Let's Rock, Just Not Quite Yet

So Apple's "Let's Rock" event proved to be one of iPod evolution rather than iTunes revolution. The iPod Touch certainly looks a richer proposition for a relative minor set of changes (though the new games on demo looked cool). There were some typically impressive numbers (100 million app downloads, 160+ million cumulative iPod sales) but no mention if iTunes download sales. Has the momentum slowed after some impressively strong recent growth?

The Genius feature is the most notable development from a music perspective, taking some of the basics of Last.FM's Audioscrobbler: users opt in to have their music data uploaded into the cloud and contribute to a collective consciousness of music tastes and preferences. The output for the end user is auto generated playlists generated off any song in your collection. There is also a Genius / iTMS tab that facilitates discovery driven impulse purchase.

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A Cross Roads for Apple

There's perhaps a little more anticipation than usual of Apple's forthcoming announcement (and I'm beinging to fear there won't be anything groundbreaking from a music perspective, but I can still hope). In some ways Apple are at a cross roads. As a maker of high end portable media devices they have built something of ceiling of growth with the iPhone. If you have an iPhone you have most of what you need from a portable media player. The meat of Apple�s iPod target customers are iPhone target customers. So future revenue opportunity with these customers either centres on either selling them new iPhones or extra iPods in the home. Or large screen & capacity video optimized devices perhaps?

So if the core of iPod target customers become iPhone target customers, who become the new target iPod customers? And is a portable device even the best product to reach those customers? And what are the implications for record labels? Will music be as important in the future of Apple as it is now?

The answers to these questions won't be answered tonight, but we may see the first steps. I'll be twittering during the event and blogging soon after. You can follow my Twitter feed here: http://twitter.com/Mark_Mulligan

Zune Guns for Music Discovery Role

A few comments on Microsoft's latest Zune updates to tide you over till the Apple announcement. Announcement details here.

- Zune's pitch that it's a device (and services) about music discovery isn't half bad, and allows for some differentiation from Apple and SanDisk. I've always liked the beam-a-song-to-a-friend capability -- all too rare good use of DRM! Now Zune can tap the other major source of music discover -- radio.

Jupiter consumer surveys show that radio (63% of online adults) and friends' recommendations (26%) are the top two means of music discovery. Recommendations increase in importance for younger audiences and for sophisticated music fans.

- Microsoft continues to treat its Zune users well. All software and services are available and upgradeable for all Zune models.

- Channels and Personal Picks are logical extensions to the service, but they're both table stakes for digital music services (eg Rhapsody, Napster) and personalized recommendations are the same for stores (eg iTunes, Amazon). There's still no ad-supported service strategy.

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Where the Audience “Value” Is with Social Media. Maybe

At the Inverge conference on Friday, Joshua Green, research manager for MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, used the “AMC-Twittergate-Mad Men Nine” story to illustrate a fresh way of thinking about the entertainment value chain now that we’ve got social media. (AMC originally ordered some fans who were Tweeting as characters in Mad Men, its Emmy-nominated hit show, to cease and desist, then quickly backed down under blogosphere pressure.) Green proposes that, while brand ambassadors are useful, the real value of social media occurs when your entertainment content is “redacted.” That is, mashing up is worth more than passing along recommendations.

The argument is that the most intensive creation of cultural meaning happens among those fans that do things like fan fiction and re-mixing. Thus, the mission of an entertainment company is to give its rabid audience creators raw material to work with. That’s more valuable, in theory, because if a marketer can gracefully insert itself – or better, yet, interact – with that audience at this point of creation, it will be in a hugely valuable bonding position.

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A Good First Take on Shoe Circus

Anybody who reviews Crispin Porter + Bogusky's BillG/Seinfeld campaign after seeing only the first chapter is asking for trouble. That said, this is the most insightful review I've seen yet, courtesy Andrew Frank of Gartner. Gawrsh, I bet I'm not allowed to mention them anymore...

Jerry Seinfeld nods to Jupiter

Ok, so he doesn't mean Jupiter Reasearch, but he could.

Bill is so straight, Jerry has to play the clown. It doesn't work, but I wish it did.

Getting Started with Social Marketing

Yesterday I was in a room with about 15 very smart people at a large insurance company. Clearly most of them liked the idea of reaching out to consumers via social marketing. However, they admitted they had done little to nothing thus far. Reservations and questions included, "We're not hip, how do we engage with audiences?" "We don't have anything budgeted." "How does social marketing integrate with our other campaigns?" and "We don't think it would drive sales, so it's hard to justify the cost."
Many companies that I work with are intrigued by social marketing - as an idea. As a practice, many remain skeptical or hesitant. Often their hesitancy is for very good reasons, as with the insurance company. However, as I've said before, consumers are already out there - interactions between consumers are taking place whether or not the company is participating. Below are some simple actions to start down the path to social marketing in such a way that minimizes cost and risk, and maximizes positive interaction with consumers. Jupiter and Forrester (as well as several good bloggers) have posted lists similar to this one in the past. But social marketing is still new, so I think a quick review is a good idea.

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Embarq Launches Call Screening of Voice Mail

Remember that little box people used to buy that sat next to the phone, and when you didn't answer an incoming call the box would play a greeting and then record the caller's message? They used to be called answering machines. (Ok, they still exist, built into those cordless phone systems you can buy.) The best feature of the answering machine was the ability to screen your calls, and pick up the receiver if the calling party said something interesting enough. The dawn of voice mail provided directly by the service providers eliminated the need for the box, but also eliminated that distinct feature.

No longer. Embarq just rolled out a call screening feature (at no additional cost) that works with its voice mail service. When a caller begins to leave a message, the phone emits a special ring, at which time the recipient can pick up the handset, listen to the message as its being recorded, and engage in conversation by pressing any button. Embarq claims to be the first communications company to provide such a service.

Embarq has been making the effort to keep its landline business relevant in the face of cable triple-play and wireless substitution. I think it's a smart move. Is call screening going to stem the loss of telco access lines on its own? Not a chance. But it makes sense to provide more value and unique features for those consumers/families that do want a fixed line at home.

Do Your Messages "Go to 11"?

In Rob Reiner’s 1984 “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap, one of the main characters, Nigel Tufnel, proclaims they are different than other bands because their speakers “go to ll.”

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Wieden + Kennedy at Inverge

Wieden + Kennedy's director of digital strategies, Renny Gleeson, gave a very entertaining preso at Inverge on brand marketing in the interactive social world -- bedecked in rolled jeans and red sneakers with lime-green soles (you were expecting dress casual, maybe?) -- but one that raised more questions than answers.

- How much emotional weight do all these new social technologies really carry? And how do you increase that?
- Relationship quality counts, but you probably can measure it by looking at quantity, ie time spent.
- How do you make a brand live (in this environment) when it's not in an active campaign/selling mode?
- How does the brand experience you create social value? (Probably by creating some kind of social cred value for participants.) When you are in selling mode, how do you make this appear to be an organic outgrowth of the ongoing social brand experience?

More to think about:

All these different social media formats and sites have certain social obligations when participating (respond, post, comment, forward etc.) You better understand them before you insert your brand in the middle.

Funny bits:

Most marketers are still in the "Hey, I've got $5 left, let's do something viral!"

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