disruption product staying relevant strategy

No, the iPad will not save magazines

The iPad is a gorgeous media consumption device. It’s desirable, it’s selling like hotcakes and buying apps is easy. Print media owners shackled by declining sales can be forgiven for willing it to their saviour.

It won’t be.

As the paltry sales of GQ’s iPad app indicate, simply having an app isn’t enough. The dirty truth is that no-one ever wanted a magazine. Just as Coke sells happiness rather than fizzy drinks, what people actually get from mags are:

  1. Signalling. What magazine you hold up on the train carriage, or have on your coffee table sends a message about how you see yourself – be it Viz, the Economist or Wallpaper
  2. Passing the time. Mags work great to wile away train journeys and lazy bath-times
  3. Special interest Whether you love cars, photography, cycling or houseboats, there’s a mag for you.
  4. Sense of belonging People like feeling part of a community and sharing tips.

Magazines have delivered on these benefits very well for decades. The challenge is that digital does all of these better, or changes them:

  1. No-one knows what you’re reading. It’s the device itself that says something about you. iPad v Kindle, and iPhone v Android is the new Mods v Rockers.
  2. You’re never alone with a mobile. Yes you can read magazine-like articles and look at professional photos, but you’re more likely to listen to music, watch episodes of Glee, email your friends or check-in at a foursquare location.
  3. Niche interests are hyper-served by digital. I’m not just interested in digital photography, I want to read in-depth articles on not only Canon lenses, but that particular lens, and those particular types of shots
  4. Sense of community has of course been owned by the massive, real-time, rich media interactions of social media. I want to know now what people think of that Cameroon goal.

That all said, magazines will not die. Print has winning attributes of portability, ever-lasting battery life and brings a simple, tactile pleasure. However, it will of course change. There will be fewer titles and producing them will become a leaner, tougher, much less pleasant game. Print dollars really will be replaced by digital cents. Get over it.

My counsel is:

  • Think brand and not product. Top Gear is the shining example of a media brand that has transcended its format and is thus less vulnerable to channel shift.
  • Embrace failure. There are no certainties in this era of disruption. Things will not settle down, and it is delusional to ‘wait and see’. No-one has a right to survive. The only viable strategy is to keep testing and keep learning.
product staying relevant talkability

The birth of social TV

The 90s brought Appointment TV – the hyping of TV schedules to create must-watch TV moments such as Friends, 9pm on Channel 4. The ensuing conversations in offices the morning after became known as watercooler moments.

These “did you see…” conversations seemed set  for the cultural junkyard in the noughties, thanks to greater choice of viewing, the explosion of excellent TV DVD box sets and Sky+ powered time-shifting. We were all watching different stuff.

I think that’s changed again. I wrote 9 months ago about  real-time watercooler moments: the emerging behaviour of using social media services such as as facebook and Twitter while watching an ‘event’ programme such as X-Factor.

Up until now, this has been pretty disjointed and not something most media owners had properly considered. However, the advent of ITV Live, conceived and led by friend and former colleague Dominic Cameron is changing all that. It’s the first serious attempt to create a joined-up TV/social experience. It recognises that people like to talk with friends and fellow fans about the experience they’re sharing – and provides the tools and content to do just that.

It’s a fledgling service, and has its clunky moments, but the ITV team should be praised for leading the way in this field globally.

They’ve even been audacious enough to run the service around matches they don’t have the TV rights to – so people can watch a game on the BBC and discuss it on ITV Live. Neat.

likeability pr product staying relevant surprise talkability

Creating a nice buzz

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The social web just got go-faster stripes

When it’s easy even for non-techies like me to add social plug-ins to websites, we better get ready for an explosion of ‘Like’ buttons, activity streams and friend recommendations all over the web.

Google must be thinking very hard tonight.

humour likeability product surprise talkability

Marmite shower gel


customer service product

Customer Unservice

This funny-but-sadly-true image has been widely shared this week.

Unskippable segments on DVD are the ugliest form of interruption advertising.

It’s never OK to deliberately give your customers a bad experience. DVD manufacturers are there to entertain, not to lecture.

crowdsourcing likeability product talkability

(The IT) Crowdsourcing

Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted, Black Books and Father Ted is not only a funny fella, but also a seasoned whizz at social media.

Ahead of the filming of the fourth series of the IT Crowd, he’s asked fans to help dress the set

…send us your poor huddled zines, your artwork, your comics, your T-shirts, your memes. Anything you think should be in there that we might have missed

Not only is this financially sensible, but it’s also a great way of engaging fans, giving them a deeper sense of ownership and a real reason to spread the word about the new series.


But this has got a bigger hard drive. And bluetooth. And…

The biggest mistake a technology company can make is to think that they’re a technology company. It leads to the mistaken belief that better tech spec means better product means market success.


David Hepworth is an unmissable writer on entertainment and culture, and also occasionally strays into marketing. This piece on the the difficulty of competing with Apple on rational grounds struck a chord:

Playing with it [a Sony Walkman] just now it struck me how difficult it must be in the personal electronics space these days, having to compete with Apple. It doesn’t matter how many qualities your product might have, Apple is the one that holds the high ground where dwells desire. A year ago a young friend demonstrated all the features of his iPod competitor, many of which were superior to Apple, but he did it more in sorrow than conviction, as if he knew that the playground prestige battle had already been lost

It reminded me of this similar article in Penny Arcade, which nailed it so brutally and beautifully that every tech CEO should staple it to his desk.

It’s got to be so annoying to compete with Apple… when you come out with what is (on paper) a better version of the same thing, maybe even multiple times over, it’s too late.  You made a “product” to compete with their “product,”… only to discover that they hadn’t made a product at all – they made a narrative.  A statement about how technology should interface with a life.

branding product strategy

I don’t want Starbucks to sort my car rental

I don’t want Coke to sell me a toaster. And I don’t want Google to be my social platform.

Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can win at anything

Google is about making digital information accessible, facebook is my social network

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Free cold beer with every haircut

Lovely example of how to take a commodity service and make it talkable/likeable

likeability pr product staying relevant talkability

Air New Zealand adds beds in economy class

Reported on Gadling, this is the very essence of talkable, likeable. Beds in economy. Oh yes.

As Kathryn Gregory, director of marketing for the Americas region recently said, “We like to look at what the other airlines are doing in their marketing and then… don’t do that.”


Thanks to @jackschofield for the heads up


Will Steve make us shit in our pants next Wednesday?

With rumour and excitement around Apple’s newest creation hitting fever pitch, I’m reminded of this fabulous article from 2003 which recalls Steve Jobs views on the Segway scooter prototype. It offers a rare insight into the great man’s thinking and his exacting standards around product design. His criteria are instructive and wonderful:

  1. Is it elegant
    A beautiful word, and something that sets Apple’s products apart. Even power adaptors have to be gorgeous.
  2. Is it innovative
    A much used word, but in Apple’s case it’s evidently true
  3. Is it anthropomorphic
    OMG have you ever even thought of word that when considering products? Maybe one of the reasons that pinch-to-resize, flick-to-scroll and shake-to-undo are so compelling is that they feel right. It’s human. It’s like real life.

Steve also seems to believe in launching and committing with absolute ferocity. ‘Putting it out there’ and getting a bit of impact is cautious and prudent. Your CFO will like that approach. But it’s not for Steve,

“I understand the appeal of a slow burn,” he concluded, “but personally I’m a big-bang guy.”

Finally, and this is the killer test, Apple understand the wow factor, the ability to deliver jaw dropping moments. Jobs is quite clear on this one…

You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab… “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”

Here’s to next Wednesday…

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Shot to perfection

I’ve said before that it’s better to be brilliant than say you’re brilliant. Here’s a great way to showcase your coffee store by providing a beautifully shot ‘how to’ video. Much more powerful than an ad could ever be.

via boingboing

branding product surprise talkability

I slate the iSlate

Rumours abound about the name for the (apparently) forthcoming Apple tablet. iSlate? iReview?

The romantic in me still thinks reclaiming Newton would be the daring move.

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Taking successful brands to new platforms

Shameless plug alert

I’m quite proud of these two iPhone app projects that I’ve been part of. So far they appear to be doing pretty well. I genuinely recommend them (click for iTunes links)

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