Monthly Archives: January 2009

Apple and Obama

ObamaApple of the political world? Well the resemblance in the path to the apex is pretty similar!

Let’s talk about Apple for a minute. A decade ago, Apple was a company on the verge of bankruptcy. Since then, it has beaten expectations several times over the last decade. Just when we end up thinking that this is the best iPod ever, Jobs comes on the stage with a better one wow-ing the world. Beating super high expectations time and again is the genius of Apple. Apple has put life in fields that were thought to be saturated and dead along with setting new standards. Just like a decade ago you would have never thought of spending this handsomely on a personal music player (year after year) but changed your mind for the iPods, up until two years back, a mobile phone was treated as something that will be given away for free with a service agreement. Along came iPhone, price equations changed and new standards were set. Suddenly everyone in the mobile phone industry dropped their preset three year plans to design the perfect copycat. Today Apple is a cash rich cow with $21 billion in cash. For any brand enthusiast, it is one of the biggest compliment to be called the Apple of your own industry.

Now back to Obama. Obama’s journey to the White House maps pretty well to that of Apple.  A few months before Iowa Democratic primary, he was 30 points behind the presumed Democratic nominee. He was different and he did beat expectations of one and all, time and again. He pumped life into the seemingly dead Democratic primary that people expected Hillary Clinton to wrap up in a few months. The curiosity and political interest he stirred in young people was comparable to the one generated by Apple products in the tech community.  He pulled a whole new demographic of young voters to volunteer for his cause and vote (many for the first time ever) for him. His mavens were extremely vocal and enthusiastic tribe raising his popularity in the community along with winning him almost all the caucuses in the primaries. And above all, he definitely set the standards for the future presidential races in this country.

With economy in slump, terrorism around the world on a rise and image of the country not at its best, people elected Barack Obama with immensely high hopes. Expectations are higher than ever before. It will take us at least a few years to see if he is able to do an Apple with those expectations as well.

The Obama Brand

Back in summer of 2007, while volunteering at a project with Seattle Works, a fellow volunteer made a passing comment that Obama campaign is hot. She went to see Obama speak in the city and saw the enthusiastic young crowd of volunteers cheering for him. The same was the reaction of almost every person I talked to about the event. There was a sense of curiosity everywhere around this young candidate – with a different set of credentials, amazing oratory skills and ability to connect with the masses – running for the highest office in the country. That led to the creation of the maven base for the Obama brand.

With an economy in trouble and the nation in two wars, Obama campaign was orchestrated around Change. The Change message had a two pronged objective – first change in the country and the way current administration was dealing with the war, and second change in the people running affairs in Washington which also differentiated him from his rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain who have been players in Washington politics for decades. Change became the tagline for the Obama brand.

 The things that were supposed to play against Obama became his biggest assets in his path to the White House. His age, comparatively less experience of running an executive office and few years in Washington helped him stand out of the lot. While his opponents pointed them out as his weaknesses, they helped Americans identify him as someone who can really change the traditional functioning of the government. These “features” became the differentiating factor for the Obama brand.

Well, like in case of any brand, you cannot sell your product till the product itself is an outstanding one. Obama brand was very well marketed and it was coupled with his outstanding oratory skills, his ability to connect with people and energize them and his vision to lead the country…all together making Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States of America.

Kindle must have…

1) Blog feeds: Blogs have become mainstream source of information for everything from news to articles. Many people read tens of blog posts a day and something like a book a month making blogs a must have on an electronic reading device. Amazon can develop a web-based blog reader which will remain in-sync with the feeds on Kindle. Having blog feeds in Kindle will also provide an opportunity for Amazon to monetize through contextual ads next to the blogs.

2) Chat client: There’s no question about the importance of community around a product. Having a Kindle-to-Kindle chatting client will allow book clubs to use Kindle as their primary device of communication. People will be able to discuss sections of a book, send around bookmarks and do so much more if they can communicate from right “inside” the book.

3) “Serial” book: Kindle digitizes the books. So an interesting feature for Kindle will be to have a “serial” book, i.e. get an installment of the book every week. Wouldn’t it be great to get a chapter of the new novel from your favorite writer every week way before the novel is out for publishing? The excitement of this for die-hard followers of an author will be just like that of a 24 fanatic watching Jack Bauer traversing through an hour a week in 24.

Technically, all these features are possible. Kindle’s got a wireless connection that enable users read daily newspapers on it. It’s got a full qwerty keyboard for people to search books and browse through Wikipedia. It’s true that none of these features will do an Oprah for Kindle, but they will definitely make Kindle more wannable and pull some customers towards it!

Google’s marketing genius

Since writing the post on marketing starts at inception a few days back, I had a discussion with a few folks on whether Google is run by marketers or not. Well I believe Google has been one of the best marketing companies online and it asserts that marketing needs to be ingrained in every part of the company right from the product and design to community and customer connection.

The entire marketing effort of Google was focused on the early adopters. Google’s target customer base became the savvy Internet users who were continuously in search of information on the web. This created a strong community of mavens which served to increase the marketing strength of Google to spread it all over the web and helped it cross the chasm. 

Simplicity was another feature that differentiated Google from its competition. Google marketed itself to the customers who were not looking for organized content, but were looking for a way to get a list of all content on the Internet in an organized fashion. The success of Google Search engine is dependent on how quickly a customer leaves Google and reaches to the information they are looking for. Google created brand equity and gained customer confidence by not tampering the search results with sponsored results. Instead they clearly marked the sponsored links which became their main source of revenue.

And then there was “Don’t be evil”. I believe it was arguably one of the best principle statements on the Internet (or maybe technology industry) which also served its purpose in marketing the company. Google attracted that big community of users who were looking for alternatives to existing behemoths.

It’s important to understand that great marketing is not an alternate to great product. You got to have great products to succeed in the long run. In fact, a great product is made better and is able to reach the majority if there is great marketing behind it. Google is a perfect example of that!

When does marketing start?

At the very inception of a product or service.

For a few months now, I have been thinking about going for a startup (I know it’s not the best time and I got to be a real stupid to leave my “great” job in this economy and put money in a startup and …, but then there’s never a good time). As expected, I have been talking to people to work with me. In this process, I pitched my ideas to someone with a better marketing brain than most people I know well. After pampering that person for a while to leave day job and join me, here’s what I got back: you start working, get the product ready and when it’s time for marketing to come in, I will see if I can join you. This made me think: when will marketing of my product start?

I believe marketing of any product starts right when you start thinking about it. Marketing, as Seth Godin puts it in his book Purple Cow, is the art of inventing a product. You cannot design a product successfully without being a marketer, let alone branding or releasing a beta or selling it. Marketing is way more than merely advertising and selling a product. It is an integral part of everything you end up doing to make your product remarkable.

This brings another important question. How can you make a product remarkable? By making it customer-centric. By designing the product in a way that it is embraced by the early adopters and is juicy enough to create a community of mavens. By providing great service and making the atmosphere around the product dynamic to receive feedback and fix the pain points. By helping mavens create story behind it and share it with their friends and beyond. By making the product easy to adopt and hard to reject. I believe when you go for a customer-centric design, provide great service, fix the pain points, advertise or help others advertise for you, you are doing nothing but marketing the product.

I believe success of any product largely depends on marketing it in the right way…may be that’s the reason all the companies I adore are run by great marketers.