy, is quite weak. One reason candidate Trump keeps saying the election is “rigged” is because he’s now realizing he failed to put in place the distribution system to get his voters to the ballot box.
Further, those who are helping candidate Trump secure his message are few and far between. Outside of family members there are few making the case to get out the vote. Despite two living former Republican presidents and one vice president available, none is helping him be elected. Likewise, despite a large number of primary opponents, most of which pledged their support for whoever won the primary, there is only one (Chris Christie) that has been a notable advocate for candidate Trump.
And the party itself has not been mobilized to get out the vote for candidate Trump. His personal wealth has allowed Trump to implement a credible campaign. But his inability, or unwillingness, to raise lots of money to invest in down-ticket races has meant he has not garnered support from other candidates running for Congress, Senate, governorships, etc. to promote his message at a more local level.
For months we have been inundated with polls. But on election day it is not someone calling your house to hear for whom you might vote. Rather, people have to leave their houses, make time in their busy days and go to the election booth – then stand in line and vote. Mr. Trump has not done the sort of job one would expect for building the support necessary to make sure voters turn out for him.
Promotion: This might be where the two marketing programs most differ.
Candidate Trump has relied on advertising. Years ago marketing programs often relied on huge ad budgets to build a brand. Companies quickly learned that if you spent a lot on advertising you could drown out a competitive message, and bring your brand to the forefront. Simply on the basis of a big ad spend, heavily reliant on television, success was once possible. And the Trump campaign has used advertising like a soap company launching a new brand. Lots and lots and lots of advertising.
Notably, there has been little use of digital, internet and mobile advertising. Little use of social media to build trends and increase brand effectiveness. The candidate himself has gone almost entirely against modern thinking about social, mobile and internet marketing by unleashing tweets which have been simultaneously shocking, and often opposed to the brand message the advertising set out to create. While entertaining, this has not met even the minimum standards of modern marketing.
Candidate Clinton has matched candidate Trump in television and other traditional media advertising. Thus, her candidacy has not been overwhelmed by competitive spending While most people are likely tired of the ads from both candidates, it is clear that when it comes to traditional ad programs Clinton’s marketing has met the competitive level necessary to neutralize any possible Trump advantage.
But internet, mobile and social marketing has been much more successful for Clinton. Barack Obama did a splendid job of using these tools to mobilize young and minority voters in previous elections. This sort of marketing often touches people much closer, and has a greater “one-on-one” appeal, even if it is a modified “one-to-many.” And the Clinton campaign has lifted those guidelines, perhaps not as effectively as the Obama campaigns, to convert Sanders constituents to her as well as independents and undecideds.
The Trump campaign relied almost wholly on advertising, and an effort at achieving greater public relations via outrageous messaging. This has kept the candidate squarely in the public eye. But every marketer will tell you that it is not possible to build high commitment for your product with advertising alone. It takes an ability to touch people on a more personal, closer to home basis. It is critical now, more than for many years, to create identification with local issues within the home and workplace, and often reinforce social relationships.
At this, the Trump campaign has been out of step with modern marketing, and overly reliant on tools that were more effective in the ’80s and ’90s. Thus his appeal outside of European heritage, Christian, white and mostly male voter groups has struggled.
The Clinton campaign’s use of these tools has spread her base considerably wider. She has been able to connect with minorities, women, people of color, people of different religions and other groups much more effectively. In tune with demographic trends in America, this greatly enhances her opportunity to obtain the largest share of market. Tied to a superior placement campaign (to get out the vote,) this use of modern tools gives her a significant advantage.
These two campaigns have lessons for all business leaders. Too often we rely on product alone to think we will succeed. But product is only part of successfully luring buyers. You also have to make sure your product is in the right place, accessible to the most people, at time of purchase.
And today budget is only a part of good promotion, because effective use of social, mobile and internet marketing tools can help you connect with your targets more closely, and more personally. New promotion tools can expand your base, identify new target markets, develop strengths in niche groups and achieve greater loyalty at lower cost.
In history, there are almost no great campaigns that were won just because a product was superior. Nor because a product was cheaper. And despite some great ad lines (“Where’s the beef?” or “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz oh what a relief it is”) advertising has limited ability to actually make a product successful. Those that win build a marketing program using all four Ps most effectively to build on trends and excite customers.
Most leaders think of themselves as decision makers. Many people remember in 2006 when President George Bush, defending Donald Rumsfeld as his Defense Secretary said “I am the Decider. I decide what’s best.” It earned him the nickname “Decider-in-Chief.” Most CEOs echo this sentiment, Most leaders like to define themselves by the decisions they make.
But whether a decision is good, or not, has a lot of interpretations. Often the immediate aftermath of a decision may look great. It might appear as if that decision was obvious. And often decisions make a lot of people happy. As we are entering the most intense part of the U.S. Presidential election, both candidates are eager to tell you what decisions they have made – and what decisions they will make if elected. And most people will look no further than the immediate expected impact of those decisions.
However, the quality of most decisions is not based on the immediate, or obvious, first implications. Rather, the quality of decisions is discovered over time, as we see the consequences – intended an unintended. Because quite often, what looked good at first can turn out to be very, very bad.
The people of North Carolina passed a law to control the use of public bathrooms. Most people of the state thought this was a good idea, including the Governor. But some didn’t like the law, and many spoke up. Last week the NBA decided that it would cancel its All Star game scheduled in Charlotte due to discrimination issues caused by this law. This change will cost Charlotte about $100M.
That action by the NBA is what’s called unintended consequences. Lawmakers didn’t really consider that the NBA might decide to take its business elsewhere due to this state legislation. It’s what some people call “oops. I didn’t think about that when I made my decision.”
Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor for President Clinton, was a staunch supporter of unions. In his book “Locked in the Cabinet” he tells the story of visiting an auto plant in Oklahoma supporting the union and workers rights. He thought his support would incent the company’s leaders to negotiate more favorably with the union. Instead, the company closed the plant. Laid-off everyone. Oops. The unintended consequences of what he thought was an obvious move of support led to the worst possible outcome for the workers.
President Obama worked the Congress hard to create the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, for everyone in America. One intention was to make sure employers covered all their workers, so the law required that if an employer had health care for any workers he had to offer that health care to all employees who work over 30 hours per week. So almost all employers of part time workers suddenly said that none could work more than 30 hours. Those that worked 32 (4 days/week) or 36 suddenly had their hours cut. Now those lower-income people not only had no health care, but less money in their pay envelopes. Oops. Unintended consequence.
President Reagan and his wife launched the “War on Drugs.” How could that be a bad thing? Illegal drugs are dangerous, as is the supply chain. But now, some 30 years later, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that almost half (46.3% or over 85,000) inmates are there on drug charges. The USA now spends $51B annually on this drug war, which is about 20% more than is spent on the real war being waged with Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS. There are now over 1.5M arrests each year, with 83% of those merely for possession. Oops. Unintended consequences. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
This is why it is so important leaders take their time to make thoughtful decisions, often with the input of many other people. Because the quality of a decision is not measured by how one views it immediately. Rather, the value is decided over time as the opportunity arises to observe the unintended consequences, and their impact. The best decisions are those in which the future consequences are identified, discussed and made part of the planning – so they aren’t unintended and the “decider” isn’t running around saying “oops.”
As you listen to the politicians this cycle, keep in mind what would be the unintended consequences of implementing what they say:
- What would be the social impact, and transfer of wealth, from suddenly forgiving all student loans?
- What would be the consequences on trade, and jobs, of not supporting historical government trade agreements?
- What would be the consequences on national security of not supporting historically allied governments?
- What would be the long-term consequence not allowing visitors based on race, religion or sexual orientation?
- What would be the consequence of not repaying the government’s bonds?
- What would be the long-term impact on economic growth of higher regulations on banks – that already have seen dramatic increases in regulation slowing the recovery?
- What would be the long-term consequences on food production, housing and lifestyles of failing to address global warming?
Business leaders should follow the same practice. Every time a decision is necessary, is the best effort made to obtain all the information you could on the topic? Do you obtain input from your detractors, as well as admirers? Do you think through not only what is popular, but what will happen months into the future? Do you consider the potential reaction by your customers? Employees? Suppliers? Competitors?
There are very few “perfect decisions.” All decisions have consequences. Often, there is a trade-off between the good outcomes, and the bad outcomes. But the key is to know them all, and balance the interests and outcomes. Consider the consequences, good and bad, and plan for them. Only by doing that can you avoid later saying “oops.”