Ecommerce is changing. Not just the shopping carts, graphics, layouts, or best practices. The platforms, the very way that people are buying and selling goods and services, are beginning to take on new characteristics. These new models are less dependent on brand recognition, than lifestyles, scarcity, and fulfilling a niche.
One such platform that has emerged is email ecommerce. A few retailers have managed to turn what is usually considered spam into brand utility. The retailer, Gilt Group, is an exclusive, online version of the invitation-only New York Sample Sale. By offering luxury items at insider prices, they have cultivated a niche market without resorting to bottom basement tactics on the web. Another example is Groupon, and its myriad of clones, which instead of fulfilling a niche, have used the same email marketing tactics to embrace the social aspects of the web. Many people who use the popular service are unaware of or have forgotten that the deals actually depend on group participation, and aren't guaranteed. Just as customers reach the tipping point to earn savings, so has this once annoying and abused medium has now reach a new point of actual utility.
Another alternative to the traditional store to emerge is the embedded platform. These take advantage of lifestyles in order to influence purchases. Platforms such as iTunes, Nike+, Kindle, the aforementioned Gilt Group, and a number of proprietary branded applications make purchases more organic because they become a part of a person's daily life. Whenever a person thinks “Hey, I need X, Y, or Z,” it is now readily available at their fingertips, with less thought and more feeling involved.
As the Internet continues to grow and become a greater part of our lives no matter where we are or what we’re doing, so will the tactics used to keep our attention. As far as ecommerce goes, the best platforms to emerge will not only understand the trends of technology, but the human mindset. They will become more than just boring a website, a message automatically sent to spam, or an easily forgotten and deleted app, but a lifestyle choice that brings the experience full circle for customers and companies alike.
There is a quote that says having a child is like letting your heart roam free from your body. The same could be said for brands. As much as companies try to create the perfect brainchild, once they let it run free in the world, it can be a very different story. This is not to say that you cannot make sure it lives up to the family name; you just have to make sure it has a strong identity of its own.
By identity, I'm not referring to its name, logo, trademarks, or visual appearance. I'm talking about its personality.
According to Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, brands today must forgo the ideas of uniformity and consistency in favor of being dynamic. In other words, perfection is out, humanity is in. A brand that tries to be perfect is not only boring, but usually met with distrust by consumers. It is better to have a brand that has certain quirks so that it will hit home with consumers in a meaningful way. If the customer experience with the brand falls flat, you may as well throw out all your 100 page brand guidelines and identity manuals.
At the end of the day, a brand isn't just visual idea or a creative concept. It is what people feel, think, and say about it. Though there is a strong urge to come up with a brand that is all things to all people, but it will never survive in a marketplace of people looking for reasons to shoot things down. The best thing you can do is make sure that your brand is prepared to meet the world head on, with a strong handshake, a stiff upper lip, and a message that is not only relevant, but relatable.
Let’s face it –the golden age of product introduction is over. The wheel has been invented and reinvented numerous times, sliced bread has been around for a few centuries now, and all the colors of the rainbow have been pimped out to the ninth degree. So, what do you do when the market is so saturated that you can no longer find a place to stand? You find a way to make it expand.
That’s what Method did. The home cleaning products company decided they weren’t selling soap, they were fighting the good fight against dirty. Now this may seem like a bunch of pomp and circumstance, but there is a lot of substance to their style. They see each bottle of their natural product as a little “green” soldier in the fight to change the world. They defined dirty as not just dirt, but the chemicals and other substances that other cleaning products leave behind, and the stinging eyes and headaches that come with them. All of this is comes wrapped in a simple, well-designed package made from 100% recyclable and biodegradable material that delivers their message into the hearts and homes of consumers.
Salesforce.com took a similar road. They didn’t become another CRM software company, they aligned themselves with cloud technology. They are for “Success. Not software.” The upstart company founded by former Cisco employees decided not to sell costly software like every other CRM company. Instead, they let companies take advantage of the power of cloud computing, accessing software as needed from the comfort of their favorite Internet browser. It’s a low risk, low cost model that gives companies what they need, when they need it, without making an investment in software that will be irrelevant in the next six months.
We live in an era of highly competitive, oversaturated markets, where everyone is fighting for their fair share. Well established, household names will always have one leg up on anyone trying to enter the market. The only way to get a piece of the pie is to expand the territory in which you can operate. As Adam Morgan said about challenger brands, when your competition has a spear that’s 8 feet long, the best strategy isn’t to fight with a spear that’s 4 feet long. You have to find a unique way to make a stand, and bring a gun to the knife fight.
As bad as it sounds, who didn’t get excited seeing a schoolyard fight break out during recess? The rush of the crowd, the disruption from the norm, and the stories that would be shared long after the dust had settled. This is how I feel about the upcoming bout between AT&T and Verizon over the iPhone. Of course, this won’t be the first time the telecom titans have had a pissing contest to mark their territory.
In October 2009, Verizon launched its infamous “Maps” campaign, taking aim at AT&T’s lack of 3G coverage. This message especially hit home with iPhone users in major metropolitan areas, who notoriously experienced bad reception. Even worse, the campaign bent the truth by fostering the idea that AT&T’s coverage was worse than it actually was. Though the maps only reflect 3G coverage, not 2G, not everyone caught this note during the course of the 30 second commercials, or in the extra fine print.
Of course, AT&T didn’t take this fight lying down. After losing a court battle against Verizon, the company decided to take the high road. The high society snobbish road of being “dismissive, but friendly.” Research showed this attitude was the best way to reach their middle American target who felt slighted by the “truth” presented in Verizon’s commercials. They chose Luke Wilson, an actor they felt would resonate with this audience, to deliver this message. Within a five week period they prepared a multimedia assault that treated Verizon’s campaign as nothing more than a trifle, then changed the conversation to discuss things that AT&T actually does well, such as speed and being able to use data and voice at the same time.
By April of 2010, not only had AT&T managed to reclaim their market share, but actually grow it. Verizon stopped their “Maps” campaign, and AT&T, coming out of the frey the victor, stopped their campaign as well. Looking back at their last major battle, I have to wonder how this will affect their upcoming match.
Has Verizon learned any new tactics to use against their competitor? The first ad from Verizon shows the company thanking customers for being patient, touting a message of appreciation and service. Though this isn't a direct shot at their competitor, AT&T isn't known for having the best customer service. Is this how they will play the game?
After scoring big with middle America, will AT&T have the same luck with a metropolitan audience that complained the most about their lack of coverage? The company has yet to reveal an inkling of any battle plans besides a lower priced iPhone 3GS, and a bunch of fees for any of their customers who think about jumping ship.
Though it would be unfair to crown anyone the winner before the match has even begun, I will predict that the upcoming iPhone War will be a victory for marketers, serving as a great case study to learn from for years to come.
Some see innovation as a hat trick, or a gift from the Muses to we lowly mortals. It appears out of thin air without warning, pushing the envelope of the expected and common place. Of course, the truth is far less spacey and ethereal; but no less magical.
Innovation does not spring wildly from the minds of genius, but takes time and cultivation. A 3 hour brainstorming session or weekend treat isn't going to cut it. In a fast paced, results driven culture this may seem like blasphemy, but there are no shortcuts to innovation.
Companies such as Virgin, AT&T, and General Motors have recognized this fact, which is part of the reason they have been household names for so long. A great example is 3M, sighted as a pioneer in intraprenuership and autonomy by Dan Pink in his book, Drive. Their president and chairman, William McKnight, gave employees the option of spending 15 percent of their time on any project they wished way back in the dark ages of the 1930s and 40s. As crazy as this sounds, especially for that era, what McKnight was doing was planting seeds of innovation that 3M is still reaping the benefits of today.
Another company you may have heard of, Google, has adopted a similar culture. Instead of 15 percent, they give their employees 20 percent of their time to work on any project of their choosing; now 50 percent of their new offerings come from this measure. This has led to the creation of such products as Gmail, Google News, and Adsense.
The thing these companies understand is that you can’t expect things to grow up overnight like Jack and the Beanstalk. It takes seeding, watering, fertilizer, trimming, and of course, the proper soil in which to grow. Once you develop this culture and give ideas time to grow, you will unlock the true magic of innovation.