Aspire

To aspire is to simply have a greater ambition or an ultimate goal as per the dictionary definition. Once you have reached a specific level of expertise or stage in your life, you’re quickly looking out for what could be the next best thing. Marketeers too have tapped in to this particular set of our psyche from time to time.

Some of the most popular brands such as Apple, Mercedes, Louis Vuitton and others have successfully created that aspirational brand value for themselves. Brands have typically created an aspirational brand strategy in the following ways:

1. Targetted Advertising: Associating the brand with the nice to have features and showcasing a lifestyle that most people can only aspire to have is one of the key ways. High fashion brands have used super models, while in other cases certain brands have stayed off any celebrities and made the product the hero of their advertisements.

2. Build brand loyalty: One of the key initiatives has to be centered on making the customer aware of how the product can be put in to use everyday. Be it a high-end handbag or an SUV, the advertisement or brand collateral needs to highlight features for using the product for a wider number of applications. That ways they can build brand loyalty and further ensure that their customers recommend the product to others as well.

3. Keep it Simple: Brands need to be careful while positioning the product in the aspirational set since it needs to have a strong customer value proposition to deliver. Customers can clearly see past any over the top promises that are being made during promotions. Hence the message must be simple and yet powerful to drive the messaging across.

Creating a high end lifestyle is just one of the end results of an aspirational brand strategy. However marketeers need to steer clear and get the basics right, lest it turn in to a disaster.

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Why are tech firms buying out smaller start-ups?

Consolidation in the technology space. It’s happening. Much has been said, heard and analysed when it comes to the recent Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Valuations were being tossed around and here’s an interesting graphic on whether it was worth $19 billion to start with. That being said, i’m looking at bigger forces at play in the technology space. As textbook economics will tell you, consolidation is a phase that kicks in mature markets when the big players begin to swallow the smaller and more active ones up.

Acquisitions have been happening for quite sometime now. But some of the interesting one’s in recent times have been Google buying Motorola and then selling it off to Lenovo. Microsoft buying out Nokia and they did give in to market pressures by releasing an Android phone just yesterday at the Mobile World Congress’14. Microsoft also bought Skype nearly a year back and killed its own messenger. Software firms have been increasingly snapping up hardware companies. It’s clearly about building capabilities to have more integrated software and hardware. Apple has been doing this for decades with a very closely knit user interface that has been winning customers over for years. Pretty much like them, the other companies are also trying to tightly integrate services to have the customers locked in for longer period of time. Look at Google, that is trying to foray in to nearly every possible nook of our life as it builds its inventory for the internet of things. You’re using maps, gmail, search and docs for starters. As any marketeer will tell you, its always cheaper to retain customers than to go out and acquire new ones.

Here’s a drill-down of what i think about the entire consolidation bit:

1. Customer stickiness: Companies want customers to buy a product and integrate it so tightly that they are unable to breakout.

2. Eat the competition: As start-ups have more breathing room and flexibility for innovation, let them build great products as the big cats will swallow them up to eventually kill the competition if any.

3. M&A industry: Who else is laughing all the way to the bank? Consulting firms. In fact software acquisitions made up nearly half of the deal value in this space as per PwC.

4. Increasing usage: Big tech players are always looking for means to increase usage and as Metcalf’s law says, the value of any network lies in the number of connected users on it. Hence you see why software services have been aggressively merging or finding new ways of driving usage for their platforms.

5. Start-ups don’t always need an IPO: It’s increasingly difficult for a small company to go public and put itself under the scanner. Investors and analysts will slice and dice not only excel spreadsheets but also any single move that key people make. By cashing out and selling themselves to a larger firm, they can avoid all the pain. All of this when they might have not even achieved the vision they started out with.

6. Hide failures better: The chances of a start-up making it big are rather slim. In fact, the odds seem to be against them. Once they have generated enough buzz and got a fancy valuation. The small fish can then afford to dissolve in the system and chances are if they were going to fail, little would anyone get to know about it.

With all of this in place, we can only hope for better products and services. While some of these partnerships may have benefited the firms, what remains to be seen is how innovative they can really get. For now, the entire space has become a playground for many small firms to pitch their products and see how quickly they can go to market or gain more funding. At the end, the customer stands to benefit the most from this!

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*Image source: Flickr (labelled for reuse)

[Book Review] Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

The long drawn Apple vs Google argument is totally fleshed out in this book. Though i had read the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson & I’m feeling lucky by Douglas Edwards, this read had more comparative facts to offer. It starts with Apple to point out that through iTunes, Apple controls almost 25% of all music purchased. They also have a sizable share in the $18 billion video market. Fact is that Apple spent nearly $150 mn in building the first iPhone. The initial parts of the book talk about how the employees were burnt out working 60-80 hour weeks continuously for two years & kept resigning only to join back in a day. It was such a high secret project even within Apple’s headquarters that there were secret walls built overnight to keep the entire thing a secret from its own employees. The first phone that Jobs unveiled was actually a prototype & the team had no clue how they were going to keep up with shipment orders in 2 months!

Google had a different approach in contrast. I think this was the best way they could keep services free. This is because Google would release a product when it was 80% finished. Like any Google service or product it would be free with a constant feedback loop from the users. That’s how they gained insight in to the later 20% of the product to build in the finishing touches. It’s also critical to know that since the products were free, user expectations were not high & therefore you wouldn’t see an outrage on the scale of Apple Maps or Antenna issues the way Apple had to face.

Its remarkable to see the way employees from both companies kept playing musical chairs with companies in the Silicon Valley at that time. Andy Rubin, the guy who worked on Android was an ex-Microsoft employee. Even before Google bought Motorola, Apple had a partnership with Motorola for iPods back in 2004. Some prominent Apple employees who quit to start their own companies eventually made big to only sell-off their company to Google. A good example of this is Nest. Fights between the corporations such as Yahoo! & Google for Adwords have been covered well, in addition to the big Apple vs Samsung trial and the Microsoft anti-trust campaign against Google. A good part of the book also covers the role Eric Schmidt had to play since he was at Google & the board of Apple at the same time (he was not a part of most iPhone meetings).

The last part of the book has a futuristic take on who is going to win the platform war. An interesting point to note is that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook & Netflix are sitting on a cash pile of $300 bn which is enough to buy all the media houses & broadcast networks. With changing media consumption patters and device preferences, this battle is just getting heated up for now. As for me, i will say this a great and insightful read. Ditch the articles you’ve been reading & deep dive in to this book. For all you know, it will give you more facts & perspective to fuel your arguments!

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5 Reasons why i shifted back to iOS from Android

Yes, i’ve got the iPhone 5S and most of the observations stem from my usage of the phone over a week. Now you may well know the average phone junkie around you will be caught up in a grueling debate of which platform to choose. iOS / Android / Windows / Blackberry. Ok, lets leave the last one. You see, i was there too. My smartphone journey started with a Blackberry. Now, i didn’t quite like the feeling of being stuck in dinosaur years in the face of technology and made the shift to iOS. 6 months down, i shifted to Android and now i’m back to iOS. Pray, you ask why? Here it goes:

1. iOS7: The colors. I mean this is vivid. Its like Apple’s on an acid trip and everything looks colorful. Not just that, the notifications and controls are so much more easier. I used to chuckle over the ease of changing settings on my S3 in the initial days, but iOS7 just hit the pain point with the controls made easy.

2. Stability: DON’T get me started on the number of times my S3 crashed. Talk about random restarts, apps crashed and went boom in my face. I can’t even count the number of times i would have my phone freeze when i wanted to take a picture or just after taking one, trying to see how it looked. With my 5S, that’s a story of the past.

3. LAG: That’s in caps cause that’s what pinched and pricked me all along. Why samsung why would you load a phone with touchwiz? I mean where’s the darn value add? Everytime i had to pickup the phone to call, it would take 8 holy seconds for my contacts to show. Free Memory? Did that. Factory reset? Check. Go to android developer settings and change parameters. Figured out and did that. No help.

4. Customization: Now this is what you don’t get in iOS. But, once you’re done with those inane customizations and wallpaper updates, how frequently do you actually go back and keep changing. In fact, as you become busier or most accustomed to your device, you rarely change the display. If you’re on the otherside, then well you really are sorted in life to have so much time on your hands.

5. Security: No matter how much we bleat or brag about the closed OS that Apple has to offer, it no doubt keeps your phone secure. Also what can beat Touch ID? I mean the entire user experience is revamped in the 5S. App purchases and phone unlock are so much simpler now. All i need to do is add a fingerprint.

The typical android geek would love to root phones and try out different tricks and its oh, so open! But i have my reservations now and would rather prefer a stable, reliable and minimalist device as compared to the phablets and the shenanigans. Plus, the camera with the two tone flash? It beats everything on the market hands down. So yes, when it comes to android i could rattle on about how large the screen actually turned out for me in the S3 and the little benefit it seemed to offer. Plus battery issues and what not. Things are sorted and streamlined in iOS. So yes, this shift back has been simpler than i thought and i’m back to worship Apple’s holy grail of tech.

Tim Cook reflecting on Steve Jobs 2nd Death Anniv.

Steve Jobs has truly been a phenomenon that shook not just technology but the marketing and advertising world as well. I must admit that i have always been fascinated by his leadership style and he is known as a charismatic leader anyways. If you have read the biography by Walter Isaacson, then you would have heard of Steve’s “Reality Distortion Field”. Simply explained this was a way in which Steve would push his team members to achieve what they thought was ridiculous or at times not feasible as well. That’s also a reason why employees at Apple continue to surprise not just themselves but the markets as well till the time Steve was there rolling out innovative products. Here’s a tribute video employees at Apple made on his first death anniversary.

Coming to the second death anniversary (05th Oct. 2013), Tim Cook has sent out an email internally to mark what Steve meant to everyone and how they should dedicate themselves to the work he loved:

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Team-
Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of Steve’s death. I hope everyone will reflect on what he meant to all of us and to the world. Steve was an amazing human being and left the world a better place.I think of him often and find enormous strength in memories of his friendship, vision and leadership. He left behind a company that only he could have built and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple. We will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to the work he loved so much. There is no higher tribute to his memory. I know that he would be proud of all of you.
Best,

Tim

*Sourced from 9to5Mac

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I feel that Steve had this unique capability to marry the arts, culture, technology and science in a unique way and present the end product in the most simplest form to the end user. Maybe a little to simple for someone like me. But, any Apple product comes with an interface so user friendly that you don’t need a user manual at the end of the day. Now that’s proving the utility value that comes with the product. No wonder people using the iPhone tend to spend longer time on their devices and are most likely to declare that you can call them or text back on their iPhone. As Jonathan “Jony” Ive puts it, this indicates how seamless and easy to use the products are. As for the ex-COO, Tim Cook was known to be majorly quiet with a fixed gaze during meetings. If anything, I’m sure the team with Cook, Ive and Frederighi will continue to innovate, “Think Different” and provide products that will keep people lining outside stores for weeks together and achieve record sales as they carry the delicious Apple in to the future.

the-new-cover-of-the-steve-jobs-biography-shows-him-as-a-young-man*Image Source: Businessinsider.com

Why I ditched the iPhone?

Slide to Unlock. Slide to Reply. Now, that’s what i don’t like. All i can do is Slide? Better still, what if don’t like sliding to the right. What if people who are ‘Left of the Center’ like to slide to the left?
iOS known for its highly stable nature is no doubt the platform for people who want an intuitive interface along with Apps that won’t keep crashing frequently. Given that, Apps generally look beautiful on iOS. Considering the seething pains it takes for a developer to come up with an app that is visually appealing and meeting the requirements to get their app listed on iOS, I’d give it to them for the seamless look and consistency. 
However, unlocking a screen to see the same set of Apps. The same type of silky smooth flow across screens. The mundane and bleak (though beautiful) screen just got to me. What if i don’t want to see the same apps? What if I want to do more from the notification center than just choosing certain alerts? 
I believe the slugfest between iOS and Android is more of a debate within the Self. iOS represents a closed interface, that tells you what’s best for you by stripping it down to the most basic interface cleared out of all shenanigans for the best user experience. While Android keeps it open, lets you root the OS, make your phone behave the way you want it to be and being unpredictable at the same time, customizable to the last degree.
Then, how must one decide? While Apple keeping it a closed system ensured that you have a more secure and seamless experience, it kind of made you believe that they know best what you need. You may want a lot more out of your phone, but they would ensure to make life tedious with syncing of phone/apps with iTunes. Not advocating for Android, however its as simple as plug and play. Want a theme? Apply it. Like a song? Download it. Desire simple settings? Drag your screen. The degree of customisation is relentless. So an iPhone will in a way tell you what’s best cause you really don’t know what is best. While Android says, do all you want cause may be you actually know what’s best for you. I believe the thin line is the great divide of how much we really know ourselves as compared to how well we perceive ourselves to be.