Tag Archives: iPhone 6

‘PEAK FUD’ AND WHY BETTER ISN’T ENOUGH ANYMORE

Generating news, comment, opinion and sales bumff around technology has forever been predicated on the notion that anything featuring extra bells and whistles is a mark of progress.

But the “buy this new one cos it’s better” adage is unravelling. Having fed off the harvest of technology innovation for so long, it’s inevitable that we now start plunging down the slide of diminishing returns. More and more new technology will be for technology’s sake.

6th Gen vs. 4th Gen

I’ve happily used the same iPhone 4 for the last four years, and the intervening technological progress really isn’t worth it. My wife just ditched a stone-aged Blackberry and would have got an iPhone 4 too if anyone still sold them. So an iPhone 6S joined the family. My assessment thus far is: it’s basically the same phone as mine (cue screams of derision). Yeah. It is.

Apple’s communications machine always talks like the company is changing the world, but this is damned difficult when it doesn’t have much proof. You can see the effort it’s taking. The latest iPhone TV ad tries conspicuously hard to spell out the crucial differences in its latest generation, presumably because so few of them are self-evident. The idea that “everything has changed” is a bit of a stretch.

We’ve seen this before with toothbrushes; one of the most barren wastelands of innovation known to mankind. The poor wretches who market toothbrushes (let me remind you: plastic sticks with brushes on the end) must be lurching between states of terrifying panic and amphetamine-fuelled desperation. After all, these are the same class of marketers who list ‘Aqua’ as an ingredient in a pharmaceutical product, because ‘Water’ is too passé. They’ve found the only conceivable way to make up for toothbrushes’ inherent lack of innovation is to accentuate meaningless new mini-features to the level of near-parody. This nonsense is stunningly observed by Mitchell & Webb in this classic sketch from 2006.

Back to the real world, and the same complete and utter desperation is plain as day when you watch the latest Samsung phone ad about its three-sided display. There are two striking aspects about this advert:

  1. Unless you’re a phone geek, you have to watch the advert a few times to work out why the advert consists chiefly of a phone rotating very slowly while being shot from every angle (it’s to demonstrate that the display area actually goes down the sides a bit)
  2. It offers no practical applications for what the hell this capability is useful for

Is this the technological equivalent of ‘the science bit’ in cosmetics commercials? Or maybe it’s like the sultry, sexily lit glamour photo of luxury cars. Regardless, the phone-maker is so bereft of practical applications for their innovation; we’re invited to gaze longingly at it under the microscope. As if that’s enough.  And it isn’t…

But what if those are the only innovation cards you’ve been dealt, marketing hack!? Will you instead be tempted to turn to the tried and trusted tactic of FUD…?

Prepare for Peak FUD: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt

Increasing numbers of technology products are sold on the back of FUD, because it so gracefully obscures the meaningful reasons for buying. You’ve heard of Peak Oil.  Well prepare for a steady escalation toward ‘Peak FUD’, where fickleness and negativity fill the vacuum created by gaps in innovation. But be careful with FUD-slinging, because:

  • It can make the FUD-slinger look foolish when the negativity is baseless
  • Communicating negativity on a prolonged basis can cast a shadow on your brand reputation
  • It shows a lack of confidence; that your product is low on innovation
  • People are rarely that stupid

Vauxhall has just introduced a new innovation, called OnStar, to its new cars. But I didn’t know any of that when I sat down to watch TV last night, and their new advert came on.

If you haven’t seen it before, play it up until 0:10.

The first thing that strikes you is that it’s been made in German, and dubbed into English. Bad start Vauxhall. Or should I call you… Opel, hmm?!

Audiences are already cynical when ads come onto their tellyboxes, but they reserve a special measure of contempt for dubbed ads. I for one prepare myself to scoff at whatever pretence they create.

But this isn’t the issue here. The issue is the message.

Straight away you’re compelled to associate with the guy and his car, not the spotty kid next door. The kid has come over to ask some questions and talk to you about the technological showstoppers that may be missing from your prized motor. By 0:10 I’m honestly, truthfully thinking the man is going to reply saying: “Aah shut up kid, I don’t care about any of that guff, I’m off for a spin” and then the ad will cut to him tearing up the autobahn, waving to his mates out the window as he passes through a few (German?) piazzas, before finishing up taking a lovely lady home with him and sticking two fingers up to the kid peering furtively though the curtains.

But no. Roll the clip on. It turns out that the kid is an agent of FUD. He’s cooler and smarter than you. Don’t you feel stupid that your car isn’t equipped with a load of technological gubbins (Vauxhall OnStar)?! OK so they offer the smallest scintilla of benefit; barely able to register any enhancement to your life, your driving experience or the pursuit of human advancement. But that’s not the issue. The issue is who you haven’t become. Look now (at 0:15) as a younger, hunkier, happier and more successful looking man emerges to get into his car; a car so apparently dripping with Vauxhall OnStar goodness that he’ll live a life that the other bloke wouldn’t dare to dream. Be like him or you – you loser – will be consigned a hapless Luddite who just drives his car places and phones people on his phone and lacks the imagination necessary to press buttons that bounce personal data off satellites. Surely, surely you want to be that better person?

Nah…

This is a warning to the marketers in the B2B technology industry. If innovation slows down then practical applications and benefits are going to be evermore granular and harder to find, but never more important.

Don’t resort to FUD. FUD means you’ve run out of ideas.

FUD makes you the irritating know-it-all in a car commercial.  Or worse – his toothbrush.

WHAT DOES A FREE iPHONE SAY ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS?

Whenever Apple releases a new consumer device, that’s the top prize giveaway that gets hawked on all the 3 m2 exhibition booths at trade shows up and down the land for the next six months. Unless you’ve been living under the earth’s crust these past few weeks, you’ll know that Apple just released the iPhone 6. I’ll bet a decent proportion of the shipments made in its first quarter will end up in these promotions.

As the company giving it away, you look relevant as well as fairly generous. You look like you understand that people want what’s new, and that this is going to attract people to give you their contact details and enter.

But it’s a bit lazy isn’t it? I mean it lacks a certain amount of imagination. It isn’t such an issue when the product is still very new – IP Expo is just a fortnight away and iPhone 6s will legitimately be a pretty hot draw – but when you get caught deep in one of the dusty recesses of Apple’s product roadmap, the best you might rock up with at CloudIT 2016 will be a iPod that everyone’s pretty much already got.

I like the prizes that communicate what the business is all about; that tie in with a theme for the event and why that company is at the show touting for your business. It makes it easier for the booth staff to explain the promotion, easier and more logical to express the value proposition behind the promotion ahead of the event, and a much better way of extending the mindshare of the prospects you engaged with when you follow up weeks, months or even years afterwards.

However, even these themes can get a bit tired can’t they? I’ve been to more IT trade shows that I’ve had cooked dinners (well, almost) and this is my top three laziest trade show themes:

  • The Formula One car. Someone knows someone who can get a replica F1 car from 4 years ago onto your stand for only £2k. It means you can talk to prospects about your ‘performance’. The giveaway is a driving experience. Some exhibitors will even dress their stands with dead-behind-the-eyes ‘promo girls’ to hand out leaflets.
  • The Casino: Whether it’s a three-metre diameter replica Wheel of Fortune, or just a cheap roulette set from Argos – you can pull off the Casino theme for any budget. Great if you want to talk to your customers about risk, or about being ‘a winning business’. Get really switched-on croupiers to articulate your product message, or be an idiot and hire promo girls to wear something ridiculous and… er…. hand out leaflets.
  • The Character Actor: This is where the entire premise of your theme is based around a well-known or entirely contrived character that you pay some actor about £150 a day to become. In my time I’ve seen a robot, a zombie, a quick-draw cowboy, a superhero called The LAN Man, a 12st 8lb (i.e. NOT fat) Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine, and a rather ill-advised (given the political situation at the time) ushanka wearing ambassador from the ‘People’s Republic of Hackistan’. Who knows who the agency will send on the day, but if they are the next Michael Sheen then it might just pay off. The trick here is to keep it professional at all times; it loses its lustre when you’re queuing up behind Batman while he asks for a VAT receipt for his overpriced Egg Mayonnaise sandwich.

When it all ties together, you succeed in communicating something that’s bigger and more logical and enduring that the sum of its parts. At least the companies employing the themes above are trying to think creatively, in spite of their lack of imagination. It’s almost tragic when you walk past a ghostly exhibitor booth with just two guys, a laptop, a glass bowl with a few business cards in it, and a little sign saying “Would you like to WIN the LATEST iPhone!”

Some colleagues far cleverer than me came up with a great idea for a trade show many years ago that we called ‘collars and cuffs’.

The client was a distributor of IT security products and the challenge they’d identified was that there were a lot of security solutions out there which were extremely large and expensive, and this made it difficult for reseller partners and their customers to know they weren’t overspending or ‘overspecing’.

The client’s objective for the show was to meet as many prospective reseller partners (and their customers) as possible. The stand was going to cost upwards of £30,000, so what they really wanted was to set-up meetings before the event and run a schedule, rather than relying on passing traffic to make their return on investment.

The idea was to send everyone on a pre-bought mailing list of prospects a collar or a cuff from a Savile Row shirt maker. We had a big box of these offcuts provided by the shirt company so must have mailed out about 500 to the best contacts along with a letter than explained how a meeting at the upcoming Infosec event would show them ‘how to be fitted for a tailor made security solution’ and allow them to ‘get the rest of this shirt’. The mailer – and the email equivalent that went out shortly after – had a great response and the client did a good job of following it up. The result was a packed schedule in time for the event itself.

The stand was dressed like a tailor’s shop, with real tailor’s mannequins and real tailors (from the shirt company) measuring up the prospects. The cost of the incentive was easily managed because the client could take a decision – either before the event or right there and then with the prospect in front of them – whether it was worth the £80 cost of the shirt to bother having the meeting.

Conversely, when you choose to have big prizes and give them out at random you don’t get to manage your returns so well. At least ‘break the safe’ and other similar games genuinely are random. The amount of times I’ve witnessed a company fix the prize draw by going through all the business cards to discard competitors, staff, irrelevant job titles etc., to identify the prospect of greatest value is testament to just how few prize draws are played straight.

Anyway ‘cuffs and collars’ got rolled out for a few clients and events, before the theme became a little tired and other companies caught wind of the idea.

People still talk about the company who did it first though, and remember as much about the proposition behind the promotion as the promotion itself.

That’s what I call good communication.