18 February 2010

Mind the Gap... Between Announcement and Delivery

Just three weeks ago we had a big news day: President Obama delivered the State of the Union address and Apple announced that yes, indeed, the Jesus Tablet was on its way. So, have our lives changed any as a result?

Given the hype leading up to the iPad announcement, one would've expected magical bluebirds to descend to earth, singing songs of techno-joy, saving publishers from certain doom, and more. President Obama's speech was indeed moving... But how much "movement" has followed it?

The fact is, not much has happened for us regular folk since these two momentous occasions. Sigh. And so it is with marketing and politics. There is frequently a yawning gap between the crescendo of attention that is an initial announcement and the eventual delivery on commitments, in the form of product launch or program implementation.

This gap must be minded! It's the job of PR pros, pundits, and fans to keep the flame of excitement alive while the wheels of production or legislation turn. If all goes well, the launch moment is a reprise crest of exuberance. Too often, though, what is announced with a scream arrives with a whimper.

Time will tell how successful Mr. Jobs or the President are at following through on their commitments. In this case, the product launch - despite comparisons to a certain religious icon - is the easier to deliver, though personally I hope both succeed. I'd love to read news of good government action on a shiny new iPad.

16 February 2010

Movies, Videos, Change, and Competition

Want to see complex competitive dynamics in action? Start tracking the home video space... Filmed content is something nearly all of us consume in copious amounts, and the space is rife with change. It's consternating for some players, delightful for others, and a doomsday for a few.

Let's think of the options today vs. just a generation previous. For most consumers in the past, "filmed content" was a simple choice: go to the movies or stay home and watch t.v. Technology has changed this simplicity. Today's options subdivide the space via type of content, access device, fidelity (sound & picture quality), etc. New competitors are rising, previously successful firms are crumbling, and the future outlook is murky in many ways.

Don't believe me? Consider this... Television shows are distributed today via free t.v., syndication as repeats, online as ad-supported content via Hulu, for rent at iTunes, on DVD, and in snippet form on YouTube. Movie options are nearly as myriad, and the advent of mobile devices more capable of video playback in higher fidelity (think iPad here) promise even more splintering of options in the future.

Blockbuster is one firm that's failed to cope with the changes well. Redbox has done quite nicely. Netflix is openly embracing the changes, pursuing enhanced ability to deliver digital content with fervor. The movie studios, television networks, and cable providers are all scrambling to discern how they can best extract value from their content in a market which is evolving with pandemic virus voracity.

Contemplate the factors influencing pricing in this arena: Desirability of the underlying content is still primary. Avatar is a terrific example of a great movie doing exceedingly well at the box office. But, once it's out of theatres, what next? "Windows" on content delivery, pacing release by channel, used to be relatively easy for the studios. The process is becoming blurrier as options for consumers proliferate.

Today, Apple is playing with pricing for rental of t.v. content, Netflix is being compared to HBO, and YouTube is trying to figure out ways to monetize its business by renting movies. Huh? iTunes as threat to cable operators, Netflix as competitor to premium movie channels, YouTube as alternative Blockbuster? Yup.

This market is one which rewards agility, creativity, experimentation, insight, and a willingness to view change as opportunity. Firms which cling to past models for success (hello, Blockbuster?!) will be pummeled for their stubbornness. Oh, and today's darlings (redbox, Netflix)? Even they can't rest on their laurels. How it all plays out is anybody's guess, but two things are for sure: 1. What works today ain't what's gonna work tomorrow, and... 2. The evolution is gonna be a fun show to watch.

11 February 2010

Facebook, Friends, and Staying Connected

Facebook recently implemented some changes, many of which seem cosmetic, a few of which change the utility of the service. Personally, I like the new drop-down message inbox peek, but dislike losing the ability to hop directly from one application to another.

Now, when I want to hop from a mad game of Scrabble to check on my mafia, I am forced to re-route through my FB home page... hmm... Why would the Facebook masters implement this solution? Perhaps to pad the number of clicks or homepage visits in their metrics? Seems like a detour to me, and adds to the hassle and time commitment the service requires.

And, make no mistake, folks are starting to change their view on Facebook, even as the service itself evolves. What was once an intimate, insiders-only service is now mainstream and muddled. Are all 284 of my "friends" really that well-connected? No.

I used to appreciate the small-group feel of Facebook. And, as my network has expanded, I've been happy to reconnect with folks from my past, but in the process this online community more nearly represents my offline social connections, with levels of importance, connection, and sharing varying widely. I've got friends - online and offline - with whom I rarely interact. There are others who are on the "pretty frequently" cycle. And then there are the select few, with whom connecting is a daily or even hourly activity.

Guess what? This tight-knit group, the ones with whom I'm so connected... They are the same group that was first over the wall with me on Facebook years ago, the same early Twitter adopters whom I follow & follow me, the same folks on speed dial for my phone. Turns out, good friends are good friends, regardless of the tools used to maintain the relationship.

As for Facebook? Well, I'll keep using it, for now, but I can foresee the moment when I just decide it's not necessary to keep up with good friends. At which point, it'll be come a less frequent, less relevant part of my online day. Facebook could become Plaxo-esque, a repository of contact info and occasional interaction. For some, it's already lost relevance. How about for you?

10 February 2010

Toyota, Quality, and the Limits of PR

Today’s USA Today included an article on Toyota’s PR blitz to address the firm’s recent string of quality embarrassments. The article likens Toyota’s efforts to “whistling in the wind”, with the clear implication that the on-going revelations about product quality concerns are overwhelming efforts at outreach. Though this is true, at the moment, it is still incumbent on Toyota to continue the efforts.

Why should Toyota keep up the drumbeat of messages? First of all, some of the communications will get through, even in “windy conditions.” Additionally, once the firm finally reaches the end of the current quality concern path, the public relations pump will have been primed. Any future good news will build on the prior efforts. Finally, despite the apparent futility of the effort in light of additional quality issues coming to light, apologizing and committing to improve are simply the right things for Toyota to do.

Toyota’s current circumstances underscore how significantly PR efforts are tied to the merits of the focus product or service. The best PR implementation will be hampered by issues with the product. By the same token, a great product – one that truly delights consumers – provides a turbo boost to PR. Toyota is hoping to get back to “great product” status as soon as possible. In the meantime, the firm will keep whistling in the wind.